One of the most common metaphors one hears in the news today is the idea of draining the swamp. During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump pledged that, if he were elected, he would drain the swamp, meaning that he would fire all of the politicians in Washington D.C. who were negative influences on the government. No one was exactly sure what he meant, but many us assumed that he was referring to career politicians, lobbyists, and those too closely connected to Wall Street and large corporations.
This phrase is not new in politics. Originally it was derived from the physical draining of the water in a swamp where mosquitos were breeding and causing malaria or other diseases. In 1983, Ronald Reagan called for draining the swamp of bureaucrats in Washington D.C. while in 2006, Nancy Pelosi wanted to drain the swamp of Republican politicians in the U.S. government. Many other colorful examples can be found in a wonderful summary here.
Despite Donald Trump’s promise to rid the government of career politicians and lobbyists, he has so far named five millionaires and billionaires to his cabinet, including Steven Mnuchin, a Goldman Sachs executive as Secretary of the Treasury, billionaire businessman Wilbur Ross as Secretary of Commerce, billionaire Republican supporter Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s wife Elaine Chao as Secretary of Transportation.
While many Republicans are applauding these recent choices due to their business experience, other conservatives are not so supportive. In a recent interview, conservative radio host Mark Levin complained, “This is not Trump draining the swamp. This is the swamp draining Trump.”
Democratic Senator from Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren was even more blunt in an address two weeks ago. “Trump is not draining the swamp, nope. He’s inviting the biggest, ugliest swamp monsters in the front door, and he’s turning them loose on our government and our economy.”
Many of the cabinet choices require Senate confirmation so these candidates are not officially hired quite yet. In the meantime, we will see if President-elect Trump continues to appoint Washington and Wall Street insiders to this cabinet.
We have several other metaphors based on swamps, marshes and bogs. Here are a few examples for your reading pleasure.
Many areas of the earth are covered in a mixture of water and soil in areas known as swamps, bogs, marshes or wetlands. Some of these terms are used metaphorically to indicate the difficulty in getting out of complicated situations. In one case, we say we are swamped with work if we cannot keep up with all the tasks that we are required to do at a certain time.
Example: In July 2011, President Obama asked Americans to call their members of Congress if they wanted to make a suggestion on how to reduce the national deficit. As a result, the phones of many Senators and Congresspersons were swamped with calls for several days.
A bog is a type of marsh, a large area covered in water that is difficult to cross. In a similar sense, a person who cannot make good progress in a situation may be described as being bogged down.
Example: Much to the dismay of American voters, progress in Congress is often bogged down by disagreements between Democrats and Republicans.
A mire is another word for bog or swamp. Metaphorically, a person who is mired in something cannot make progress in a certain situation.
Example: American politics is commonly mired in ideological differences between liberals and conservatives.
A quagmire is another old world meaning a bog or marsh. In common terms, a quagmire is any difficult situation that is almost impossible to get out of.
Example: After the difficulties during the War in Vietnam, many Americans felt in 2003 that the War in Iraq would be another quagmire that would cost millions of dollars and many lives.
Quicksand is an especially dangerous mixture of water and sand that traps a person. The more one moves to get out, the more trapped one becomes. People die every year from being trapped in quicksand. Metaphorically, quicksand refers to any situation that looks safe but is actually a trap or a dangerous situation that one cannot escape from easily.
Example: During the revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa that sprang up in 2011, most Americans were against any military involvement in those areas claiming it would be quicksand for our troops.
To me it seems pretty sad that our government is described both as a swamp of evil creatures and as a place where we cannot easily escape with our lives. One can only hope that the new Trump administration somehow makes improvements in the effectiveness of our government working for the American people.
This past summer, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were tied in many national polls. More recently, however, Trump has been slipping in the polls due to the release of tapes of him making disparaging remarks about women, and many women coming forward accusing him of inappropriate behavior in years past. Donald Trump has denied all of the allegations, and has often repeated a complaint that the entire election is rigged against him, implying that the Democrats are somehow plotting to steal the election. Trump’s running mate Mike Pence has also suggested that the election is rigged. During the Democratic primary, supporters of Bernie Sanders also complained that the primary process was rigged in favor of Hillary Clinton.
The word rig has an interesting etymology. The word originally referred to the way that ropes were used to secure sails on a ship, a process dating back to the 15th century. The word also referred to a process of tricking or swindling someone, dating to 1775. Although one could argue that the more modern connotation is a completely different word, I believe that the idea of swindling is related to the original idea of using rigging ropes. Swindling someone involves an intelligent process of tying up many details that allow someone to trick other people. The idea of rigging an election requires a complex process of manipulating many details of election procedures. In any case, I would like to offer several other political metaphors derived from the specialized vocabulary of sailing ships.
The person in charge of a ship is usually called the captain. Metaphorically, and sometimes jokingly, any person in command of an organization may be called a captain.
Example: When a candidate is elected president, her or she becomes the captain of the ship of the United States.
The compartment of a ship where the pilot controls the steering wheel and navigation equipment is called the pilothouse or wheelhouse. In baseball, the area of the plate in which a certain batter can hit the ball is also called the wheelhouse. Thus, a good batter can get a hit if the ball is thrown into his wheelhouse. Metaphorically, a person’s area of expertise may be called his or her wheelhouse.
Example: Barack Obama’s supporters claim he can win a debate on foreign policy because that is his wheelhouse.
bring on board
When a ship takes on passengers or freight for a trip, we say that they are brought on board the ship. Metaphorically, when people are hired to work in an organization, we may also say that they are brought on board.
Example: A presidential candidate usually brings good advisors on board when he or she begins a long campaign.
miss the boat
Ships must keep tight schedules when traveling from port to port. If passengers are taking a ship, they must get there on time. If not, they will literally miss the boat. Metaphorically, the phrase to miss the boat means to miss an opportunity to do something.
Example: Somehow the U.S. defense department missed the boat and did not prevent Osama bin Laden from attacking New York in 2001.
When passengers do board a ship and leave port, we say that they are embarking on a journey. Metaphorically, whenever people begin a new project we may say that they are embarking on a new journey.
Example: A newly elected president embarks on a four-year journey in the White House.
learn the ropes
Before the days of steam-powered or gasoline-powered engines, ships traveled across the oceans on wind power. Complex sets of sails were controlled by men pulling on ropes to get the sails in the correct position for maximum effectiveness at catching the wind. We have many metaphors in English from this difficult work of controlling these ropes. In one of these expressions, learning how to manage the sails was referred to as learning the ropes. In modern English, the phrase learning the ropes refers to the process of learning any new task.
Example: When Hillary Clinton became Secretary of State in 2008, she had to learn the ropes of complex international diplomacy.
pick up the slack
When ropes become loose, this is called becoming slack. To tighten the rope, people must do what is called pick up the slack. In metaphorical terms, helping a group of people complete a project when they are shorthanded is called picking up the slack.
Example: When the U.S. government cuts federal spending, state governments often have to pick up the slack to fund education and other social programs.
cut some slack
When one has the opposite problem of having a rope that is too tight, one must loosen it in a process we call cutting some slack. In common slang, whenever we need people to be lenient or allow more freedom in a certain process, we may ask for them to cut them some slack.
Example: When Richard Nixon was involved in the Watergate Scandal of the early 1970s, very few people were willing to cut him some slack. Most Americans were pleased when he resigned from office.
Ropes used to control the sails had to be tightly secured to the ship. If they ropes were not tight, they were described as having loose ends. In yet another sailing metaphor, if a situation is chaotic or unorganized, we may say that the people involved are at loose ends.
Example: A good presidential candidate must tie up all loose ends in the campaign in order to win an election.
When the weather is good and the ship is traveling safely, we say that there is smooth sailing. In common terms, any process that is working well may be referred to as smooth sailing.
Example: President Obama did not have smooth sailing in his first few years as president as he had to manage many different economic crises.
When a boat or ship wants to fix its position in the water, the crew drops a heavy metal hook called an anchor into the water. Metaphorically, the concept of anchor has many uses in English. In one metaphor the person who holds the prominent position in a team of TV reporters is called the anchorman, or simply the news anchor.
Example: During a presidential election, TV news anchors work overtime providing the public with the latest information.
anchor of the team
In a similar sense, a person who is the leader of a group of individuals may be called the anchor of the team.
Example: For the last several elections, Karl Rove has been the anchor of the team of strategists helping Republican candidates win their races around the country.
When illegal aliens have children in the United States, these children are sometimes called anchor babies since the parents are then allowed to stay in the country and become eligible for government benefits. This phrase is considered pejorative and not used in normal speech.
Example: Some Americans claim that anchor babies cost the government millions of dollars in health care and social programs.
When a ship arrives in a port, it will seek safety in a harbor where there are shallow waters, few waves, and access to land. Metaphorically, the term harbor is also used as a verb meaning to provide safety for someone.
Example: Most allies of the U.S. government do not harbor terrorists. They are arrested and brought to trial.
In a similar sense, another meaning of the verb harbor is to hold a specific feeling or attitude about something for a long time. In a common phrase, people may harbor resentment against someone who has hurt them in some way.
Example: Some Vietnam veterans still harbor resentment against the U.S. government for treating them so poorly when they returned from combat in the 1960s and 1970s.
These are just a few of the metaphors derived from sailing ships. The idea of rigging an election may be derived from the process of rigging the sails many centuries ago. It is interesting that we still use words to describe political processes that originated in other fields many years ago. As Trump and Clinton come to the end of the campaign for the presidential election with only a few weeks to go, I wonder if Mr. Trump will continue to complain that the election is rigged.
With the 2016 Summer Olympics underway in Rio de Janeiro, I thought it was worth mentioning again a few metaphors from the exciting sport of track and field. One of the most common metaphors used during the Democratic National Convention a few weeks ago was the idea that Barack Obama was passing the baton to Hillary Clinton if she were elected to be the next president of the United States, as if they were both in a relay race during the Olympics. Here are a few more metaphors derived from track and field sporting events.
the first heat
In sprint and long-distance running competitions, runners often compete in many preliminary races called heats to determine who will be the finalists for the last race. Thus the first heat is the first race of the competition. Figuratively, the first step of a long competitive process may also be called the first heat.
Example: The Republican primaries of 2016 were the first heat to determine who was going to be the nominee to face the Democratic nominee in the November election.
the biggest hurdle
Some races require the runners to jump over wooden bars set up on the track called hurdles. Metaphorically, any obstacle or barrier to progress may be called a hurdle.
Example: Many pundits agreed that high unemployment rates presented Barack Obama with the biggest hurdle to getting reelected in 2012.
In a long-distance race, runners have to run around a track many times to complete a race. Each time around the track is called a lap. In some cases, very fast runners will actually catch up and pass slow runners so that they are one full lap ahead of them. The slow runners are described as being lapped. In politics, people can be described as being lapped if one greatly outperforms the other.
Example: In the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton lapped Donald Trump several times in terms of fundraising and corporate donations.
vault to, vault over
In a specialized sport, an athlete runs with a long pole, plants it in the ground and uses it to lift himself or herself over a very tall bar. This sport is called the pole vault. The action of jumping in the air with the pole is called vaulting over the bar. Figuratively, when a person has great unexpected success in one area, we may say that he or she has vaulted to a new level of success. When a person faces a large problem, we may also that he or she can vault over the obstacle.
Example: In the 1980 presidential election, Ronald Reagan vaulted to the lead and beat his opponent Jimmy Carter by a wide margin.
lower the bar
When a pole vaulter is training, it may be difficult to vault over high settings of the bar. Instead, the trainer may need to lower the bar so that the athlete can succeed in making the vault. Metaphorically, lowering the bar means to lower expectations for a certain person, project or program.
Example: After many long years of war in Afghanistan, both George W. Bush and Barack Obama seemed to lower the bar to define how one would declare victory there.
jump or leap to conclusions
In another specialized track and field sport called long jumping, athletes must run as fast as they can and jump as far as they can. They must make a great leap to beat their opponents. This notion of leaping can also be used in a metaphorical phrase leap or jump to conclusions meaning that one assumes an end result of some process without knowing the facts.
Example: On election night, many television viewers can get frustrated with reporters who leap to conclusions and announce the winners before all of the voting results are in.
Some sports, such as the long jump competition in track and field, require athletes to jump long distances. When an athlete does not jump as far as his opponents have jumped in a competition, we may say that he or she has fallen short of the goal. This phrase is also used in archery when an arrow falls short of reaching the target. In a common phrase, when someone does not meet expectations or success at the proposed goals, we may say that he or she has fallen short.
Example: Many progressives feel that Barack Obama fell short in reaching liberals goals for civil rights in the first few years of his presidency.
The fastest speed of a runner (or car or horse) is literally called the track record. Politicians may also have track records in the way that they vote on particular issues.
Example: Senator John McCain, a former prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, has had a good track record of supporting veterans after they return from foreign wars.
pass the baton
In relay races at track and field events, runners carry a short bar called a baton as they run. When each runner finishes his or her section of the race, he or she passes the baton to the next runner, who passes it to the following runner, etc., until the race is complete. In business or politics, a person who steps down from a position of authority can be said to pass the baton to his or her successor.
Example: During the Democratic National Convention in 2016, some journalists wrote that Barack Obama would be passing the baton to Hillary Clinton if she were to win the presidential election in November.
Many newspaper and television reports have recently described Bernie Sanders’ quest for the Democratic nominee as an uphill battle. It seems that Hillary Clinton has an insurmountable lead in the votes and delegates to win the nomination. The phrase uphill battle is an interesting metaphor in this usage for several reasons. At first glance, it seems that it is a mixed metaphor, mixing journeys and military concepts. Technically, there is such a thing as an uphill battle, one in which an army must fight an enemy while moving up a hill or mountain. However, it is more likely that we think of this as a sort of compound metaphor combining the physical struggle of walking uphill with the danger of fighting a battle in a war. This compound metaphor makes us think of obstacles to journeys and military campaigns. I have described some of these metaphors in past blogs, but it is interesting to see how they are combined into one conceptual metaphor. Here is a review of metaphors of obstacles on a journey and military battles.
Obstacles on a Journey
On some journeys, there may be obstacles or things that prevent continuous progress, such as animals crossing the road, snow or rocks falling on the road, or bad weather conditions. Metaphorically, there may also be obstacles to continuous progress for the success of a program or any process.
Example: Barack Obama had to overcome many obstacles in his path to becoming the first African-American president including growing up poor, not having a father, and succeeding in an environment dominated by white politicians.
A block is a large log, brick or any compacted mass. A block can literally prevent the passage along a journey or prevent progress in an endeavor.
Example: Unfortunately, when a Republican president is in office, the Democrats often block the passage of the Republican bills, while Republicans often block the passage of Democratic bills when a Democrat is in office.
Similar to the idea of obstacles, roadblocks can literally block the continuous progress on a journey or metaphorically block the progress of a program.
Example: In the first two years of Barack Obama’s presidency, the Republicans seemed determined to prevent any success of the Democrats so they put up many roadblocks in Congress.
stumble, stumbling block
A person can also trip or stumble on a branch or a brick in the path along a journey. Metaphorically, one can also stumble or have to overcome a stumbling block in the middle of a process.
Example: President Obama encountered many stumbling blocks from the Republicans and insurance companies when trying to pass health care reform in 2010.
When one cannot continue on a journey because of a road being completely blocked by a natural disaster, we say that we have met an impasse, literally something that blocks the passage of a person.
Example: When Bill Clinton tried to pass health care reform in 1994, he ran into an impasse with insurance companies and other politicians and failed to pass any new legislation.
break down barriers
Another word for a roadblock is a barrier. To continue on a journey, one may have to break down the barriers. Metaphorically, one may also need to break down barriers to make progress in a process.
Example: Barack Obama had to break down many race barriers on his way to become the first African-American president of the United States.
bridge, bridge builder, bridge the divide, bridge the gulf
If one needs to cross a river or a valley during a journey, one may need to build a bridge to be able to continue the journey. Literally, this is called bridging the divide or bridging the gulf.
Metaphorically, when two people or groups cannot agree on something, someone may offer a compromise to solve the problem. This may also be called bridging the divide. The person who does this may be called a bridge or a bridge builder.
Example: Sometimes a U.S. president may need to bridge the divide between the Republican and Democratic members of Congress.
clear the way
Sometimes, if a road is blocked, one must clear the branches, wood or rocks away before one can continue. This process is referred to as clearing the way. In common terms, we can also clear the way for a process to continue after it had been delayed.
Example: In the 1960s, the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. cleared the way for the civil rights laws that were passed later that decade.
potholes to fill
Paved roads in cities often develop holes after many years of traffic and bad weather. Some of these holes are so big people say that they are as big as a cooking pot. City crews must fill the so-called potholes so that people can continue to drive on these roads without hurting their vehicles. Metaphorically, any process that has many difficulties or delays may be described as having many potholes to fill especially when used with another road metaphor.
Example: After the economic crisis of 2008, President Obama had many potholes to fill on the road to recovery considering problems with the banks, corporations and high unemployment.
Some obstacles in the road are very small and can simply be avoided by walking around them. We can call this action sidestepping the obstacle. In common terms, we also say that one can sidestep a problem or an issue by not dealing with it directly.
Example: Many candidates running for office sidestep controversial issues such as abortion and gay marriage.
A course is a route that one follows on a journey. The route to return to the starting point of a journey may be called a recourse. Metaphorically, a recourse is something that one must consider when the first plan does not work.
Example: After years of fighting a war in Afghanistan, the U.S. government had little recourse when their military could not defeat the Taliban there.
long, uphill task/struggle/battle
Walking on a level road is easy; walking uphill is more difficult. Metaphorically, a difficult task may be called an uphill struggle or an uphill battle.
Example: When John McCain returned to the United States after being a prisoner of war in Vietnam for several years, he had an uphill struggle to regain his health and his military career.
look beyond/move beyond
On a long journey with many hills, one must try to look over or lookbeyond the hills to see the rest of the road. In common terms, one must look or move beyond an obstacle to solve a problem.
Example: After many lost seats in the 2014 midterm elections, Democrats had to look beyond their losses and plan for the 2016 presidential election.
Battles are the names of the primary engagements between armies in a war. Metaphorically, battles can also be fought verbally between people or groups. The notion of battle is commonly used in politics.
Example: In every presidential primary, there are many battles among the candidates to gain the nomination of the party.
At the start of every battle, there is a call or cry from the commanding officer to alert the troops to begin fighting. The phrase battle cry can also be used to indicate the beginning of a political process.
Example: In 2011, the Occupy Wall Street protestors used the slogan “We are the 99%! as their battle cry to gain support against the richest 1% of the nation controlling the government.
The land where battles are fought are called battlegrounds. In politics, states in which voters may vote for either Democrats or Republicans are called battleground states when candidates fight for the votes for their party.
Example: Ohio and Florida are often considered battleground states in presidential elections.
battle lines are drawn
The exact line separating the land controlled by two fighting armies is called the battle line. Metaphorically, a battle line is the ideological separation between two people or groups. In a public political argument, we may say that battle lines are drawn based on a certain view of a controversial topic.
Example: In the 2016 election, Democrats drew many battles lines with Republicans over the tax breaks given to millionaires and billionaires.
Combat is another word for battles fought between armies in a war. Metaphorically, any verbal argument can be described as combat as well. As a verb the word combat can be used to describe efforts to fight against something.
Example: George W. Bush worked hard to combat the spread of AIDS in Africa during his presidency.
A firefight is an intense battle between two armies in which a great deal of gunfire is exchanged. In politics, a heated argument may also be called a firefight.
Example: Sometimes a peaceful presidential debate turns into a firefight among the top candidates.
The word clash is an onomatopoetic word meaning that it represents the sound made by two metallic objects hitting together. A physical confrontation between people or battle between armies may be called a clash. However, metaphorically, a disagreement in words or ideas between two people or groups may also be called a clash. Often we speak of a clash of personalities between two people.
Example: During the 2016 Democratic presidential primary, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders clashed over positions on the economy.
As I have mentioned many times, political campaigns are thought of as military operations, judging by the amount of war metaphors we used to describe them. The process of winning a nomination or becoming elected is also thought of as a long journey filled with obstacles. When a candidate struggles to win a nomination for his or her party, it is logical that the process be called an uphill battle.
This past week, Donald Trump claimed that Hillary Clinton was “playing the woman’s card” and would not even get 5% of the vote if she were a man. Critics quickly pounced on this sexist comment. Hillary Clinton may have the last laugh, however, since her campaign claims to have raised $2.4 million dollars as a backlash to the comment. For me, the idea of “playing the woman’s card” reminds me of the popular use of the metaphors of games in American politics. I have mentioned some of these metaphors previously, but they are worth mentioning again.
Also, this past weekend on the television news show Meet the Press (May 1, 2016) the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin described the problems in the Middle East as follows: “This is like three-dimensional chess. And most of us are playing checkers at understanding foreign policy right now.” These types of metaphors are derived from our experiences with board games. Let’s have another look at some metaphors derived from games.
A normal deck of playing cards has 52 cards in four suits: clubs, spades, hearts and diamonds. In some games, a player must put down a card on his or her turn that matches the suit of the previous card. This is called following suit. Metaphorically, one can follow suit by doing the same thing that a previous person has done. In politics, a president may follow suit with a certain program or policy that was already in place when he or she became president.
Example: When Barack Obama became president in 2008, he followed suit with George Bush’s policy in Afghanistan, increasing the number of troops there and stepping up efforts to find Osama bin Laden.
As with the idea of following suit, we would say that a person with many good cards in any suit would have a strong suit, e.g., an ace, king and queen in spades would mean a strong suit of spades. In metaphorical terms, a person’s strong suit is his or her special talent that is superior to the competitor’s abilities.
Example: When George W. Bush was president, he had a talent of appearing to be a regular guy, with rolled up shirtsleeves and speaking plainly. It was such a strong suit for him, he used it many times when giving speeches or press conferences to earn confidence from American citizens.
trump, trump card
In some card games, a certain card may have more value than all the others. This is often called the trump card. In politics, one can trump an opponent or play the trump card to beat an opponent in an election, debate or discussion.
Example: In the 2008, John McCain thought he had the trump card to win the presidential election when he asked Sarah Palin to be his running mate, but they were not able to win a trip to the White House.
Some card games also have a card that is designated as a wild card, i.e., one that can take on the value of a higher ranked card if it is to the advantage of the player who holds it. For example, in the game of deuces wild, a 2 card can have the value of an ace, king or queen if it helps the player win the hand. The difficult part of this type of game is that no one knows when the wild card will appear or how the player will use it, so it could be a surprise to everyone when it happens. In politics, a wild card is a person, program or policy that has unexpected power in a certain situation.
Example: In the 2010 midterm elections, the tea party candidates were often considered wild cards since they were not experienced politicians and no one was sure if they could win elections or not.
In card games, one usually plays a card that will help him or her win the hand or the game. Thus to play a card means to do something to your advantage. In politics, the idea of playing a race card arose when people talked about African-American candidates winning elections because of their race, not their qualifications.
Example: In the 2008 election, some supporters of Barack Obama were accused of playing the race card when they urged people to help him become the first African-American president.
In a similar sense, someone may be accused of playing the so-called age card if they urge people to vote for a candidate because of his or her age and experience and not the qualifications.
Example: Some supporters of John McCain who pointed out the young age and political inexperience of Barack Obama were thought to be playing the age card.
Also, female candidates may be accused of playing the woman’s card.
Example: In the 2016 primaries, Donald Trump accused Hillary Clinton of playing the woman’s card.
reshuffle the cards
When people play cards, the deck must be shuffled before each new deal. This ensures that the same cards are not dealt out in the same way more than once. When we speak of politics of being a card game, we may say that we need to reshuffle the cards when there has been an unexpected turn of events. Reshuffling the cards means one of two things: 1) there has been a change in the policies or personnel of a certain government agency, or 2) someone must reorganize a current situation to bring a new balance and order to the problem.
Example: When a U.S. president is elected to two consecutive terms, he or she might reshuffle the cards of the cabinet or other key positions at the beginning of the second term.
overplay the hand
In some card games, it is sometimes better not to reveal if you have a very good hand of cards. One must be prudent and not try to win the game all at one time. One must be patient and use strategy to win the game in several steps. In politics, we might say that people overplay their hand if they try to push an issue too hard all at once instead of waiting for the diplomatic process to work.
Example: In 2009, some Middle East experts said that Iran might be overplaying its hand by claiming it was going to build a nuclear bomb. Many other countries began to take a stronger stance against Iran instead of trying to work with them on diplomatic issues.
In a chess game, a player may sacrifice a small-value piece such as a pawn in hopes of winning a large-value piece such as a knight or bishop. This strategy is called a gambit.
Example: President Obama’s gambit of working with Pakistan to end the war in Afghanistan may take years to see any results.
When two chess players are tied and neither player can win, this is called a stalemate. In politics, when two political parties, two candidates or any two persons cannot find a solution to a problem, this may also be called a stalemate.
Example: For the past several decades, many U.S. presidents have tried to end the stalemate between Israel and Palestine with limited success.
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: When the war in Afghanistan dragged on for more than ten years, many Americans wondered what the endgame really was for our troops there.
Board Games and Puzzles
There are many types of board games and puzzles that people enjoy all over the world. Crossword and jigsaw puzzles are popular games that require a great deal of patience and intelligence to complete. The word puzzle formerly referred only to the game itself. Now it can also signify the action of being confused. In politics, many difficult situations can be puzzling to politicians and citizens alike.
Example: After the 9/11 terrorist acts in New York city, many Americans puzzled over why they were the target of such a vicious attack.
turn the tables
Board games are often played on tables. In some cases, the board can only be read in one direction. Thus a player may have to turn the board around to read all parts of the game when it is his or her turn. This is sometimes referred to as turning the tables. In common terms, when someone has changed a situation to his or her advantage, this is also called turning the tables.
Example: In the 2010 health reform bill, President Obama tried to turn the tables on the health insurance industry and give back some power and choice to consumers.
It is interesting that our everyday experiences with games translates into many creative metaphors. However, it is not merely the aspect of a fun game that we are thinking about when we create metaphors. Rather it is more in the competitive nature of games that is easily compared to politics and elections. Stay tuned for more interesting metaphors in the news!
In the past few weeks, I have heard the expression of people latching on to different presidential candidates and supporting their campaigns. It is very common for us to use expressions of physical forces to describe abstract processes. In previous posts I have described metaphors of pushing, pulling, bending, shaking, throwing, etc. Today I would like to share a few examples of metaphorical expressions describing one object being attached to another.
To tie something means to use a piece of string, rope or shoe laces to attach something to something else. We must use our hands with a certain amount of physical force to make sure the two objects are tied together tightly. Commonly we can tie our shoelaces or tie up a package with string. Metaphorically, a tie is any strong connection between two or more people or groups of people.
Example: The United States has close political ties to European and Asian countries.
When two objects are tied closely together, they are of equal distance apart. This concept gives rise to the idea in sports of two competitors or teams being tied in the final score of the game, as in soccer or tennis. In politics, we may also say that two candidates are tied in an election if they have the same percentage of supporting voters in polls, or if they receive the same number of votes.
Example: In 2008, Barack Obama and John McCain were virtually tied until the final days of the presidential election.
tie up in knots
Sometimes, in order to make sure that an object is securely tied, we may use a large number of strong knots to hold the string or rope in place. Metaphorically, anything that is very confusing or tightly controlled may be described as being tied up in knots.
Example: The financial crisis of 2008 left many banking regulations tied up in knots preventing people and small businesses from getting loans quickly.
in a bind
Another word for tie is to bind something together, usually with a stronger sense of force and attachment. In a common metaphorical expression, someone in the middle of a complex problem with difficult decisions to make may be described as being in a bind.
Example: Confusing immigration policies put many legal and illegal immigrants in a bind and make it difficult for them to stay in the country.
The past form of to bind is bound. An object can be bound with string or rope. Metaphorically people or groups can also be bound together by similar values, experiences or goals.
Example: Many Republican voters are bound together by values of fiscal conservatism.
The noun form of to bind is to have a bond. As with the word bound, the term bond can represent either a physical or metaphorical attachment.
Example: A good presidential candidate will bond with many different types of voters with a good campaign speech which will help him or her win the election.
A strap is a long piece of leather or cloth that is used to tie two objects together. In a strange expression of unknown origins, a person without money can be described as being strapped for cash. Apparently there was an old expression of getting financial credit from a bank as if one were strapped to that bank until the money was paid back, indicating that one was short of cash until the load was paid off. In any case, we have the common expressions strapped for cash meaning to be without money.
Example: After the financial crisis of 2008, many Americans lost their jobs and their families were strapped for cash.
A latch is a small mechanical device that works to hold a door closed. Metaphorically, an animal such as a crab or turtle can also latch on to a person’s finger. More abstractly, we can speak of latching on to an idea or program.
Example: In 2016, many liberals latched on to the Bernie Sander’s campaign for president because of his progressive policies.
no strings attached
If two or more objects are tied together with string, we may say that the objects are attached with strings. In a common metaphorical expression, an agreement or deal that has a series of conditions attached to it may be described as having strings attached. Ideally a political deal has no strings attached so that it can implemented as quickly and easily as possible.
Example: Unfortunately, most bills being voted on in Congress do not come with no strings attached. Most bills have sections attached that provide money or services to the constituents in the districts of the members of Congress who wrote the bills.
Something that is not tied down securely to a vehicle may flap in the wind during the journey. Metaphorically, a person who does not change his or her opinion or is swayed by public opinion on important issues may be described as being unflappable.
Example: Barack Obama was described as being unflappable as he dealt with the huge financial crises in the first two years of his presidency.
An object can be attached to another object simply through the adhesive properties of a glue or other substance. We can say that a piece of paper, for example, sticks to a cardboard backing with glue. In metaphorical terms, when a person does not change his or her mind about a decision, then we may that he or she is sticking to their position.
Example: When Barack Obama was elected president, he promised to end the war in Iraq and close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He stuck to his decision to get the troops out of Iraq, but he was not able to stick to his plan of closing Guantanamo Bay.
stuck, stuck in the middle of something
An object or person can also be stuck in a certain position depending on the force of the adhesive material. Metaphorically, we can be stuck in a bad situation.
Example: An American president often gets stuck in the middle of controversial issues debated by members of Congress.
Clearly we can find many examples of the concept of two objects being tied together to express the idea of abstract connections between people and organizations. Once again, we see how everyday experiences contribute to our creation of political metaphors. If you find any other examples, please let me know!
Although some parts of the United States are still thawing out from recent snowstorms, most of the country is enjoying warm, spring weather. Today I would like to share metaphors based on changes of seasons and spring growth. While spring may bring new flowers and green grass, spring rains may also bring flooding and erosion to areas near rivers. I have touched on these topics in previous posts on plants and trees or rivers. Here are a few more examples of springtime metaphors.
Most people in northern climates have experienced ice and snow. When temperatures rise, the ice and snow melts. In common terms, problems can also melt away.
Example: In 2011, the fall of the dictators Hosni Mubarek in Egypt and Moamer Kadhafi in Libya proved that their supporters will melt away once it seems they can no longer stay in power.
The season of spring is often symbolic of natural changes and new growth.
Example: In 2011, many countries in North Africa and the Middle East experienced revolutions. These changes in government are known as the Arab Spring.
Plants and trees are commonly used in English metaphors. One of the most common is the familiar term of the family tree, comparing the relatives in a family to the branches of a tree.
Example: Michelle Obama’s family tree indicates that she is the first person descended from a slave to be a first lady of the United States.
Trees have branches that spread out far from the trunk of the tree. In a very common metaphor, the term branch is used to indicate a part of a larger organization.
Example: The United States has three branches of government – the executive, the legislative and the judicial.
the root of the problem
Trees have roots that not only hold the tree into the ground but symbolize the beginnings of the tree’s growth. The concept of roots is commonly used metaphorically to mean the origin of something.
Example: The root of the economic recession of 2008 can be found in the failures of Wall Street investment firms to manage their money properly.
A tree with deep roots is one that is very old and solidly anchored into the ground. Metaphorically, a problem or attitude that is deep-rooted indicates that it is something that goes back many years and is not likely to change any time soon.
Example: Due to the lack of positive changes for the average person made by Congress, many Americans have a deep-rooted cynicism of politicians.
All plants have some sort of root structure. Grass is one of the most common plants in the world and its roots are spread evenly under the ground. In politics, a grassroots organization is one that originated by ordinary people, not developed by a larger political party or organization.
Example: Although millions of Americans created support networks for Barack Obama in the 2008 election, many of those grassroots organizations were dying off and looking for new members for the 2012 election.
Trees have thousands of leaves. The idea of a leaf is used commonly to describe pages in a book. Small pieces of paper are also called leaflets and are often used to distribute information in an election.
Example: If you go to a candidate’s campaign rally in a presidential election, you may receive a leaflet describing the candidate’s best qualities and political experience.
Plants are attached to the ground through the roots. They grow and produce blossoms or fruit from the stem. Metaphorically, the origin of something may be described as stemming from an event, process or project.
Example: In late 2011, the approval rating for Congress dropped to only 9%. The frustration with Congress stems from the fact that Republicans and Democrats can never seem to agree on anything and do not pass any laws to help the American people.
Some plants have small branches or shoots that grow out of the main stem or trunk. These can also be called offshoots. In common terms, an offshoot is anything that develops out of something else.
Example: In the war on terror, American presidents must monitor not only the main terrorist organizations but their offshoots around the world as well.
When the water in a river overflows its banks, we call this a flood. Metaphorically, a flood is any extraordinary amount of objects, events, or information.
Example: After the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York in 2001, there was a flood of reports of other possible terrorist activities.
flood the airwaves
Radio and television transmissions are sometimes called airwaves. In a special metaphorical phrase, to flood the airwaves means to produce a large quantity of a certain kind of report or political ad on radio and TV channels.
Example: During a presidential campaign, most candidates flood the airwaves with negative attack ads against their opponents.
high water mark
When a river floods, the water rises high above the usual water level. In cities prone to flooding, the people there install a type of measurement system to see how high the water rises in each flood. The highest level the water reaches is called the high water mark. Metaphorically, the phrase high water mark can also mean the highest level of any recorded information.
Example: During the Great Depression, unemployment hit a high water mark of 25%.
stem the flow
When a river is beginning to flood, the local residents may try to stop the water from rising too high. In other words, they may try to stem the flow of the water. In metaphorical terms, any effort to stop the movement of people, objects or a process may be called stemming the flow.
Example: Many Americans would like to stem the flow of illegal immigration from Mexico into the United States.
Mountains and hills have steep inclines that are difficult to climb up or down. When it rains, these slopes can become impossible to ascend or descend. In fact, a person trying to climb up a wet hill will most likely lose his or her footing and slide all the way down to the bottom. In common terms, a slipperyslope is any situation in which a specific action or decision may result in the failure of the entire process or project.
Example: Critics of the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision to allow corporations to contribute money to election campaigns complain that it was the beginning of a slippery slope to corporations taking over our entire democracy.
Landforms can be worn down because of wind or water pressures over many years. This process is called erosion. In common terms, support for a person or process can also be eroded by pressures from other people or groups.
Example: American support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan eroded after many soldiers were killed and there seemed to be no end in sight.
Soil is another word for the dirt that we use for farming, gardening and landscaping. The term soil, however, has a negative connotation in that it indicates something that is metaphorically dirty or unclean.
Example: The impeachment of Bill Clinton soiled his reputation has a good president.
Mud is a mixture of dirt and water and is especially hard to clean up. In one of the oldest political metaphors, criticizing someone, often unfairly, is called mudslinging.
Example: Abraham Lincoln had to endure a great deal of mudslinging from his opponents in his reelection campaign of 1864.
A spring is a channel of water coming up from the ground. A spring that continuously provides fresh water may be called a wellspring. Metaphorically, a wellspring is something that continuously provides information, money, or other commodity.
Example: Conservative organizations are usually a wellspring of money for Republican candidates in national elections.
hope springs eternal
In a common use of the idea of a spring, the idea of hope providing inspiration to people in hard times is captured in the phrase hope springs eternal.
Example: In the darkest days of the Great Depression in the 1930s, President Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps created jobs for Americans and gave people the notion that hope springs eternal.
Metaphors from nature are very common in politics and everyday speech. These examples listed above illustrate how our experience with plants, trees, rivers and springs help create metaphors to explain growth and change in American politics.
Two recent articles on Donald Trump in Time magazine illustrate the ubiquity of metaphors of fighting, battles, and war in American politics. Sadly, just as I was working on this blog post about violent metaphors, violence erupted at a Trump rally in Chicago on Friday, March 11. It never ceases to amaze me that politicians treat their profession as a boxing match. These two articles include a long piece by David Von Drehle entitled “Destination Unknown: As Donald Trump piles up GOP delegates, the nations braces for a very difficult 2016” (March 14, 2016, pp. 34-39), and a shorter piece by Alex Altman entitled “Donald Trump: Tribal Warrior” (March 14, 2016, pp. 40-43). The examples below are taken from the print articles and are labeled as being written by David Von Drehle [DVD] or from Alex Altman [AA]. Italics are mine.
Here in no particular order are a dizzying array of battle metaphors in these two articles.
Boxing and Fighting
Boxing metaphors are some of the most commonly used types of figurative language in politics. In this case, we see examples of lightweight versus heavyweight boxing weight classes. We also talk about throwing punches, beating an opponent, or stopping the bleeding after a fight. An opponent beaten badly may be fighting for his or her life.
Judo is one of many different types of martial arts. One way of defeating an opponent in this sport is to do a judo-flip and pin the other person to the ground. In ancient Rome, fighters called gladiators fought each other and wild animals to the death.
Example: “Judging the baby-faced junior Senator from Florida to be short of gravitas, Trump dubbed him ‘little Marco Rubio, the lightweight.’ Sensing shiftiness in Texas Senator Cruz, he coined the name Lying Ted.” [DVD, p. 38]
Example: “You can be sure, as well, he’ll be throwing punches of his own.” [DVD, p. 39]
Example: “’The reason their punches don’t land is they’re being thrown in a world that’s dying,” says former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who says Trump may ultimately prove to be ‘the most effective anti-left candidate of our times.’” [AA, p. 43]
fighting for life
Example: “A new Justice Department team might reopen the matter, he implies, “so she is literally fighting for her life” in her effort to beat Trump.” [DVD, p. 39]
Example: “CAN HE BEAT HER [Hillary Clinton]?” [DVD, p. 38]
Example: “Their jobs, their futures, are bleeding away to ‘Mexico, China, India, Vietnam, Thailand’–Trump ticks through the list at his rallies.” [DVD, p. 39]
Example: “He is, they acknowledge, a force like no other: an utterly unpredictable candidate who has judo-flipped the entire political apparatus.” [DVD, p. 39]
Example: “The same gladiatorial mojo that powers football, war movies, professional wrestling and Judge Judy Trump transposes into a political key.” [DVD, p. 36]
War and Battles
Military metaphors are also very common in politics. We can talk about sharpening a weapon, and having a military strategy of dividing and conquering smaller nations. Armies can go on the offense when starting a war while local people may rise up and fight by bringing torches and homemade weapons to a battle.
In occupied countries during a war, local people who fight back against the occupiers are called resistance fighters, while all soldiers and fighters fight against the invaders, and may have to fight in hand-to-hand combat, referred to in Spanish as fighting mano a mano. One of the most famous resistance fighters in history was the Scottish warrior William Wallace who fought against the British in the 13th century. He was referred to as Braveheart in a popular 1995 Mel Gibson film of the same name. Invading armies can also harm or kill civilians in what as known as dragooning, based on the name of 17th century French soldiers.
During a war, armies decide how to defeat their enemies by assigning targets for their guns and bombs, and they attack their enemies. They may also burn the buildings and property of their enemies or putting them into flames. Metaphorically a word meaning to cause widespread disruption and damage to a process is called being inflammatory . At the end of a battle or a long war there is often vast destruction of lives and property. This is known as carnage. Finally, smaller wars between tribes instead of countries leads to the metaphors of tribal warriors who fight for their side in a war. These types of wars may be described as an us-against-them problem. Wars always have hidden threats and dangers for local citizens which may create fearfultribes.
Example: “Even Hillary Clinton is sharpening her smooth-edged coalition politics, telling voters they’re ‘right to be angry.’” [AA, p. 41]
divide and conquer
Example: “How does he win? Divide and conquer” [AA, subtitle of article, p. 41]
on the offense
Example: “’He is totally on offense, 24/7.’ This gives Trump ‘the potential to scramble the electoral map.’” [DVD, p. 39]
Example: “The party bosses didn’t spot the torches on the horizon because they live comfortably cushioned from the concerns of Trump’s tribe.” [AA, p. 43]
resistance fighter, Braveheart, fight to stop, fighting mano a mano [hand to hand combat]
Example: “What about those stop-Trump schemes? Tim Miller, a Bush spokesman turned resistance fighter, made like Braveheart on Super Tuesday. ‘The fight to stop Donald Trump from getting the nomination is intensifying regardless of tonight’s outcome,’ he declared. Cruz suggested it was time for Trump’s other rivals to drop out and let him go mano a mano.” [DVD, p. 38]
Example: “He hasn’t dragooned supporters into believing he’s a conservative; he’s leading a willing rebellion against modern conservatism itself.” [AA, p. 43]
Example: “Close allies of Clinton believe that Trump’s big mouth makes him a deliciously vulnerable target.” [DVD, p. 38]
attacks, attack ads, inflammatory, carnage
Example: “Democrats have been stockpiling research and conducting polls on Trump since last summer, according to sources, and they are studying Cruz and Rubio as the Republican rivals test-drive attacks ranging from the size of Trump’s hands to the mysteries of his unreleased tax returns. They promise a long barrage of attack ads and negative messages in summer and fall, bristling with Trump’s most inflammatory moments, in hopes of motivating Democrats to go to the polls. Meanwhile, Clinton will float above the carnage, they predict, inviting independent women and even Republicans to join her bid for history.” [DVD, p. 39]
Example: “Trump’s eagerness to be inflammatory on issues like deporting Mexicans and creating a registry for Muslims will drive that number higher, she predicts.” [DVD, p. 39]
Example: “On the campaign trail, he leans on stereotypes to explain the world, in ways both inflammatory and complimentary.” [AA, p. 41]
Example: “Donald Trump: Tribal Warrior” [AA, title of article, p. 41]
tribal warfare, us against them, enemies
Example: “But nobody does tribal warfare like Trump. ‘It’s us-against-them politics,’ says Roger Stone, a Republican consultant and former Trump adviser. ‘You define yourself by who your enemies are.’” [AA, p. 41]
Example: “Trump warns of enemies lurking everywhere.” [AA, p. 43]
Example: “Now the same knack for divisive rhetoric could tear the Republican Party in two, leaving Trump as the commander of a new tribe, a coalition of the disaffected.” [AA, p. 41]
Example: “But there is no tribe Trump condemns more than the political elites, both Democratic and Republican.” [AA, p. 43]
hidden threats, fearful tribes
Example: “This theme, of the hidden threat lurking in our midst, is part of what makes Trump a fitting prophet for a fearful tribe.” [AA, p. 43]
As I said, it is always amazing to see how we speak of American politics with such violent metaphors. It is not surprising that real violence sometimes erupts in the political process. I hope that the recent rise in hateful rhetoric is short-lived and politicians and their supporters can revert to more civil and respectful discourse.
The 2016 Iowa caucuses were held this past week. Television news broadcasts, as well as newspaper, radio and online reports, were filled with reports of the results of the voting. I looked at a few randomly chosen articles from online websites. I was not surprised that many articles were filled with political metaphors. Two articles in particular, one from CNN and another from NPR, contained a few colorful examples of political metaphors. All of the examples below are taken directly from the texts of the articles. Italics are mine. Each quotation is labeled as being from either the CNN or NPR article.
Metaphors from nature are very common in politics. One of the most common ways to describe local political movements is to say that it is a grassroots movement, as if people are blades of grass growing in a local area. One way to describe a political group that is split into many parts is to say that it is fractured, as if it is a rock that is broken in two. We can also describe unusual political situations as if they are chemicals that might explode, saying that they are volatile combinations.
Example: “And Marco Rubio’s stronger-than-expected showing could mark him as the establishment’s best hope against a grassroots revolt in next week’s New Hampshire primary and beyond.” CNN
Example: “One thing is clear after Monday night’s Iowa caucuses: there’s a long, volatile election season ahead before two deeply fractured parties can unite behind a nominee.” CNN
We also commonly use experiences with our sense of physical power in our bodies to describe personal or political viewpoints. We often describe asserting one’s rights as standing up for something, while a person representing the interests of a group of people might be described as standing for them. One quotation from Ted Cruz uses both of these metaphors.
stand up, stand for
Example: “’It is breathtaking to see what happens when so many Americans stand up and decide they’re fed up with what happens in Washington and they want something different. They want a leader they can trust, they want a leader that stands for them against the corruption of Washington,’ Cruz told CNN’s Dana Bash in an interview aired Tuesday on ‘New Day.’” CNN
Fighting and Hunting
Competition between candidates in an election is often referred to as a series of battles or fights. Candidates may be described as firing shots, beating or beating out opponents or fending off attacks. We also see people described as being in the hunt as if a group of people are tracking wild animals with weapons. At the same time, a campaign may be compared to the military crusades of the 11th – 13th centuries.
battles, in the hunt
Example: “So for all the predictions that it was a two-way battle for evangelical support, the Florida senator [Marco Rubio] — who was stressing his own faith in last week’s debate and on the trail in the final stretch — was just as much in the hunt and made it a three-way contest.” NPR
fire shots, wage a crusade
Example: “Claiming victory, Cruz fired immediate shots at both Trump and the party elites he has so infuriated by waging an anti-establishment crusade that has nevertheless endeared him to the GOP’s rank and file.” CNN
Example: “Trump, meanwhile, kept trying to fend off questions about his ground operation and whether the huge crowds the reality-TV star drew would translate into enough votes for him to win.” NPR
Example: “Cruz beat out businessman Donald Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who finished just behind Trump.” CNN
Sports and Games
Elections are also compared to games, horse races and gambling activities. The work done by staff and volunteers to encourage local people in a certain state is called a ground game, while elections themselves are called races or horse races, and certain campaign strategies are called gambling with the election that may or may pay off in the casino.
Example: “Ground games and retail politics still matter.” NPR
Example: “Donald Trump thought he could upend Iowa caucus traditions. The gamble didn’t pay off.” NPR
Example: “On the GOP side, it was a three-way race for evangelical voters.” NPR
Width: Middles and Edges
Political viewpoints are often compared to left and right sides of the political spectrum. However, politicians who are moderate in their views may be described as being in the middle of the road, as if all political views are spread across a roadway going forward in an election. In another set of metaphors, we describe the difference in election results as being measured across a gap or physical distance. Thus we have the differences described as an edge of a sharp blade or a small margin, elsewhere as being slim, narrow, or razor thin.
middle of the road
Example: “Her real strength was with middle-of-the-road Democrats — but unfortunately for her, that share had significantly dropped. This year, just 28 percent of voters identified themselves as moderates, down 12 points from 2008. She had a 23-point edge over Sanders with that bloc, though.” NPR
Example: “Trump was just narrowly their second choice with 22 percent. But it was Rubio who performed much better than expected to get 21 percent of the evangelical vote.” NPR
Example: “’We lost (the nonwhite vote), but that gap is growing slimmer and slimmer between the secretary and myself. I think you’ll find as we get to South Carolina and other states, that when the African-American community, the Latino community, looks at our record, looks at our agenda, we’re going to get more and more support,’ Sanders told Cuomo on ‘New Day.’” CNN
Example: “Instead, her margin of victory over Sanders was vanishingly small.” NPR
Example: “But what Sanders did do was bring in more liberal voters to buoy him. Twenty-eight percent of voters described themselves as very liberal — a 10-point jump from 2008. Sanders won those voters by 19 points. Clinton had a 6-point edge with the 40 percent of voters who described themselves as somewhat liberal.” NPR
Example: “Hillary Clinton declared victory early Tuesday morning in a razor-thin contest against Bernie Sanders in Iowa. But Democratic party officials have not yet declared a winner.” CNN
It never ceases to amaze me how often we use metaphors when we talk about politics. These two articles describing the results of the Iowa caucuses demonstrate how common these metaphors are. I look forward to hearing what other metaphors are used as we go through the wild and crazy primary season leading up to the 2016 presidential elections.
Next time: More metaphors from the Republican and Democratic primaries.
As I mentioned last time, President Obama’s most recent State of the Union Address was not a typical SOTU speech. It looked backwards more than looking forwards. He also didn’t use a great number of metaphors. However, there were several examples of metaphors of sports, nature, machines and buildings that I covered in my last post. Today I would like to describe several more complex metaphors from physical forces, personification and journeys. As always, the examples are direct quotations from the transcript of the speech. Italics are mine.
Ever since we were toddlers, we have learned to control our environment with our hands and our tools. We shape and tie and cut things thousands of times in our lives. We can bind something with string or be bound by a common creed. We can plant seeds in a trench, or have entrenched interests. We can also shape and reshape our lives, push and pull our way through lives, or lift, boost and elevate our lives. We also see more violent metaphors such as beat, break through, take out, and stamp out problems. Finally, there are numerous examples of cutting abstract processes as if they are vegetables on a cutting board. President Obama uses all of these metaphors of physical processes to describe his programs and goals for the future.
Example: “Voices that help us see ourselves not first and foremost as black or white or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born; not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed. Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word — voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love.”
Example: “None of this will happen overnight, and yes, there are plenty of entrenched interests who want to protect the status quo.”
Example: “We’re every immigrant and entrepreneur from Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley racing to shape a better world.”
Example: “We live in a time of extraordinary change — change that’s reshaping the way we live, the way we work, our planet and our place in the world. It’s change that promises amazing medical breakthroughs, but also economic disruptions that strain working families.”
Example: “Right now, we are on track to end the scourge of HIV/AIDS, and we have the capacity to accomplish the same thing with malaria — something I’ll be pushing this Congress to fund this year.”
Example: “It’s made it harder for a hardworking family to pull itself out of poverty, harder for young people to start on their careers, and tougher for workers to retire when they want to.”
Example: “…but on issues of global concern, we will mobilize the world to work with us, and make sure other countries pull their own weight.”
Example: “The bipartisan reform of No Child Left Behind was an important start, and together, we’ve increased early childhood education, lifted high school graduation rates to new highs, and boosted graduates in fields like engineering.”
Example: “There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber who would like to see more cooperation, a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the demands of getting elected.”
Example: “Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there.”
Example: “Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell.”
Example: “That’s how we stopped the spread of Ebola in West Africa. Our military, our doctors, and our development workers set up the platform that allowed other countries to join us in stamping out that epidemic.”
Example: “More than 14 million new jobs; the strongest two years of job growth since the ’90s; an unemployment rate cut in half.”
Example: “Now, we’ve actually got to cut the cost of college.”
Example: “I think there are outdated regulations that need to be changed, and there’s red tape that needs to be cut.”
Example: “Meanwhile, we’ve cut our imports of foreign oil by nearly sixty percent, and cut carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth.”
Body Position and Personification
We deal with the world by seeing it with our eyes and facing it with our bodies. Thus, we have many metaphors based on our own body positions. We also commonly use personification in politics, acting as if the entire United States is one person. We face our adversaries, turn inward and turn against each other. We also have standing in the world, and reach our limits, and be clear-eyed and big-hearted. Countries and government programs can also have strengths and weaknesses.
Example: “But such progress is not inevitable. It is the result of choices we make together. And we face such choices right now. Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, and turning against each other as a people? Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, what we stand for, and the incredible things we can do together?”
Example: “Surveys show our standing around the world is higher than when I was elected to this office, and when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead — they call us.”
Example: “When you come after Americans, we go after you. It may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limit.”
Example: “That’s the America I know. That’s the country we love. Clear-eyed. Big-hearted.”
Example: “That’s why Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever; we shouldn’t weaken them, we should strengthen them.”
Example: “As someone who begins every day with an intelligence briefing, I know this is a dangerous time. But that’s not because of diminished American strength or some looming superpower.”
Example: “Because of you. I believe in you. That’s why I stand here confident that the State of our Union is strong.”
Finally, as I mentioned last time, there are not as many journey metaphors as one might expect in a State of the Union address. However, there are a few examples worth mentioning. President Obama describes people not moving forward in their lives as being trapped or stuck in the red of debt. He also describes people who want to slam the brakes on change or something that grinds to a halt as if it were a vehicle in motion. Starting a new journey requires opening the door and leaving one’s house. And then one must get on track to continue the journey and keep pace with one’s competitors. Finally, if one is on the right path of their journey, they can get through tough times and reach their destinations and goals.
Example: “There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber who would like to see more cooperation, a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the demands of getting elected.”
Example: “And we have to make college affordable for every American. Because no hardworking student should be stuck in the red.”
Example: “Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change, promising to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control.”
Example: “Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise; or when even basic facts are contested, and we listen only to those who agree with us.”
Example: “That’s why we restored diplomatic relations, opened the door to travel and commerce, and positioned ourselves to improve the lives of the Cuban people.”
Example: “Right now, we are on track to end the scourge of HIV/AIDS, and we have the capacity to accomplish the same thing with malaria — something I’ll be pushing this Congress to fund this year.”
Example: “And the international system we built after World War II is now struggling to keep pace with this new reality.”
Example: “No nation dares to attack us or our allies because they know that’s the path to ruin.”
Example: “We can’t afford to go down that path.”
Example: “America has been through big changes before — wars and depression, the influx of immigrants, workers fighting for a fair deal, and movements to expand civil rights.”
Cleary, this final State of the Union Address is not a typical forward-looking speech. Instead, we find numerous examples of metaphors describing his frustrations with lack of progress in certain areas of the government while celebrating his successes in his two terms in office. I have certainly enjoyed analyzing President Obama’s speeches the past few years. Please let me know if you have any comments or questions.