Tag Archives: obama

blog - supernatural - Skeleton_Jack-O-Lantern

Metaphors of Halloween!

In honor of the upcoming Halloween holiday, I thought I would share a few metaphors of the supernatural.  These metaphors are fascinating for a simple reason.  Most conceptual metaphors are created by comparing a physical object or human experience to an abstract concept.  For example, we can understand describing a cold-hearted person as being a “block of ice” because we have all had the experience of feeling the cold temperature of a piece of ice.  We can also understand personification such as describing the United States as a “strong nation” because we have the personal experiences of human strength.  However, how can we explain metaphors such as having “a ghost of a chance” or being “spellbound” when ghosts and witches’ spells are not physically real?  Clearly, we can create conceptual metaphors simply by having a common human experience with phenomena even if they are not real.

Ghosts and Spirits

Most of us learn about the supernatural through children’s stories – ghosts, goblins, fairies and bogeymen.  Despite the fact these beings are not real, they become part of consciousness and they have been used to create metaphors we can apply to everyday life.

guiding spirit

Some people believe that when people die their spirits live on after them in another world, and that these spirits can guide us in our life on earth.  Metaphorically, a guiding spirit can be anything that influences or inspires someone to take certain actions.

Example:  Barack Obama has been the guiding spirit behind many African-Americans getting more involved in politics since he was elected president.

blog - supernatural - Medieval_ghostghost of a chance

Ghosts are thought to be spirits who remain on earth.  Ghosts do not have physical bodies so they are transparent with almost nothing visible to the eye.  Metaphorically, we can say that something has a ghost of a chance when it has a very slim chance of being true.

Example:  When Barack Obama first ran for president, he was an unknown state senator from Illinois and some people thought he only had a ghost of a chance of becoming the first African-American president.   But, of course, he proved them all wrong.

blog - supernatural - haunted househaunt

Sometimes malevolent ghosts will scare or haunt the living.  Metaphorically, anything in the past that has a negative effect on a person’s life in the present may be described as a haunting.

Example:  George W. Bush proclaimed victory in the War in Iraq after only a few weeks of fighting.  His victory banner on an aircraft carrier came back to haunt him later as the war dragged on for years.

ghostwriter

A ghostwriter is someone, usually a professional writer, who helps a celebrity or politician write a book usually without credit.

Example:  Ted Sorenson was the ghostwriter for John F. Kennedy for the book Profiles in Courage which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1957.

phantom

A phantom is another word for a ghost or spirit.  Figuratively, a phantom is something that we think is real but may not really exist.

Example:  Critics of Barack Obama complained that his phantom economic recovery was not really creating any new jobs in the first years of his presidency.

Magicians, Witches and Wizards

blog - supernatural - magicianmagic

There have been many stories of magicians and witches throughout history.  Although witches may be only a part of folklore, there are modern-day magicians who work solely for entertainment.  Thus, magic has two meanings in English, the supernatural powers that can influence everyday life, or complex tricks and optical illusions created to entertain an audience.  In politics, we may speak of magic to describe something that happens without normal cause-and-effect relationships.

Example:  Some cynics believe that it is only by magic that the U.S. government can ever really balance its budget.

magic wand

In some ancient legends and stories, magicians carry a magic stick or wand that can be used to create new realities.  In common terms, a magic wand can be used metaphorically as an instrument that has the power to solve impossible problems.

Example:  Many Americans wish that the president had a magic wand he could use to eliminate poverty and all social problems in the United States.

vanish

To vanish means to disappear suddenly.  In a magic act, a magician can make something vanish with a wave of a magic wand or a simple phrase.  In politics, something can also appear to vanish because of changing perceptions or lack of media coverage.

Example:  Critics of Barack Obama claim that the hope he inspired during his campaign vanished soon after he took office and ran into many bureaucratic obstacles to getting things done in Washington.

materialize

Magicians can also make objects materialize or appear suddenly.  In politics, people, funding or programs can materialize suddenly without prior warning from the media.  The term materialized can also be used negatively to describe something that was expected to happen but did not.

Example:  Much of the job growth that Barack Obama promised did not materialize in the first few years of his presidency.

The Conjurer by Hieronymus Bosch, 1502.  Note that the person in front is having his wallet stolen as the magician performs a trick of balls and cups.

“The Conjurer” by Hieronymus Bosch, 1502. Note that the person in front is having his wallet stolen as the magician performs a trick of balls and cups.

trick, tricky

A trick is something done to deceive someone, as a magician does with a magic trick. The adjective form, tricky, can also indicate something that is complicated.

Example:  It is always a tricky problem to write tax laws that are fair to both the rich and the poor in the United States.

wizard

The word wizard is derived from the same root word meaning wise.  Thus a wizard in ancient legends was a wise man, usually at the service of powerful people.  In modern times, a wizard is anyone who has extraordinary skills in a certain area such as computers.

Example:  Presidential candidates need to have campaign strategy wizards in order to win the election.

A painting of Merlin from the Middle Ages

A painting of Merlin from the Middle Ages

Merlin

Merlin was a very powerful wizard in the medieval stories of King Arthur. In modern English, someone can be referred to as a Merlin if he seems to have the ability to do things that no one else can.

Example:  After helping several Republican candidates win important offices, Karl Rove is sometimes called the Merlin of campaign strategy.

 

spellbound

Witches and wizards are thought to put people under spells or some magical power that controls the lives of those people.  A person under such a spell is then spellbound. Metaphorically, someone can be spellbound if he or she seems to be under the powerful influence of someone else.

Example:  Many young Americans were spellbound by Barack Obama’s powerful speeches when he first ran for president in 2008.

disenchanted

Witches are thought to have the power of enchanting people, i.e., putting them under spells for good or bad purposes.  In common terms, people can be enchanted by something or someone if they are very excited and interested in them.  Conversely, when people are disappointed in something or someone, we can say that they are disenchanted.

Example:  Despite Barack Obama’s initial popularity, many liberals became disenchanted with him when he was unable to push through a more progressive agenda through Congress.

Fairies, Pixies and Unicorns

A 1910 painting of the king and queen of the fairies

A 1910 painting of the king and queen of the fairies

airy-fairy nonsense

Fairies are mystical creatures thought to live in forests that help people.  People who believe in fairies are ridiculed for believing in nonsense or something made out of thin air.   In a modern reduplicated phrase, something that is considered to be wildly impossible may be called airy-fairy nonsense.

Example:  Supporters of oil-based energy sources think that running the country on solar panels and windmills is a bunch of airy-fairy nonsense.

pixie dust

Pixies are also small mythical creatures.  It is said that they possess magical dust they can sprinkle on people to put them under spells or improve their fortunes.  In modern terms, people accused of sprinkling pixie dust on someone or something indicates that they are not truly aware of reality and are trying to solve problems by magical means.

Example:  Critics of liberal social programs believe that it takes more than pixie dust to get people off of welfare.

"The Gentle and Pensive Maiden has the Power to Tame the Unicorn" Domenico Zampieri, 1602

“The Gentle and Pensive Maiden has the Power to Tame the Unicorn” by Domenico Zampieri, 1602

unicorns

Unicorns are imaginary horses with one spiral horn growing from its head.  Unicorns, along with fairies and pixies are symbolic of imaginary creatures with no basis in reality.

Example:  Critics of Barack Obama often portray him riding a white unicorn symbolizing his attempts to implement radical social changes in the United States.

Psychics and Fortune Tellers

blog - supernatural - Glaskugel_CrystalBallcrystal ball

In popular folklore, women known as psychics or fortune tellers can predict the future.  One method of doing this is by seeing visions in a crystal ball.  Metaphorically, a mention of a crystal ball is a criticism of someone pretending to be able to see the future with no actual evidence.

Example:  Campaign strategists always hope they can look into their crystal balls and see their candidate winning the election.

blog - supernatural - Tea_leaf_reading

 

tea leaves

Fortune tellers are also believed to tell the future by reading patterns in tea leaves.  Figuratively, reading tea leaves indicates that someone is trying to predict the future.

Example:  In the close 2012 presidential election, no one reading the tea leaves could tell if Barack Obama or Mitt Romney would be the next president.

aura

Psychics believe that everyone has a field of energy surrounding their bodies.  This energy field is called an aura.  Metaphorically, an aura is a person’s perceived popularity and strength of character in a certain field.

Example:  Although wildly popular in 2008, Barack Obama seemed to lose some of his aura after failing to get some of his policies enacted by Congress.

Monsters

bogeyman

Many monsters and scary creatures are also described in the literature of the supernatural.  One such creature is known as the bogeyman, a monster who scares children or harms people.  Figuratively, a bogeyman is something or someone that threatens to cause harm to someone else.

Example:  For many Americans, Osama bin Laden was a real life bogeyman and they were glad when he was finally caught and killed.

silver bullet

Some legends tell of supernatural monsters called werewolves which are half man, half wolf creatures.  The only way they can be killed is by shooting them with a silver bullet.  Metaphorically, a silver bullet is any action that can automatically solve a difficult problem.

Example:  When gas prices rise seemingly out of anyone’s control, government experts claim that the oil supplies are so complicated that there is no silver bullet to keeping the prices down.

A set of scarecrows in a field in Japan

A set of scarecrows in a field in Japan

spook, scare off

Spook is an old word meaning to scare or frighten someone.  In modern terms, a person can be spooked or scared off by any action that causes them to hesitate in doing a normal activity.

Example:  The economic crisis of 2008 scared off many Wall Street traders from investing in the stock market.

blog - supernatural - Skeleton_Jack-O-Lantern

Next time:  Election Metaphors

blog - personification - handshake

President Obama and the ISIS Crisis

As you may know from recent news reports, the terrorist group known as ISIS recently brutally beheaded several American and European journalists in the Middle East.  The United States and its allies in Europe and the Middle East have begun a strategic bombing campaign to destroy them.

There have been a wide variety of metaphors used described these terrorists.  President Obama gave a short speech on September 10 as the Americans began their aerial attacks.  Today I would like to share a brief analysis of the metaphors used in that speech.

blog - obama - LevantFirst, however, a couple clarifications are in order.  For one, there are many confusing names for the terrorist group.  Most media experts refer to them as ISIS (pronounced EYE-sis) which is an acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (the countries on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean) with the final “S” indicating the specific country of Syria.    Other experts refer to the group as ISIL (EYE-sil) with the “L” referring to the Levant.  Yet others use this same acronym but pronounce it as IH-sil, rhyming with whistle.  In the speech by President Obama, he refers to the group as ISIL with the long “i” pronunciation.  Yet others refer to the group as simply the Islamic State, a name that is somewhat confusing since the group does not belong to any particular country or nation state. Nonetheless, I noticed in browsing through French and Spanish online newspapers, journalists in those countries also refer to the group simply as the Islamic State while those in England refer to it as ISIS as well.

blog - rhetoric - ethos pathos logosAlso, I would like to explain something very interesting about the speech.  If you are a student of classical rhetoric, you may have studied that the ancient Greeks, especially Aristotle and Cicero, were among the first to analyze what made a speech effective.*  Aristotle wrote that a good speech moves the listeners by appealing to their senses of pathos (emotions), logos (logic) and ethos (ethics).  Although I have not had a class in classical rhetoric since about the time of the ancient Greeks, I could not help but notice that President Obama’s speech seemed to have been written to appeal to all three of these senses.

At the beginning of the speech, Obama reminded the audience of the brutal behavior of ISIS, including the beheadings of the American journalists.

“In a region that has known so much bloodshed, these terrorists are unique in their brutality. They execute captured prisoners. They kill children. They enslave, rape, and force women into marriage. They threatened a religious minority with genocide. In acts of barbarism, they took the lives of two American journalists — Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff.”

Although this is an important reason why he was persuaded to launch attacks against ISIS, I believe he also mentioned the beheadings to appeal to the pathos of the listeners.  He knows that Americans will be more supportive of military actions if they have an emotional response to the behavior of the terrorist group.

In the middle of the speech, Obama outlines the four steps in his strategy to “degrade and destroy” ISIS.  He gave very clear summaries of these four steps and explained why each step had to be taken.

“Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy.”

This part of the speech appeals to our sense of logos.  We can understand why a military response is needed given the brutality of the killings mentioned earlier in the speech.

At the end of the speech, Obama explains that America has a moral duty to do something about these terrorists.  He suggested that we could not simply sit back and do nothing.

“America, our endless blessings bestow an enduring burden. But as Americans, we welcome our responsibility to lead.”

With these remarks he appealed to our sense of ethos, including the audience in his sense of a moral obligation to do something to stop the terrorists before they could do any more brutal killings.

By appealing to the listeners’ sense of pathos, logos, and ethos, President Obama most likely was trying to persuade his audience to support him in his military operations at a time in history when most Americans are tired of war.

As for the speech itself, here are a few examples of the metaphors used to further appeal to the audience.  Let me begin with several idiosyncratic metaphors to describe the terrorists themselves.

cancer

Obama describes the terrorist group as a cancer, using a medical metaphor we all understand as a serious and often fatal medical condition.  Even with modern medicine, beating cancer is a daunting task requiring great skill and practice.  Obama’s use of the cancer metaphor here indicates that getting ridding of ISIS will also require great skill and patience.

Example:  “Now, it will take time to eradicate a cancer like ISIL.”

blog - nature - river damcut off, stem the flow

In a pair of metaphors used to describe the terrorists, their funding and their source of fighters are compared to a stream of water.  In one part of the speech, President Obama describes how to need to stem of the flow of European soldiers into the area who fight with ISIS, as if they are flowing down a river.  The phrase cut off can be used to mean a literal cutting of a physical material, such as cutting off a branch of a tree, but can also mean turning off a flow of water from a hose. Metaphorically, to cut off something means to stop the flow of some source of money, goods or services.

Example: “Working with our partners, we will redouble our efforts to cut off its funding; improve our intelligence; strengthen our defenses; counter its warped ideology; and stem the flow of foreign fighters into — and out of — the Middle East.”

blog - education - erasererase

We are all familiar with the ability to erase marks we make on paper with a lead pencil.  Metaphorically, we can also erase problems, mistakes, or bad aspects of our lives.  In the president’s speech, he talks about the desire to erase the evil of the terrorist groups.

Example:  “Still, we continue to face a terrorist threat. We cannot erase every trace of evil from the world, and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm.”

blog - machines - counterweightcounterweight

The final example of a metaphor used to describe the terrorist group is counterweight.   Some types of heavy machinery require a heavy weight on one side of the machine to balance out the tremendous weight on the other side of the machine, such as on a building crane.  The opposite, balancing weight is called the counterweight.  Metaphorically, a counterweight is an action or process that balances out the effects of another process, usually one that is out of the control of the people involved.  In the speech in question here, President Obama describes his military strategy as a counterweight to the actions of the terrorist group in light of the civil war already ongoing in Syria, fueled by the actions of President Bashar al-Assad.

Example:  “In the fight against ISIL, we cannot rely on an Assad regime that terrorizes its people; a regime that will never regain the legitimacy it has lost. Instead, we must strengthen the opposition as the best counterweight to extremists like ISIL, while pursuing the political solution necessary to solve Syria’s crisis once and for all.”

The final set of metaphor examples are based on the principle of personification in which an inanimate object or abstract idea is described in terms of a human being.  In this case, President Obama describes the United States as being a person in several different ways.

blog - personification - strength 2strength/strongest as a nation

Human beings have physical strength from the use of their muscles. People can increase their strength through physical labor, exercise or weight lifting.  Metaphorically, countries can have strength through the force of their citizens or their military power.

Example: “I know many Americans are concerned about these threats. Tonight, I want you to know that the United States of America is meeting them with strength and resolve.”

Example: “I have the authority to address the threat from ISIL. But I believe we are strongest as a nation when the President and Congress work together.”

blog - personification - seizeposition/seize

Humans can also have strength from a certain body position, as a boxer takes a stance to throw a punch.  From certain positions, a person can also grab or seize something if it is within his or her reach. Metaphorically, countries can be in a position to take an action or seize something important.

Example: “Next week marks 6 years since our economy suffered its worst setback since the Great Depression. Yet despite these shocks; through the pain we have felt and the grueling work required to bounce back — America is better positioned today to seize the future than any other nation on Earth.”

dragged into

A person lacking in strength or in the wrong position can be pushed or pulled into a weaker position. In some cases, weaker people can be forcibly dragged into a new position by someone or something stronger.  Metaphorically, countries can be dragged into a war or some other dangerous situation if they are not in control of their own governments.

Example: “…we will send an additional 475 service members to Iraq. As I have said before, these American forces will not have a combat mission — we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq.”

partners/join

People can work on a project together.  In such cases, these people may be considered partners in this endeavor.  In some cases, the people who began the project can be joined by others who may help them achieve their goals.  Metaphorically, countries can also work as partners, and later be joined by other countries to achieve a common goal.

Example: “But this is not our fight alone. American power can make a decisive difference, but we cannot do for Iraqis what they must do for themselves, nor can we take the place of Arab partners in securing their region.”

Example: “This is our strategy. And in each of these four parts of our strategy, America will be joined by a broad coalition of partners.”

blog - personification - handshakehelping

A strong person may be in a position to help a weaker person achieve a goal.  Countries can also metaphorically help another country with military or financial aid.

Example: “And it is America that is helping Muslim communities around the world not just in the fight against terrorism, but in the fight for opportunity, tolerance, and a more hopeful future.”

at home

Most people live in houses, and metaphorically countries also have a home in their own government and land.  When politicians do international diplomacy or take military actions in other countries, they often refer to the United States as home.

Example: “So tonight, with a new Iraqi government in place, and following consultations with allies abroad and Congress at home, I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat.”

These are just a few of the many examples of metaphors used by President Obama in the short speech on his planned attacks on ISIS.  It is clear that he and his speechwriters used the classical rhetoric strategy of pathos, logos and ethos to gain support from Americans for his military actions.  He also used many examples of personification to make it appear that the government is acting as a sensible person instead of an abstract body of politicians.

blog - personification - home

Strangely, I noticed that there was a distinct absence of journey metaphors.  As faithful readers of this blog know, journey metaphors are commonly used in important political speeches such as state of the union addresses or Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  These journey metaphors are used by skilled orators to involve the listeners in the process as if the audience and the speaker are on an important journey through life together.  Given that the speech was focused solely on an immediate military strategy, perhaps metaphors about long journeys would have been inappropriate.  However, I can’t help but think that President Obama is not quite sure the American people are joining him on this journey into more military action in the Middle East.

Next time:  More metaphors of the ISIS crisis.

*If anyone is interested in further research on classical or modern rhetoric, here are a few suggestions.

Aristotle (1991). On rhetoric: A theory of civic discourse (G. Kennedy, Trans.).  New York: Oxford University Press.

Charteris-Black, J. (2011). Politicians and rhetoric:  The persuasive power of metaphor (2nd Ed.).  New York:  Palgrave Macmillan.

Cicero (1986). On oratory and orators (J. S. Watson, Trans.).  Carbondale, IL:  Southern Illinois University Press.

Copi, I. & Cohen, C. (2001). Introduction to logic (11th Ed.).  Upper Saddle River, NJ:  Prentice Hall.

blog - review - charteris black

Book Review: Politicians and Rhetoric by Jonathan Charteris-Black

To continue my short series of book reviews, I would like to share a few comments on an amazing book entitled Politicians and Rhetoric:  The Persuasive Power of Metaphor, 2nd Edition by Jonathan Charteris-Black (Palgrave MacMillan, 2011).    Charteris-Black is a professor of linguistics at the University of the West of England in Bristol, England.

blog - review - charteris blackThe book consists of twelve chapters.  The first two chapters provide an excellent summary of the importance of understanding metaphors in the art of rhetoric, persuasion, and speech making used by all successful politicians.  The next nine chapters consist of incredibly insightful analyses of how certain political leaders have used metaphors in their speeches.  These politicians include four giants of British politics: Winston Churchill, Enoch Powell, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair along with five American leaders: Martin Luther King, Jr., Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.  The final chapter provides an analysis of the nexus of myth, metaphor and political leadership.

In each chapter, Charteris-Black analyzes the speeches of the politician with a specific theme that characterizes their particular rhetoric.  For example, he discusses Winston Churchill in terms of the heroic myth, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the messianic myth, Ronald Reagan and the romantic myth, Margaret Thatcher and the myth of Boudicca, George Bush and the rhetoric of moral accounting and Barack Obama and the myth of the American Dream.  Each person’s speeches are analyzed in the historical context and particular political environment.  He explains how we can understand the rhetoric of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher in terms of myths of heroes or past warriors.  Churchill had to rally British citizens to make sacrifices for the war effort and had to persuade the Americans to become their allies.  He was successful at doing this by using metaphors of journeys and heroes. Thatcher tapped into the myth of Boudicca, the 1st century Celtic queen who led an uprising against the Roman army.  Thatcher used metaphors of conflict as in the concept that political opponents are enemies to get the British to rally around her as Boudicca did centuries earlier. Charteris-Black also provides insightful analyses of the speeches of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, all in the context of difficult political climates.

By far the most fascinating chapter for me was the section on Martin Luther King, Jr. Having analyzed his speeches myself, I was in awe of the depth of analysis that Charteris-Black presented in this book.  He analyzed his speeches in terms of the Messianic myth, journey metaphors, landscape metaphors and in the context of the segregation and non-violence of the 1960s.  This chapter alone is worth the price of the book. (BTW, my most popular blog posts are concerned with Martin Luther King, Jr. speeches.  All of the students reading this blog with assignments on MLK speeches would be well advised to buy this book!)

My only criticisms of the book consist of a few editorial oversights.  Although the author provides excellent appendices on his corpuses, a list of conceptual metaphors analyzed in the book, and a general index, cited authors are not included in any of the indices, a strange fact given the excellence of the scholarship throughout the book.  Also, there is an inconsistent use of italics in examples of metaphors.  In most cases, the conceptual metaphors being analyzed are italicized in quotations from the corpus while in other cases there are no italics. More substantively, in the chapter on Margaret Thatcher, Charteris-Black compares her to Boudica but never gives a background on the Celtic warrior, nor does he make explicit how Thatcher compared to Boudica.  Perhaps British readers are more familiar with both Thatcher and Boudica but Americans may have to do a bit of research to understand the relationship between the two as I had to do.

Finally, I also found it odd that Charteris-Black uses a theory of metaphor analysis called blending theory without citing any references for its origin.  I assume he is referring to the theories proposed by Fauconnier and Turner (2002) or the nice summary of the theory in Koveces (2004) but he does not mention either.  Despite this omission, he makes great use of blending theory and, while although a bit cumbersome to explain, promises to be a very useful way to explain metaphors.  No one quite understands how citizens understand political metaphors, using blended theory may be a way to fine tune our analyses of metaphor usage.

Overall, Politicians and Rhetoric is a great addition to our study of metaphors in politics.  Charteris-Black shows a masterful understanding of classical and modern rhetoric, metaphor analysis and current political machinations of skilled orators. It is essential reading for any student of English, linguistics, or political science.

Next time:  Obama and the ISIS Crisis

blog - weather - lightning

A Perfect Storm! Metaphors of Weather

Everyone pays attention to the weather.  It is important to know how hot or cold it will be, calm or stormy, rainy or dry every day before we leave the house so that the weather does not interfere with our jobs or time with family of friends.  This summer, the weather has been in the news a great deal as people across the country experience heat waves, droughts, rainstorms, tornadoes and hurricanes.  Our collective experiences with weather allow us to create conceptual metaphors about weather.  In politics, we can find metaphors about weather to describe how politicians survive adverse conditions in their political careers.

weather

The term weather describes all the types of sun, wind, rain, snow, etc., that we experience on earth.  Metaphorically, the term weather can also be used as a verb indicating one’s ability to tolerate a bad situation.

Example:  George W. Bush had to weather many controversies during his presidency including the 9/11 attack, the first terrorist attack on American soil since the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941.

climate

The word climate describes the general weather conditions in a certain geographic area. We may also speak of the climate of a certain situation in terms of danger, difficulty or possible success.

Example:  After the 2008 economic crisis, many Americans faced a climate of high unemployment and high foreclosure rates on homes.

blog - weather - Rain_on_ocean_beachrain money

Rain is a very common weather phenomenon all around the world as water falls from the sky in millions of droplets.  The word rain is also a verb and can be used metaphorically to indicate something that occurs very fast and in great quantities.  When a government distributes a great deal of money to an organization, we may say that is it raining money.

Example:  Critics of U.S. defense spending in the billions of dollars claim that the government should stop raining money on defense contractors when we already have the biggest armies and navies in the world.

rain check

Often when it rains, outdoor activities must be cancelled.  In the early days of baseball, spectators could get a ticket to use another time if the game they had paid for was rained out.  This was called a rain check.  In common terms, any time we decide to do something at a later date, we may say that we are taking a rain check.

Example:  U.S. presidents are often invited to economic and political meetings with other world leaders in other countries.  In some cases, if the president is busy, he or she will have to take a rain check and meet with them some other time.

rain on the parade

A parade is a popular summer activity in many cities and towns for different holidays or special occasions.  However, it is difficult to conduct and enjoy a parade if there is heavy rain.  In a popular expression, a something that happens to disrupt or ruin another activity may be described as raining on the parade.

Example:  Although Hillary Clinton wanted to become the first female president in 2008, Barack Obama rained on her parade and won the Democratic nomination instead.

get wind of

Wind is also another common weather phenomenon.  Although the concept of wind can be used to describe a destructive force in a bad storm, the term wind can also be used metaphorically to indicate something that comes on its own to bring news.  In one expression, learning of new information can be described as getting wind of something. 

Example:  In the early 1970s, Americans slowly got wind of the trouble in the Nixon White House as reports came out about the Watergate scandal.

blog - weather - windfallwindfall

Sometimes in a storm, strong winds break off branches of trees and knock them to the ground.  These downed branches are called a windfall.  In metaphorical terms, a windfall is a great quantity of something that happens unexpectedly.

Example:  Politicians in Washington D.C. often argue about whether or not there should be a windfall profits tax on people and businesses.

swirling rumors

In most cases, wind causes the air currents to swirl around in many different directions.  In some situations, we may also talk about rumors or gossip swirling around a certain person or situation.

Example:  In the 2012 presidential election, there were many rumors swirling around that Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden would switch roles of Secretary of State and Vice President if Barack Obama was reelected.

cloudy skies

In contrast to the metaphor of sunny skies indicating a successful or positive situation, a situation described as having cloudy skies would be unsuccessful or in danger of failure.

Example:  There were cloudy skies over Wisconsin in 2012 as the voters there tried but failed to recall Governor Scott Walker.

blog - weather - Mammatus-storm-clouds_San-Antonioblack cloud hanging over

Rain and violent rainstorms often fall from dark or black clouds.  A black cloud hanging over an area usually indicates rain and bad weather is on the way.  Black clouds therefore indicate a bad or dangerous situation.

Example:  In 2011, presidential candidate Rick Perry claimed that the national debt was a black cloud hanging over America.

clouded judgment

One cannot see the sky clearly when there are many clouds.  Similarly, we say that when a person cannot think clearly or make good decisions, he or she is suffering from clouded judgment, usually because of bias towards one opinion or another.

Example:  Some critics of John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin for vice president in 2007 claim that his desire to be a maverick clouded his judgment of how to choose the best person for the job.

stormy weather

Rain, wind, or snow may come in the form of storms that can be dangerous or cause property damage.  Therefore, people are wary of stormy weather.  In politics, stormy weather indicates arguments or controversy in a specific situation.

Example:  There is always stormy weather in Congress when controversial bills come up for a vote.

brainstorming

The concept of a wind and rain or snow in a storm is used to describe when a person tries to come up with many ideas at the same time.  This is known as brainstorming.

Example:  In 2010, President Obama met with many corporate leaders in New York to brainstorm on how to get more people back to work.

blog - weather - Storm_over_Miami_Beachperfect storm

In the study of weather, the worst possible storm occurs when different weather patterns come together at the same time resulting in terrific wind speeds and precipitation.  These storms are called perfect storms.  In politics, a perfect storm occurs when different bad situations happen at the same time to produce a disaster.

Example:  Incumbent candidates sometimes lose elections when there is a perfect storm of economic, legislative and administrative problems working against them.

storm back

The concept of a storm is also used to describe the energy in a person in a great effort to do something.  The idea of storming back indicates a person aggressively returns to accomplish a goal left unfinished at a previous time.

Example:  After losing the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, Mitt Romney stormed back and won it in 2012.

storm out

When a person is angry and leaves a meeting with great annoyance, we might say that he or she stormed out of the meeting.

Example:  Reportedly President Obama stormed out of a meeting on debt ceiling negotiations in 2011 frustrated at the lack of progress that was being made to solve the problems.

blog - weather - lightninglightning round

Lightning is a discharge of energy from the clouds to the ground at super fast speeds.  The concept of lightning is used to describe anything that happens very fast.  In game shows, a series of questions that must be answered very quickly is called a lightning round.  In politics, a set of fast questions in a debate may also be called a lightning round.

Example:  Presidential candidates must have quick answers ready for all sorts of controversial issues if they come up in lightning rounds in debates.

distant thunder

Thunder creates loud noises that can be heard from miles away.  Normally when we hear thunder we know that a storm is on its way.  The concept of distant thunder metaphorically indicates that some sort of trouble is on its way.

Example:  The economic collapse of 2007 caught many people by surprise, even though some said they could hear the distant thunder for several years.

Next time: I Didn’t See That Coming!  Metaphors of Time

blog - height - rock bottom

Low, Short, Under and at the Bottom

To finish off my series on metaphors of height, here is a final set of examples derived from the concept of being at the bottom of a container, being under something, or being lower or shorter than something else.  In all cases, these metaphors carry a negative connotation in comparison to objects that are higher or taller than others. In politics, these “lower-class” metaphors are used to describe bad economic trends, disappointing political events or other negative aspects of governance.

blog - height - rock bottom

Bottom

rock bottom

As with the concepts of top, we have metaphors of being at the bottom of something.  One way to describe being at the lowest point is to say we have hit rock bottom, as if we have sunk to the bottom of a lake.

Example:  President Obama’s popularity seemed to hit rock bottom when the Democrats lost so many elections during the 2010 midterm elections.

Low

blog - height - low on the scalelow on the scale/lower down the scale

The word low describes the position of being towards the bottom of a place.  A scale is a tool for measuring the weight or height of something.  Metaphorically, being on the low end of a scale means that the person or thing has a lower value, such as lower income, or does not have much importance relative to other items measured on the same scale.

 

Example:  Tax cuts often help wealthy Americans, but they do not always help those people lower down the scale.

low profile

As explained earlier, a profile is a side view of a person. Contrary to a high profile, a low profile indicates lack of visibility or importance in a certain situation.

Example:  After stepping down as president in 2009, George W. Bush kept a low profile until he released his book Decision Points in late 2010.

low moment

A low moment is a time when someone or group of people is unsuccessful, defeated or emotionally depressed.

Example:  The low moment for George W. Bush’s presidency was when we were attacked by terrorists on September 11, 2001.

Short

blog - height - shortfall archeryshortfalls

In contrast to the positive connotations of someone being tall, someone or something that is short indicates a lack or deficiency in something.  A shortfall is a quantity of something that is lower than expected. This term originally derives from the sport of archery when an archer shoots an arrow but it falls to the ground short of the target.

Example:  After the economic collapse of 2008, many local governments experienced budget shortfalls and had to make serious budget cuts.

short selling

Short selling is a rather complex financial transaction.  In real estate, a homeowner may need to sell a house even though the price paid for the house is less than the amount that the homeowner owes to the bank.  If the bank buys the house back from the homeowner in this case, this is called short-selling because the value of the house has fallen short of the mortgage value.  With investments, a person may borrow a stock from an investment firm with the expectation that the value will go down but the person can make a profit if the stock price rises.   This is also called short selling by the brokerage firm.

Example:  Some economists claim that the short selling of mortgages and investments and Wall Street partially led to the collapse of the economy in 2008.

shortlist

When a person applies for a job, the company puts his or her name on a list of the top people to be considered.  To be near the top of the list is sometimes called being shortlisted.

Example:  Whenever there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court, the president makes a shortlist of possible judges to fill the seat, and then chooses one to be confirmed by the Senate.

Under

underlings

As with the word low, the concept of under implies something negative or lacking in importance.  The people who work at the lower levels of a company or government are sometimes called the underlings.

Example:  In an election campaign, the candidate makes all the speeches, but the underlings do a lot of work behind the scenes organizing each event.

blog - height - undercoverundercover

In military and police departments around the world, most officers wear uniforms and are well known to the local people.  However, some officers work in secret and do not want their identities known so that they can catch criminals more easily.  These agents are called undercover officers.  More broadly, any person or action that is hidden from public view is considered undercover.

Example:  As Commander-in-Chief, a U.S. president must sometimes authorize undercover military operations to ensure national security.

undercut

Literally to undercut something means to make a low cut into an object such as a piece of wood so that the higher portion remains above the lower portion.  Metaphorically, undercutting refers to such things as offering lower prices than a competitor, or more abstractly, to reduce the effectiveness of another person’s actions or reputation.

Example:  High unemployment ratings undercut President Obama’s plan for economic recovery in 2009 and 2010.

underwrite

The term underwrite is a word dating back to the 15th century describing signing one’s name to a legal insurance document promising to pay losses if any occur on the policy.  In modern terms, to underwrite something means to take on financial responsibility for a large project.

Example:  With the stimulus plan of 2009, President Obama decided to underwrite the recovery of many banks and large corporations that were close to bankruptcy.

Next time: A Perfect Storm!  Metaphors of Weather

blog - height - above - Cirrus_clouds2

Metaphors of Up, Over and Above

To continue my study of metaphors or height, today I look at metaphors based on the spatial descriptions of up, over and above.  All three prepositions based on these spatial experiences have positive connotations.  However, the term over may also mean “finished.”  Here are a few examples from our common experiences with objects being up, over and above other objects or above our line of sight.

Up

up for election/reelection

When a candidate is running for election or reelection, we may say that he or she is up for election.  This meaning of up simply indicates the person is visible above the others.

Example:  Barack Obama was up for reelection in 2012 and indeed won that election.

blog - height - hot air balloons

upper class

As we have seen, the notion of height can indicate something good.  The phrase upper class usually indicates the most wealthy individuals in a society.

Example:  Presidential candidates always need to appeal to upper class voters if they want to earn donations and the support of the wealthiest Americans.

upscale/upmarket

Businesses, people and organizations that tend to deal with wealthy clients are considered to be upscale or upmarket. 

Example:  Since Barack Obama is a graduate of expensive Ivy League universities, some critics complain that he is too upscale to understand the problems of ordinary people.

upside

Two-dimensional objects have two sides.  The side facing up is simply called the upside.  Since up generally means something positive, the upside of a problem indicates the positive outcome of a situation.

Example:  The War in Iraq cost the American government billions of dollars and thousands of soldiers’ lives.  The upside of the story is that the American forces eventually led to a stable Iraqi government.

Korean Archery Master Heon Kim

Korean Archery Master Heon Kim

upshot

The upshot of something is the final result of some process.  Although the origin of this term is unclear, apparently for hundreds of years the final arrow shot in an archery contest was called the upshot.  The word up also carried the connotation of being finished, as in the phrase the time is up.  Thus the term upshot also carries the sense of the final outcome of something.

Example:  The drop in popularity of the Democrats in 2009 and 2010 led to an increase in popularity of Republican candidates in the midterm elections.  The upshot is that the Republicans gained a majority of the House of Representatives after the elections.

blog - height - upbeat notesupbeat

In music the two dominant beats are the upbeat and the downbeat.  Although they are both equally important in a musical performance, the upbeat carries a positive connotation because of the meaning of the word up.  To be upbeat means that one is a very positive and optimistic person.

Example:  Even though John McCain lost the presidential election in 2008, he remained upbeat and continued to serve his country as a United States Senator.

upstart

Hundreds of years ago, the word upstart was used as a verb to mean rapidly going from a sitting position to a standing position.  Today an upstart is someone who is relatively unknown but who quickly becomes important, or at least feels that he or she is important.  Usually an upstart is someone who challenges the current situation and tries to change the system.

Example:  In 2010, many upstart Tea Party candidates surprised everyone and won many elections beating Republicans in the primaries and Democrats in the midterm elections.

upset

When we set an object down, it has upside and a downside.  If we reverse this and have the bottom on the top, we say that it is turned over or upset.  Metaphorically, any time that something happens that is the opposite of what we were expecting, we may say that is an upset.  This is true of sports games as well as political elections.

Example:  In 2004, many people predicted that John Kerry would win the presidential election.  When George W. Bush instead was reelected, Democrats could not believe the upset.

ups and downs

In life, we have good luck sometimes and bad luck other times.  We may also say that we sometimes feel good and other times we feel bad.  Commonly we call this having ups and downs in life.

Example:  Although the Republicans have had their ups and downs over the past several decades, they had great control of the American government during the two terms of George W. Bush.

Over

blog - height - overlook grand-canyon-3overlooked

The word over in English has many meanings.  The literal meaning describes the position of something being above something else.  The word over can also mean “finished” as in the game is over.  However, in another metaphorical sense, it can mean to go beyond normal expectations.  Thus, to overlook means to not pay attention to something.

Example:  In 2010, federal regulators seemed to overlook many of the safety regulations of off-shore drilling. The result was the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster in which 11 workers lost their lives.

oversight

Literally, to have oversight means to look over something.  Metaphorically it means to supervise or manage something.  In politics, many governmental agencies must have oversight by members of Congress.

Example:  There seemed to be very little oversight of Wall Street investment policies as the economy collapsed and the country sank into a recession in 2008.

blog - height - over - horse jumpover the top

To say something is over the top is to say that it is too extreme for a certain situation.

Example:  When Wall Street investment firms gave some of their employees million-dollar bonuses the same year that the economy was collapsing, many critics said their spending was over the top.

overwhelm/underwhelm

The original meaning of the word whelm is not clear, but it described something being covered.  The term overwhelm literally means to cover with water as in a wave overwhelming a boat.  Metaphorically, to overwhelm means to completely control by greater forces.  In a contrary, joking sense, we may also say that something is underwhelming when it is not very impressive.

Example:  In the 2010 midterm elections, the Democrats were overwhelmed by Republican ads against them, and they lost dozens of seats in the House of Representatives.

win over

To win over someone or a group of people means to persuade them to agree to something by a forceful presentation.

Example:  In 2010, some tea party candidates won over many voters with conservative views and promises to cut federal spending.

Above

above the law

To do something above the law means that the action was illegal but the person was not caught or charged.

Example:  The economic collapse of 2008 was caused by the actions of many reckless Wall Street investment bankers.  When none of them were ever prosecuted, most Americans concluded they must be above the law.

blog - height - above - Cirrus_clouds2

above board

In Middle English, the word board meant a piece of wood or an entire table.  Thus, we have the phrase room and board that means room and meals in a home or at a college.  We also have the phrase above board that indicates that a business transaction is openly visible and legal.  Conversely, we may say that an illegal business transaction is under the table.

Example:  Candidates for public office must make sure all of their campaign activities are above board, so that they cannot be accused later of breaking any local laws.

above the fray

A fray is another word for a fight or a large problem.  To be above the fray means that the person is not involved in any argument or confrontation.

Example:  Despite some controversial policies and decisions during the War in Iraq, Vice-President Dick Cheney always seemed to be able to stay above the fray.

 

Next time: Up and Down Movement

blog - romance - wedding rings

Metaphors of Love and Romance

I can’t let the month of June pass without mentioning political metaphors derived from experiences with love and romance.   Traditionally, more people get married in June than in any other month.  We are all familiar with experiences of being romantic, i.e., behavior between boyfriends and girlfriends or husbands and wives. These experiences have inspired a small set of conceptual metaphors based on notions of romance.

blog - romance - Wedding_cake

Being Romantic

cozy relations, cozy up to

The adjective cozy means to be very friendly or close to someone.  Metaphorically, a person or organization can also be cozy with other organizations.  This relationship can be described as having cozy relations with someone, or to cozy up to someone.

Example:  Many American voters are not pleased when a politician cozies up to millionaire lobbyists since they usually expect something in return when the person is in office.

flirt with

When a person is attracted to someone, he or she may flirt or tease someone playfully in order to begin a courtship with that person.  In common terms, when a person is trying to make an important decision, he or she may flirt with the idea of doing one thing or another.

Example:  Many American presidents have flirted with the idea of creating a new health care system in the United States, but Barack Obama was the first to make significant changes.

President Obama and his wife Michelle embrace after his swearing in ceremony in 2008

President Obama and his wife Michelle embrace after his swearing-in ceremony in 2008

embrace

To embrace someone means to wrap your arms around another person in a friendly or romantic fashion.  Metaphorically, a person can embrace a new idea by following or investigating it.

Example:  Not all Americans embraced Barack Obama’s new health care system since they believed it was too expensive and would increase the national debt.

court

When people are dating and getting to know each other to see if they want to get married, we may say that they are courting each other. In politics, public officials can court people or groups in order to gain favor from them to win elections or gain funding or privilege from them.

Example:  Presidential candidates often court Hispanic and African-American citizens to try to gain their votes in the next election.

fall in love with

When people are dating, one person may fall in love with the other in a very romantic sense of involvement.  In metaphorical terms, anyone who admires someone or something in a serious way may be described as falling in love with him or her.

Example:  In 2012, some conservatives wondered if American could really fall in love with the Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

have a crush on

In romance, someone who falls in love with someone may be described as having a crush on someone, meaning their love or infatuation for the other person is so complete that it would crush them with its weight.  In politics, a person who has a great admiration for an official may be described as having a crush on them.

Example:  Barack Obama was so popular when he was elected president in 2008, many liberals seemed to have a crush on him while conservatives did not like him at all.

smitten

Smitten is the past perfect tense of the verb smite meaning to hit or strike hard.  This word is used metaphorically to mean to be hopelessly in love with someone.  This term can be used in a romantic sense or in the case of people admiring celebrities or politicians.

Example:  Many conservatives were smitten with the looks and personality of Sarah Palin when she was chosen by John McCain to be his running mate in the 2008 presidential election.

Marriage and Divorce

blog - romance - wedding ringsmarried, marriage

Many courtships result in happy marriages that last a lifetime.  The idea of marriage is synonymous with a strong, long-lasting bond between two people.  In politics, we can also talk of people who are married to an idea or an organization.

Example:  Although many progressives embrace the idea of the government providing social services for all Americans while many conservatives are not married to the idea.

honeymoon

A honeymoon is the romantic vacation that a couple takes after their marriage ceremony.  In politics, the period of popularity during a short time after a person is elected may also be called a honeymoon.

Example:  Although Barack Obama was very popular when he was elected, the honeymoon did not last for long as he was faced with historical economic problems and opposition from Republican lawmakers.

Many people have their honeymoons in Hawaii.

Many people have their honeymoons in Hawaii.

love affair

A marriage can also be described a love affair between two people. In politics, a public official may also be described as having a love affair with an organization or process if he or she is often working hard to maintain that special relationship.

Example:  A good presidential candidate almost needs to have a love affair with the media in order to get positive press coverage before the election.

Next time:  Metaphors of Up, Over and Above

blog - width - Trinity_Bridge_-_span_of_a_bridge

Stretched Too Thin: Metaphors of Width

Recently President Obama gave the commencement speech for the graduates of West Point Military Academy.  It was an incredibly detailed speech about his views on U.S. foreign policy.  There are too many details to describe here but one item that caught my ear was a comment about not stretching our military “too thin.”  This is one type of conceptual metaphor I have not yet covered here in this blog.  Thus, here follows a brief description of metaphors derived from our experiences with width, i.e., thick and thin or broad and narrow…

Wide

broad-based movement

Some physical objects such as stone monuments have wide or broad bases.  Figuratively, any action or process that is supported by many people in many parts of the country may be called broad-based.  In politics, a liberal or conservative movement with popular support may be described as a broad-based movement.

Example:  The Tea Party grew into a broad-based movement in 2009 and 2010 due to a backlash against Barack Obama’s liberal policies.

broadly speaking

In a similar sense, to do something broadly indicates that it is done in a general, widely approved way.  Speaking in a general way may be called broadly speaking.

Example:  Broadly speaking, conservatives and liberals differ on many important issues such as women’s health, national security, taxes and government spending.

blog - width - Trinity_Bridge_-_span_of_a_bridge

Trinity Bridge, St. Petersburg, Russia

span

A large distance in space is called a span.  The physical concept of a span can be used metaphorically to describe abstract notions of time and cultural events.

Example:  The isolationist policies of the United States avoiding joining world wars spanned many decades in the 20th century.

across the board

Originally a phrase from a betting procedure in horse racing, to say something is true across the board means that it is true for many people, categories, or geographical areas.

Example:  In 2012, Mitt Romney accused Barack Obama of failing as a president across the board.

blog - width - fan out

A Japanese war fan

A hand-operated fan used to cool a person in hot weather is usually narrow at the base and wide at the top.  It literally fans out from bottom to top.  Metaphorically, any dispersal of people or goods to a wide geographical area may be described as fanning out.

Example:  During a presidential campaign, activists for each candidate fan out in their home states to try to gain more votes.

large swath

The term swath originally meant a section of crops on a farm that was cleared by a cutting tool called a scythe, for example, a swath of wheat.  Metaphorically, a swath indicates a large group of people across a large geographical area.

Example:  Campaign strategists must consider the large swath of independent voters across the United States who can tip the scales toward one candidate or another in an election.

at large

The notion of a large geographic space is used in a strange metaphor to be at large.  In one sense it may refer to a person who is not centrally located in his or her job as in a newspaper critic at large. It may also refer to a general sense of space and category as in society at large.

Example:  A good president must consider society at large instead of just narrow interest groups in deciding how to govern the country.

Narrow

narrow the lead

The opposite of wide is narrow.  The concept of a narrow physical space is used metaphorically in many English phrases.  In one instance, a small difference in poll numbers during an election is called a narrow lead.  Making the lead smaller may be called narrowing the lead.

Example:  A presidential candidate behind in the polls will try to narrow the lead of his or her opponent by increasing fundraising, campaign stops and television interviews.

blog - width - MindTheGapVictoria

The gap between the train and the platform at Victoria Station, London

narrow the gap

A gap is a physical space between two objects.  In politics there may also be a gap between mean and women, rich and poor, winner and loser, etc.  To make this gap smaller is sometimes called narrowing the gap.

Example:  Most middle-class American voters hope that the U.S. government can narrow the gap between the rich and the poor.

narrow decision, narrow ruling

The concept of a narrow space is also used to describe the small difference in votes from the judges on the Supreme Court.  For example, a 5-4 vote will be called a narrow ruling or a narrow decision.

Example:  The Supreme Court upheld Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act by a narrow 5-4 ruling.

eke out a narrow victory

When a candidate wins an election by a very small margin, we may say that he or she has won a narrow victory.  There is also a word eke that means a small increase in the quantity of something.  In a common phrase we can say that the candidate might eke out a narrow victory.

Example:  In 2012, Barack Obama eked out a narrow victory over Mitt Romney.

Thick

thick with lobbyists

A solid object may also be described as being thick or thin.  Being thick means that the object is wide on at least two dimensions.  The term can also describe a physical space with objects close together.  In a metaphorical phrase, a specific place can be thick with people that work in that general area.

Example:  Americans who want to take money out of politics are dismayed when they see that Washington D.C. is often thick with lobbyists.

fat profits

Another way of describing a wide object is saying that it is fat.  While this is considered a derogatory term to describe people, it may be used to describe a large quantity of anything.  A large amount of profits for a company may be called fat profits.

Example:  Many Americans are frustrated that gas prices continue to rise despite fat profits of the oil companies.

 

Thin

wear thin

The opposite of thick is thin.  The concept of a very thin object can be used metaphorically to describe anything that is very small in quantity or in intellectual substance. In one instance, the popularity or a patience of a person can wear thin as if it is an old shirt.

Example:  Barack Obama’s popularity began to wear thin for liberal supporters when he was not able to achieve many progressive goals.

thin gruel

Gruel is a type of simple porridge some people eat for breakfast.  A bowl of porridge with a great deal of oats or other grains is considered a thick and hearty gruel. A bowl with few grains and more water would be considered a thin gruel, meaning it was lacking substance and nutrition. Metaphorically, a policy or program that is weak and ineffective may be called a thin gruel.

Example:  American voters need a president to deliver effective social programs not just thin gruel.

blog - width - pancake too thin

Pancake batter stretched too thin

spread too thin, stretch too thin

The origins of the phrases spread too thin or stretch too thin are not clear.  However, it seems that we have a common experience of spreading a semi-solid substance such as butter, peanut butter or jelly on a piece of bread or cracker.  If we spread the substance too thin, it won’t have much flavor.  Also, if we spread a substance such as pancake batter too thin on a griddle, it might burn.  Similarly, if we make pie crust or pizza crust too thin, it might burn in the oven.  Also, when making pottery, if one makes the wall of a pot too thin, it might break upon firing or its first usage.  The idea of stretching something too thin is similar.  When stretching a piece of plastic wrap or rubber balloon too thin, it might break.  Metaphorically, when we have too few people to do many jobs, we may say that we are spreading or stretching them too thin with the result that one cannot achieve a good result of the process.  In businesses, employees may be spread too thin, while in the armed forces, soldiers may be stretched too thin for a military operation.

Example:  In a recent speech to West Point graduates, President Obama claimed that our military personnel overseas could be attacked anywhere by rebel forces.  “So we have to develop a strategy that matches this diffuse threat, one that expands our reach without sending forces that stretch our military too thin or stir up local resentments.”

Next time:  Metaphors of height 

blog - business - cash

Democracy for Sale: Metaphors of Buying

To continue my posts on the metaphors of business, today I offer a few examples of metaphors of buying and negotiating.  Note that everyday business transactions are used to create common metaphors to talk about elections, government policies or political deals that happen all the time. How many of these have you heard recently?

Buying

cost /cost votes

We say that everything costs money to buy.  In metaphorical terms, things can have more than a monetary cost, e.g., we can say, “the car accident cost him his life.”  In political terms, an action by a politician or political party can have a cost in terms of votes in an election.

Example:  Some say that John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as vice president nominee was the best idea he ever had; others say that it cost him the election.

blog - business - cashafford

To be able to afford something means that one has enough money to buy something.  As with the word cost, the word afford can have other meanings besides money.  Usually used in a negative sense, the phrase cannot afford something means that the person or group will be worse off with a negative result if some action is not taken.

Example:  Teachers say that we cannot afford to cut funding for education even if it costs a lot of money.

Example:  A president cannot afford to look weak when dealing with terrorists.  He or she must be firm and use military action if necessary.

buy some time

One can also buy things besides products.  One can buy abstract ideas such as time.

Example:  Sometimes a president, when faced with a crisis, will buy some time by having committee meetings before he or she must make a decision.

pay/it pays to

Similar to the usage of buy and afford, the word pay can be used for money or other things.  Metaphorically, if we pay for something, we must suffer some personal cost.

Example:  President Hoover paid for his inability to end the Great Depression.  He was replaced in the next election by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Example:  It always pays for a president to listen to the needs of the American people when making decisions or else he or she will be voted out of office.

pay off later

Something that a person does today may have a benefit later.  In such cases, we can say that it will pay off later.

Example:  In 2006 and 2007, Barack Obama spent time and money developing support from voters on the Internet.  This strategy paid off later in 2008 when he used these networks to raise money and gain votes for the election.

pay-back time

If one does something to hurt someone else, we sometimes say that the second person needs to pay back the first person in the form of some kind of vengeance or retribution.  When the second person decides to do something, this is called the pay-back time.  In politics, it’s payback time when a person or group has the power to make a change to something that affected him or her in a negative way at another time.

Example:  If a governor raises too many taxes for the citizens, it will be payback time at the next election.  The governor might be voted out of office.

blog - business - pay dirthit pay dirt

                  When people mine the ground for metals, the miners can be paid for the metals they find.  Any dirt that produces gold or silver or any valuable metal is called pay dirt.  In metaphorical terms, one who hits pay dirt has done something great or succeeded at a difficult task.

Example:  John McCain thought he hit pay dirt when he asked Sarah Palin to be his running mate for the 2008 election, but he did not win the election.

blog - business - coinsshortchange

When we buy things at a store and pay with bills or coins above the price, the cashier will give back change, or the rest of the money we are owed.  If the cashier accidentally keeps some of the money, this is called being shortchanged.  In popular terms, to be shortchanged means to have a result of some process that is less than what one was expecting.

Example:  The brave police and firefighters who were injured helping the victims of the 9/11 attacks seem to have been shortchanged when some of them could not get the government to pay their medical bills.

Negotiating 

bargaining table

When business people meet each other to buy or sell their products, they must negotiate or bargain for the costs of their services.  Usually these meetings occur in offices with the people sitting around a table discussing the business until an agreement is reached.  This table is often referred to as the bargaining table.  In politics, world leaders and politicians are often at the bargaining table trying to agree on policies and programs they are trying to start.

Example:  Republican and Democratic members of Congress are always at the bargaining table when it comes to deciding how high taxes should be for people and corporations.

President Reagan and Margaret Thatcher discuss politics with their cabinets at the White House in 1981

President Reagan and Margaret Thatcher discuss politics with their cabinets at the White House in 1981

the business of  politics

Politics is often compared to a business.  When politicians negotiate with each other to try to pass bills, cut budgets, or begin new programs, they are engaging in the business of politics.

Example:  When politicians first go to Washington D.C., they must get used to the business of politics there.  Most likely, it is more complex and difficult than politics in their hometowns.

broker peace

Broker is an old word for businessman or trader.  In modern terms, a broker is one who buys and sells real estate or investments.  However, in politics, deals and peace agreements can also be brokered.

Example:  President Jimmy Carter brokered a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt in 1978.

marketplace of ideas

A market is a place where products and services are bought and sold.  A marketplace can also be used metaphorically to mean any place or Internet website where ideas are exchanged using the freedom of expression allowed in the first amendment to the Constitution.

Example:  College classrooms around the world are great marketplaces of ideas.

Next time:  Metaphors of Office Work

Metaphors of Red, Blue, Green and Yellow

In my last post I discussed metaphors derived from the colors of black and white.  Today I discuss metaphors derived from our experiences in seeing colors of red, blue, green and yellow.  As I mentioned last time, some of these conceptual metaphors originate in our experiences with nature, while others are based on arbitrary associations.  Have a look at a spectrum of color metaphors!

Red and Blue

blog - colors - Red_and_Blue_(5836555143)

red states and blue states

                  The United States has two dominant political parties, the Democrats and the Republicans. During presidential elections, each state will be won by either party.  In the 1990s, television stations and newspapers struggled to show which party had won each state.  Eventually the media began using two contrasting colors for the two parties, red for Republican-won states, and blue for Democrat-won states.  In time, people began to shorten the names to simply red states and blue states.  There is nothing intrinsically red or blue about any political party.  In this case, the color-based origin of these political metaphors is completely arbitrary.

Example:  The west coast of the United States has mostly blue states such as California, Oregon and Washington.  However, the Midwest and South have many red states.

purple

Since purple is a mixture of the colors red and blue, some media analysts say that states with an even mixture of Democratic and Republican voters are called purple states.

Example:  Virginia was formerly known as a red state, but it has been purple during the 2008 and 2012 elections.

red

The color red has man metaphorical meanings.  In addition to the political meaning explained above, the color red is commonly used to mean anger.

Example:  In the year 2000, many Democrats were seeing red when the Supreme Court voted to uphold George W. Bush’s election win although Al Gore had won the popular vote.

red ink

Pens with red ink were formerly used to write down the amount of money that was lost in a business.  When a business or government is losing more money than it is earning, we say that it is in red ink.

Example:  When the economy is in recession, many state governments get into red ink.  They must begin to make budget cuts.

blog - colors - Civil_War_Red_Tape_02red tape

Many years ago, a kind of red-colored tape was used to hold together official government documents.  Nowadays, the phrase red tape indicates the problems and delays one encounters when trying to get something done in a bureaucracy.

Example:  Many Americans are frustrated by all the red tape they must endure every time they deal with the government for taxes, licenses, passports, etc.

redline

As with the phrase red ink, the term redline originally meant to use red ink to highlight a problem.  In some cases, the names of people who applied for a loan from a bank but did not qualify were crossed off a list with red line.  Thus, to redline someone means to disqualify him or her from doing something.

Example:  In part, the banking crisis of 2008 was caused by banks giving loans to people who should have been redlined since they could not afford to pay the high mortgages.

rosy

The rose flower has petals in beautiful shades of red.  If we say something is rosy, this means that the situation is very good.

Example:  When a new president is elected, most people have rosy expectations of making positive changes for the country.

blue

In addition to meaning explained above that blue states are Democratic, the color blue is also used to indicate situations that are sad or depressing.  Also, as mentioned in the chapter on Clothing, blue collar workers are those who work in factories and make middle class wages.

Example:  In 2008, Barack Obama was able to turn some red states blue.

Example:  Many Republicans were feeling blue when Barack Obama won the election.

Example:  During the 2008 primaries, Hillary Clinton won many votes from blue collar Democrats in the Midwest.

blog - colors - Clouds_Blue_Sky_001out of the blue

If something is unexpected, it seems to fall from the blue sky.  Thus we have an expression that something we were not expecting is out of the blue.

Example:  The rise of Hitler in World War II was not out of the blue; many Europeans knew he was gaining power in the 1930s.

blue blooded

Many years ago in Spain, the term translated as blueblood meant someone who was very rich or from a high social class.  This term may have started from the idea that blood looks blue in people with very fair skin especially when compared to people with darker skin.

Example:  After the American Revolution in the 1770s and 1780s, citizens did not want any more royal British bluebloods controlling their government; they wanted to elect their own presidents.

Green and Yellow

blog - colors - green shoots Convallaria_majalis_IP0404087green

The color green has many metaphorical meanings.  Since most plants are very green when they start to grow, the color green is used to indicate people who are not yet mature or experienced.  Since the color green is associated with plant growth, it has been used to describe programs, organizations and governments that take good care of the environment.  Subsequently, one who works in a business promoting environmental concerns can be called a green collar worker.  Finally, since American money is colored green, the term green can also be used to indicate financial gain.

Example:  Some critics said that Barack Obama was too green to be elected president since he did not have much executive experience.

Example:  Traditionally American-made cars have not been good at saving gas or reducing pollution.  However, now the companies are stating to make greener cars with better gas mileage and less carbon dioxide emissions.

green collar

Example:  After the high oil and gas prices in 2008, many companies started making alternative energy, creating many green collar jobs.

greenhorn

                  A person who is inexperienced can also be called a greenhorn, perhaps derived from animals with new horns when they are young.

Example:  Ronald Reagan was no greenhorn when it came to making public speeches.  He was a famous Hollywood actor before becoming the governor of California and the president of the United States.

greenback

A greenback is another word meaning American money, due to its color.

Example:  Americans seem to need more and more greenbacks to buy simple things like food and gasoline. 

yellow

In popular terms, to be yellow means to be afraid or cowardly, as in a soldier who is afraid to fight in a war.  In politics, a leader may be called yellow if he or she is afraid to use military force against an enemy.

Example:  After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, President Roosevelt was not yellow; he declared war on Japan the next day and immediately began plans to attack.

Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, full-length, dressed as the Yellow Kid, a satire of their role in drumming up USA public opinion to go to war with Spain. Source – Wikipedia.

Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, full-length, dressed as the Yellow Kid, a satire of their role in drumming up USA public opinion to go to war with Spain. Source – Wikipedia.

yellow journalism

In the 1890’s, a New York newspaper had a comic strip character who always wore yellow clothes.  The Yellow Kid, as he was known, was so popular another newspaper created their own yellow characters to get more people to buy their newspaper.  This competition became known as yellow journalism, later meaning the type of reporting relying on headlines, exaggerations and sensational stories to sell newspapers instead of trying to find all the facts.

Example:  American citizens should be careful about yellow journalism when it comes to learning the truth about the news.  They should only read newspapers that tell the real truth about events.

Other color metaphors

colorblind

If someone cannot physically see colors, this is called being colorblind.  Metaphorically, being colorblind means that one does not form opinions or make decisions based on a person’s race.

Example:  Did America become more colorblind after Barack Obama was elected the first black president? Or will race still an important issue in society for many years to come?

off-color

If a person is looking off-color, this means he or shoe does not have the usual color of healthy skin.  In jewelry, a jewel that is off-color is less valuable because it is not as pure as other examples of that type of gem.  In popular terms, a joke or story is considered off color if it is not accepted by normal society, usually because it has some sexual content.

Example:  Good politicians are careful not to tell any off-color stories since many people will be offended.

blog - colors - Colored_pencils_chevre

true colors

If people show their true colors, this means that they are showing what they really think or believe.

Example:  Democrats show their true colors when they write laws that help poor people have better lives.

Next time:  Metaphors of Plants and Trees