Tag Archives: obama

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

President Obama’s State of the Union Address

Hi folks!  Sorry for the delay in getting out a new post.  Sometimes my teaching schedule prevents me from having enough free time to write these lengthy analyses.  Just in time for Presidents’ Day weekend, I offer a brief summary of the metaphors in President Obama’s recent State of the Union Address.

The speech was an inspiring call to action for Congress and the American people to make progress to solve our nation’s problems.  It was not rhetorically flourishing, but it did have a fair number of interesting political metaphors.  There were three conceptual metaphors that seemed to be central to his message:  sports, motion, and personification, all designed to invoke unity between the president and the American people.   The examples are taken directly from the speech; italics are mine.

Sports

Most Americans are familiar with our popular sports of football, baseball and basketball.  It is very common for politicians to speak of the government and people working together as a sports team.  President Obama uses several sports metaphors to suggest the importance of working together with common strategies for success.

the playbook

The book of strategies used by the coaching staff to win a game is called the playbook.

Example:  Taking a page from that playbook, the White House just organized a College Opportunity Summit, where already 150 universities, businesses, nonprofits have made concrete commitments to reduce inequality in access to higher education

blog - sports - footballstanding on the sidelines

In football, the coaches stand on the side or sidelines of the field while the athletes play in the middle of the field.  Being on the sidelines metaphorically indicates that a person or group is not directly involved in an important activity.

Example:  Listen, China and Europe aren’t standing on the sidelines; and neither — neither should we. We know that the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow.

the game

Most sporting competitions are called games (although in other sports they may be called matches (tennis) or tournaments (golf)).  Coaches always put their best players in the game to increase the odds of winning the competition. In this case, President Obama described a woman who lost her job a week after she and her husband bought their first home.

Example:  Congress, give these hardworking, responsible Americans that chance.  Give them that chance. Give them the chance. They need our help right now, but more important, this country needs them in the game. That’s why I’ve been asking CEOs to give more long-term unemployed workers a fair shot at new jobs, a new chance to support their families. And in fact, this week many will come to the White House to make that commitment real.

a full team

In some cases, athletes get injured and cannot play on the team.  If there are many injuries the coaches may not even have enough players to play a game. This is referred to as having a full team.

Example:  Tonight I ask every business leader in America to join us and do the same because we are stronger when America fields a full team.

 

Motion/Journeys

As mentioned in other blog posts about speeches and writings, politicians often invoke metaphors of motion or journeys to indicate how a group or government is making progress.  In the President’s State of the Union Address, he uses many such metaphors to explain how his policies are helping the country make progress in important areas.

trapped

When an animal or person is trapped, it means that they cannot move or escape.  Being trapped metaphorically indicates the opposite of a journey in that it means that a person or group cannot move forward or make progress towards a goal.

Example:  We’re offering millions the opportunity to cap their monthly student loan payments to 10 percent of their income, and I want to work with Congress to see how we can help even more Americans who feel trapped by student loan debt.

stalled

When an engine is not working properly, it may stall and die.  Similarly, when an airplane loses speed and lift, it stops moving forward and falls toward the earth.  Metaphorically, a lack of progress toward a goal may also be described as being stalled.

Example:  Upward mobility has stalled.

reverse

Even worse in terms of progress than an engine stalling is putting it in reverse and going in an opposite direction. However, when something bad is happening, it is good to reverse the trend to stop the negative effects of the action.  In this example, President Obama laments the high number of Americans who are still unemployed.

Example:  So our job is to reverse these trends.

blog - journey - derailmentderail

We often use journey metaphors specific to certain kinds of transportation.  Trains must stay on the rails to be able to move forward.  If they fall off the railroad tracks, this is known as a derailment.  Metaphorically, when progress towards a goal is interrupted or broken, we may say that it is derailed.  In this case, President Obama is talking about the success of imposing sanctions on Iran.

Example:  The sanctions that we put in place helped make this opportunity possible. But let me be clear: if this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it.

stay on track

Similarly, forward progress can be made metaphorically if the actions of a group stay on track.

Example:  And I’m reaching out to some of America’s leading foundations and corporations on a new initiative to help more young men of color facing especially tough odds stay on track and reach their full potential.

launch

We also talk about a quick beginning to a journey metaphorically compared to the launch of a rocket.

Example:  We also have the chance, right now, to beat other countries in the race for the next wave of high-tech manufacturing jobs. And my administration’s launched two hubs for high-tech manufacturing in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Youngstown, Ohio, where we’ve connected businesses to research universities that can help America lead the world in advanced technologies. Tonight, I’m announcing we’ll launch six more this year.

trajectory

When a rocket is launched, it travels along a path through the air called a trajectory.  Figuratively, a person or group making progress toward a goal may be described as being on a correct upward trajectory.

Example:  That means more on-the-job training, and more apprenticeships that set a young worker on an upward trajectory for life.

get on board

Another way of speaking of starting a journey to describe as a person getting on a ship, known as getting on board (the word board itself an example of synecdoche as the piece of wood indicates the platform used to allow people to walk onto the ship). In this case, President Obama talked about asking the government to raise the minimum wage for American workers.

Example:  Of course, to reach millions more, Congress does need to get on board.

America does not stand still/take steps

A journey always begins with the first few steps.  A person cannot stand still and expect to go anywhere. Metaphorically, standing still indicates that no progress is being made towards a goal.  A person needs to start moving and take the first steps to begin the journey.

Example:  But America does not stand still, and neither will I.  So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.

blog - journey - footsteps

race to the top/big strides

Some journeys are competitions between people or groups.  These competitions are known as races.  A winner is sometimes considered the person at the top of the winners’ podium so that a competition may be described as being a race to the top.  One of President Obama’s programs to improve public education in the United States is called the Race to the Top.  In an extended metaphorical passage, Obama also describes the necessary progress as making big steps or strides toward solving the problem.

Example:  Race to the Top, with the help of governors from both parties, has helped states raise expectations and performance. Teachers and principals in schools from Tennessee to Washington, D.C., are making big strides in preparing students with the skills for the new economy — problem solving, critical thinking, science, technology, engineering, math.

Example:  So just as we worked with states to reform our schools, this year we’ll invest in new partnerships with states and communities across the country in a race to the top for our youngest children.

speed up/picking up speed

Once a journey or race has begun, a person may need to increase speed to win the race.  This may be known as speeding up or picking up speed. 

Example:  But what I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class.

Example:  With the economy picking up speed, companies say they intend to hire more people this year.

get by/get ahead

In a race, the person who speeds up the most may get ahead of the competitors.  In cases of evenly matched competitors, one person may struggle to pass or get by another competitor. Metaphorically, just barely making progress toward a goal may be described as getting by, while making a great deal of progress could be referred to as getting ahead.

Example:  The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by; let alone to get ahead.

Race to the finishin the lead

A person who gets ahead of his or her competitors may be described as being in the lead.  Metaphorically, being in the lead indicates that the person is moving ahead towards a common goal.

Example:  With Afghan forces now in the lead for their own security, our troops have moved to a support role.

move this nation forward

Advancing one’s position in a race may also be described as moving forward.  Figuratively, any progress towards a goal may be referred to as moving forward.  In a common political metaphor, we can talk about moving this nation forward.  In this example, President Obama talked about making sure that all moms make sure their children get health insurance.

Example:  After all, that — that’s the spirit that has always moved this nation forward.

stumble

Despite the best efforts to advance on a journey, sometimes a person loses his or her footing and may stumble or fall.  Metaphorically, stumbling indicates that there is a break in the progress towards a goal.  Towards the end of his speech President Obama admits that the journey towards progress is not always easy, but they will persevere.

Example:  Our freedom, our democracy, has never been easy. Sometimes we stumble; we make mistakes; we get frustrated or discouraged.

Personification – Metonymy

this chamber speaks

Personification is a rhetorical or poetic device that allows a writer to compare an idea or action to a person. Personification can take many different forms.  In one type known as metonymy, the actions of people in a place are represented by a person.  In this case, the building where Congress meets, known as the chamber, is described as a person who can speak.

Example:  Tonight this chamber speaks with one voice to the people we represent: It is you, our citizens, who make the state of our union strong.

Personification – Synecdoche

war footing

In another type of personification called synecdoche, the words for parts of the human body can be used to represent the actions done by those parts.  In this case, having a footing on something indicates that a person or country has a strong position for acting or moving forward.

Example:  So even as we actively and aggressively pursue terrorist networks, through more targeted efforts and by building the capacity of our foreign partners, America must move off a permanent war footing.

into the wrong hands

Similarly, the terms hands is used figuratively to represent the work done by the people with those hands, as in the famous military phrase, “all hands on deck.”  In this case, saying something falls into the wrong hands indicates that dangerous materials are in the possession of criminals or terrorists.

Example:  American diplomacy has rallied more than 50 countries to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the wrong hands, and allowed us to reduce our own reliance on Cold War stockpiles.

blog - synecdoche - hands

Personification – Body Position

More commonly, the use of personification involves the description of businesses or governments as people using their eyes, arms, hands, backs and shoulders to get things done.

focused

People see accurately by focusing their eyes on a certain object.  Metaphorically, being focused means that a person or group is working together towards a common goal.

Example:  And let’s pass a patent reform bill that allows our businesses to stay focused on innovation, not costly and needless litigation.

clear/clear-eyed

To see an object precisely, one’s eyes must be clear of obstructions.  Figuratively, being clear-eyed or seeing something clearly indicates that the goal is precisely determined.

Example:  These negotiations will be difficult; they may not succeed. We are clear-eyed about Iran’s support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, which threaten our allies; and we’re clear about the mistrust between our nations, mistrust that cannot be wished away.

reaching out/ reach their potential

People can use their arms and hands to reach out and touch other objects or people.  Collectively, groups or governments can metaphorically reach out to people or other groups as well.

Example:  And I’m reaching out to some of America’s leading foundations and corporations on a new initiative to help more young men of color facing especially tough odds stay on track and reach their full potential.

seize this opportunity/ stand ready

We can also grab or seize an object with our hands.  Figuratively, we can seize an opportunity.  We can also stand ready to perform an action after seizing an opportunity (more on standing metaphors to follow).

Example:  If Iran’s leaders do not seize this opportunity, then I will be the first to call for more sanctions and stand ready to exercise all options to make sure Iran does not build a nuclear weapon.

standing up/weakened/strengthen

Another common metaphor of body position is standing up.  When a person stands up, he or she is in a position to attack or defend oneself in a battle.  Thus standing up means to act in a position of power or protection.  Also, we may also speak of groups, governments or even programs as being strong or weak as a person. Certain actions may strengthen or weaken a program.

Example:  Citizenship means standing up for everyone’s right to vote.  Last year, part of the Voting Rights Act was weakened, but conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats are working together to strengthen it.

Example:  Citizenship means standing up for the lives that gun violence steals from us each day.

blog - body - standing upwe stand for

We can also describe a position of power or authority as standing for something.

Example:  On every issue, the world turns to us, not simply because of the size of our economy or our military might but because of the ideals we stand for and the burdens we bear to advance them.

drain our strength

Another way of describing weakness is by saying that it drains a person’s strength, or metaphorically a government’s power to accomplish its goals.

Example:  We must fight the battles that need to be fought, not those that terrorists prefer from us — large-scale deployments that drain our strength and may ultimately feed extremism.

backed/backed by pressure

The back of a person or animal is one of the strongest parts of a body.  People can use their backs to apply pressure or force to move objects.  Metaphorically, backing someone or something means that a person or group is supporting a project.

Example:  American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated.  And we will continue to work with the international community to usher in the future the Syrian people deserve — a future free of dictatorship, terror and fear.

Example:  And it is American diplomacy, backed by pressure, that has halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program — and rolled back parts of that program — for the very first time in a decade.

at their side

People who work together may be physically close to each other or work side by side.  We can also say that one person who supports another is at their side.

Example:  As we speak, American diplomacy is supporting Israelis and Palestinians as they engage in the difficult but necessary talks to end the conflict there; to achieve dignity and an independent state for Palestinians, and lasting peace and security for the state of Israel — a Jewish state that knows America will always be at their side.

shoulder to the wheel of progress

As mentioned, we can conceive of a journey as the movement of a vehicle.  In a common metaphor we can speak of the wheel of progress as if movement towards a goal can be described as a turning wheel.  In a sort of double metaphor, President Obama talks about using our collective shoulders to physically move objects or make progress towards a goal.

Example:  But for more than two hundred years, we have put those things aside and placed our collective shoulder to the wheel of progress: to create and build and expand the possibilities of individual achievement; to free other nations from tyranny and fear; to promote justice and fairness and equality under the law, so that the words set to paper by our founders are made real for every citizen.

feet planted/eyes cast towards tomorrow/ within our reach

President Obama ends his speech by combining three metaphors of journeys and personification.  He speaks of the country’s attempts to improve the lives of its citizens, and refers to Army Ranger Cory Remsburg who was seriously injured in battle but has been an inspiration to many people in his recovery.  President Obama describes the readiness of the country to move forward as having our feet planted, while our eyes are fixed on the future, and our goals within our reach.

Example:  The America we want for our kids — a rising America where honest work is plentiful and communities are strong; where prosperity is widely shared and opportunity for all lets us go as far as our dreams and toil will take us — none of it is easy. But if we work together; if we summon what is best in us, the way Cory summoned what is best in him, with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast towards tomorrow, I know it’s within our reach. Believe it.

In sum, as commander in chief, the president naturally needs to inspire and motivate American citizens to work with him and Congress to solve our problems.  A State of the Union address is the perfect way to achieve this goal. I believe President Obama and his speech writers deliberately used metaphors of sports, journeys and personification to relate his messages of unity and progress to the American people.

Next time:  Metaphors of Silver and Gold

Obamacare Part 3: “Rollout,” “Bugs” and other Metaphors in the Media

Hello again!  In the last of my three-part series on the language of Obamacare, I will analyze several metaphors used by the national media to describe the Affordable Care Act.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERArollout

A rollout is a term used to describe the process of bringing an aircraft out of a hanger for a flight or launch.   Metaphorically, the delivery of a new product or government program may also be called a rollout.

Example:  Many Americans were frustrated that the rollout of Obamacare was filled with glitches.

launch

When a rocket takes off towards space, this is known as a launch.  Metaphorically, starting a new program may also be called a launch.

Example:  Critics of Obamacare claim that the website should not have been launched before all the software problems were resolved.

blog - ACA - rocket

skyrocketing

Rockets shoot towards space at incredible speeds.  In a compound word metaphor, to say that something skyrockets indicates that it is increasing at a great rate of speed.  In politics and economics, skyrocketing usually refers to quickly increasing prices of some commodity.

Example:  Some experts believe that Obamacare will result in skyrocketing prices for insurance policies.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAsticker shock

Prices of items in a store are often indicated on a sticker attached to the item.  More expensive items such as cars and trucks also have stickers on the windows of the vehicles indicating the prices.  When one is surprised at a high price of an item, we may say that the person is suffering from sticker shock, such as when gas prices go up at your local gas station.  In politics, government programs with unexpectedly high costs may be described as causing sticker shock among politicians or consumers.

Example:  Although many critics of Obamacare claim that consumers will have sticker shock when they see the prices of their new policies, other experts maintain that the cost of policies will actually go down.

cap costs

The word cap has its origins in the same word as cape, meaning a covering, especially for the head.  Later the term was used to indicate any item that is used to cover the top of something.  Thus we have caps for pens, or caps for oil wells.  Metaphorically we can also have salary caps for professional sports teams or efforts to cap rising costs of some government program.

Example:  Supporters of Obamacare contend that it will work to cap out-of-pocket health care costs.

broken

Government programs are often compared to machines.  When they work well, no one complains; however, when something goes wrong, we may say that the program is broken.

Example:  President Obama maintains that he created the Affordable Care Act because the previous health care system with millions of uninsured Americans was completely broken.

fix/repair

In keeping with the idea of a program as a machine, we may also that the system needs to be fixed or repaired.

Example: It was clear from the early days of Obamacare that the website needed to be fixed although the necessary repairs would take several weeks.

blog - ACA - bugsbugs

            The word bug is another word for insect. As a verb, it means to annoy people in the same way that an insect annoys someone at an outdoor gathering.  As a noun it can mean problems in a system that are also very annoying or difficult to fix.

Example:  When the Obamacare website did not work very well, software experts scrambled to fix all of the bugs as soon as possible.

shut down the website

When a machine is working properly, mechanics may need to turn it off or shut it down to make the necessary repairs.  Metaphorically, we may also say we need to shut down a government program.

Example:  When the Affordable Care Act website was first launched with many bugs, the government decided to shut it down every night to make the necessary repairs.  Hopefully, it will be running smoothly soon.

Next time: Metaphors are for the Birds!

More Shutdown Metaphors: Time Magazine, Part 1.

Due to the high level of interest in my last posting on the government shutdown, I have looked further into the discussions in the national media.  This week I discovered an excellent article on the shutdown in the latest Time magazine -  Scherer, Michael and Altman, Alex, “Loss Leaders: The Fever Never Broke.  Cooler Heads Have Not Prevailed.  And the Next Self-Inflicted Crisis May be Worse than the Last.”  Time, October 14, 2013, pp. 20-26.  This article proved to be a treasure trove of political metaphors related to the shutdown.  I will describe these metaphors in two separate posts.  Today I will analyze a few metaphors from the categories of nature, games, machines and medicine.

Animals/Nature

Descriptions of politics often include metaphors of animals or nature.

lemmings with suicide vests

Lemmings are small arctic rodents that are noted for jumping off cliffs to their deaths.  This claim, however, is only a myth (due in part to a staged Disney documentary in the 1950s! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDqlZjpSJCc).  And yet, people who are thought to deliberately fail to achieve their goals are metaphorically referred to as lemmings.

Example:  “Representative Devin Nunes, a California Republican, compared members of his own party to ‘lemmings with suicide vests’” (p. 22).

blog - animals - lemming

a gaggle of presidential appointees

A group of geese is commonly known as a gaggle.  The term gaggle is also used metaphorically to describe a group of people who are similar in appearance or opinions.

Example:  “… Senate Majority leader Harry Reid threatened to blow up Senate rules if Republicans did not allow the confirmation of a gaggle of presidential appointees” (p. 25).

sapping Obamacare

Some trees ooze a liquid from their trunk called sap which can be used to make special products such as maple syrup or even rubber. In the belief that this leaking of sap weakens the tree, the verb sap carries the meaning of weakening something or someone of their stores of energy.

Example:  “The House passed a series of budget resolutions, each one aimed at sapping Obamacare” (p. 25).

brinkmanship

The word brink originally referred to a type of cliff or edge of a riverbank.  Metaphorically, being on the brink of something means that a person is about to make an important decision or is facing an impending disaster.  The metaphorical usage originated with discussions of avoiding nuclear war.   The action of negotiating a settlement on an important issue is also known as brinkmanship.

Example:  “At the White House, Obama’s aides studied the polls and saw in Boehner’s brinkmanship an exercise in self-harm” (p. 23).

blog - animals - salamandergerrymander

Technically, the term gerrymander is not a metaphor, but is actually a neologism (newly created word).  However, I thought I would include it here because of its fanciful history.   As the story goes, Elbridge Gerry, the governor of Massachusetts in 1812, redrew district boundaries in his state to benefit his own party. One new district was so contorted it looked like a salamander.  A local newspaper editor named this process gerrymandering.

Example:  “…after multiple rounds of ornate gerrymandering, of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives, fewer than 1 in 5 is truly competitive on Election Day” (p. 22).

Games

            As mentioned in the previous post, political actions are often compared to children’s games, board games or sports.

a bystander to the game

In some cases, metaphors are so common that we use them in speech and writing as if they are literal words and phrases.  Note the example below:

Example:  “…the President – who is elected by the entire country – seemed content to be a bystander to the game” (p. 23).

the endgame

When a game of chess is completed, this is simply called the end of the game or the endgame.  In common terms, an endgame has come to mean the objective or primary goal of a policy or approach to solving a problem.

Example:  “’No one I have talked to on either side of the aisle knows what the endgame is,’ explains Representative Dan Lipinski” (p. 25).

Machines

            The inner workings of government policies are sometimes compared to machines.

mechanism

A mechanism is a part of a machine that controls a certain function, as in a spring that keeps the time in a watch.  Metaphorically, a mechanism is something that controls the function of something in a process.

Example:  “Congress created the debt ceiling in 1917 as a mechanism to restrain borrowing and must authorize any increase in its limit.”

blog - machines - hot buttonhot button issues

Most machines have buttons that must be pushed on and off to control various functions.  Some emergency or shut off buttons are painted red and may be known as hot buttons.  Metaphorically emotionally charged topics such as immigration or abortion may be referred to as hot button issues. In the following example, Scherer and Altman describe the power of some conservative political groups.

Example:  “[Heritage Action] pushed hot button issues, published rankings to praise the orthodox, and used their clout to punish signs of squishiness” (p. 24).

machinery engaged/no reverse gear

Some machines such as internal combustion engines must have gears that are engaged to work and propel a vehicle.  Engines often work with transmissions that are built with gears to control the speed.  In a complex metaphorical passage, Scherer and Altman compare the Republican plan for the shutdown as a machine.

Example:  “But the machinery was engaged and it seemed to have no reverse gear” (p. 24).

Medicine

            In some cases, government policies, processes or negotiations are compared to people who are ill and need medical attention.  This is a form of personification or anthropomorphism.

feverish stalemate

The Time magazine authors compare the shutdown to a person with a high fever as they state that “the fever never broke ” (p. 21).  In an unusual mixture of medical and game metaphors, they also describe the shutdown as a stalemate but also as a person who has a fever.

Example:  “A decisive re-election would break the feverish stalemate in Washington…” (p. 23).

soothe financial markets

People who are suffering from illnesses may need to be soothed by family members or medical staff before they can heal.  Metaphorically, political or economic problems can also be soothed by politicians. In their discussion of conservative groups, Scherer and Altman use this metaphor as well.

Example:  “Conservative outfits like the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks, and Heritage Action for America weren’t interested in cutting deals to soothe financial markets” (p. 24).

blog - medicine - soothe

paralyze/paralysis

Paralysis is a severe injury resulting in a person losing function of muscles in his or her body.  In common terms, any system, program or government operation which no longer functions properly may be described as suffering from paralysis or is paralyzed.

Example:  “… the power of minority rule, refined by the politics of safe seats, paralyzes the body politic indefinitely” (p. 25).

dead on arrival

When a person has a heart attack or is in a serious accident, in some cases the person dies before he or she can get medical attention at a hospital.  In these instances, the person is described as being dead on arrival.  In politics, government programs or policies that are not approved by Congress may also be described as being dead on arrival.

Example:  “And while immigration reform would clear the Senate, it was already dead on arrival in the House” (p. 24).

Next time:  Shutdown Metaphors of Journeys and Wars

Special Edition: Shutdown Metaphors

This is one blog that I was hoping I would not need to write.  Unfortunately, our dysfunctional Congress has succeeded in shutting down the government.  If you are confused by all the metaphors used by politicians and journalists in the past few weeks, here is a short guide to some of the most common ones, grouped by conceptual metaphor category.

Buildings

shutdown

The word shut originally meant to throw a bolt across a door to keep it closed.  The compound word shutdown was originally used to describe the shutting of doors of a factory, but later it was also used by extension to describe the stopping of an engine from running.   Metaphorically, the term shutdown is now also used to describe the stopping of the U.S. government as either a building with doors that are bolted shut or as a machine that is no longer running.

Example:  Some experts blame the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party on the 2013 government shutdown.

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Start / Stop Switch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

close their doors

Given the history of the word shutdown, it is not surprising that we also use a metaphorical phrase that the government is closing its doors when there is a shutdown.

Example:  When the government closes its doors, many government agencies and national parks are also closed.

debt ceiling

The limit of the amount of debt that the U.S. government can borrow is known as the debt ceiling, as if the debt is a physical amount of cash in a small room that cannot grow higher than the ceiling of that room.

Example:  The U.S. government raised the debt ceiling for many decades without controversy, but it has become an issue of budget negotiations in the past few years.

Games

who will blink first?

A game that is popular among children and young adults is the staring game.  Two people face each other and stare as long as they can at the other person. The first person who blinks loses the game.

Example:  During the political negotiations prior to the shutdown, many people wondered if House Speaker John Boehner would be the one to blink first.

stalemate

In a game of chess, the object of the game is to capture the king of the opposing player.  This is known as checkmate.  In an older form of the game, the winning move was decided when the opposing player could not move any more, a situation known as a stalemate.  Today a stalemate is any situation in which two opposing sides cannot come to an agreement on a particular matter.

Example:  The shutdown occurred because the Republicans and Democrats were at a stalemate on budget issues.

blog - games - checkmate

ping-pong

Ping-pong is a popular game in which two players hit a small ball back and forth across a net on a small wooden table.  English speakers sometimes use this  back-and-forth movement to describe fast-changing negotiations or disagreements between two groups of people.

Example:  Prior to the shutdown, Democrats and Republicans ping-ponged different bills back and forth that could have avoided the shutdown.

Food

piecemeal

The term piecemeal is an Old English expression meaning the fixed time to eat a meal.  However, the term now indicates doing something in small measured steps instead of in one large effort.

Example:  The American people have been frustrated with the Congress since they try to solve budget problems piecemeal instead of passing comprehensive legislation.

blog - food - cherry picking

cherry pick

Cherries are fruit that grow on tress in small bunches.  Sometimes they ripen at different rates, so that one has to be careful to pick only the ripe cherries and not those that are still green.  This process of careful cherry-picking is used to describe processes in the government that only apply to one or two problems instead of solving a crisis in a holistic manner.

Example: After the shutdown began, some members of Congress began to cherry pick some government agencies that they wanted to remain open.

Liquids

cash flow

Money has long been considered metaphorically as a flowing liquid.  Note the term currency that is derived from the motion of water flowing in a current.  During this most recent budget crisis, the government shutdown meant that it would not pay its employees.  In effect, the cash would stop flowing.

Example:  Unfortunately for many federal employees, their paychecks would be terminated since there would not be any government cash flow during the shutdown.

blog - nature - multnomah falls

freeze payments

Water freezes at a certain low temperature. We can also say that money which stops flowing is frozen.  We can speak of frozen assets or frozen payments.

Example:  During the shutdown, the U.S. government froze payments on most of its expenditures.

Crime

hold hostage

Disturbingly, some of the actions of our members of Congress have been compared to criminal behavior.  For instance, when someone holds another person against his or her will for an extended period of time, this is known as holding the person hostage.  In the latest failed negotiations in Congress, the Democrats accused the Republicans of holding the country hostage by refusing to compromise on the implementation of Obamacare.

Example:  Critics of the Tea Party claim that they are holding the nation hostage so they prevent the Affordable Care Act from going into effect.

a gun to the head

Even more serious is the metaphor of a person holding a gun to someone’s head as if they are about to shoot that person.   Some Democrats have complained that the negotiating tactics of the House Republicans are tantamount to holding a gun to their heads until they agree to their demands.

Example:  Prior to the 2013 government shutdown, Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would not agree to Republican demands with a gun to his head.

Journeys

no end in sight

Finally, an unusual journey metaphor illustrates the pessimism of finding an easy solution to the shutdown dilemma.  On a long journey, we cannot always see our destination in our field of vision so that it is literally not in sight.  Moreover, during a long journey through a tunnel, we may not be able to see the end of the tunnel.  Combining these two experiences results in the metaphor of having no end in sight, meaning that there is no immediate solution to an ongoing problem.

Example:  As the shutdown continued for several days, journalists reported that there was no end in sight.

blog - journey - tunnel