Tag Archives: Republicans

Showing One’s True Colors

There is a particular metaphorical phrase that has been mentioned in the news the past few weeks, that of a person or group of people showing their true colors. This metaphor has a colorful origin:

In the 1700s, ships were required to fly the flag or colors of the country of their origin so ship captains could see at a glance who was a friend and who might be an enemy on the high seas. Some dishonest captains, however, would fly the flags of other countries in order to trick some ships into coming closer so they could attack. These attacking pirate ships would then show their correct flags or their true colors. So metaphorically, if people show their true colors, this means that they are showing what they really think or believe.

After the recent health care bill passed by the House of Representatives, allegedly cutting many people off from health care, and giving more power to insurance companies, while giving tax breaks to other wealthy corporation, some liberal critics complained that the Republicans were showing their true colors. See one such blog post entitled “GOP shows true colors: Profits before people, always” here.

Some of my friends and colleagues have also wondered if President Trump is showing his true colors by firing anyone who seems to challenge his authority. To be fair, conservative commentators have used to same phrase to criticize Democrats such as in the article “Obama Shows His True Colors as He Leaves Office” here.

With many colors of flowers and trees popping out in this spring weather, I thought it was time to review a few metaphors of colors. Here is a sampling of some of the more striking metaphors of color.

Red and Blue

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. Technically, these terms are not metaphors. 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. I include them here for the sake of clarifying these examples.

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, 2012 and 2016 elections.

red

The color red has many 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.

red 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 2016 election, Donald Trump won many votes from blue-collar Democrats in the Midwest.

out 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

green

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.

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.

 

Silver and Gold

silver lining

Silver and gold are both names for colors and names for precious metals. Thus they are used to describe things that are very valuable.   There is an old expression that every cloud has a silver lining. This phrase is thought to come from the fact that even dark clouds may have sunlight coming through along the edge giving a silver look to it. This in turn means that even though the sky is dark, the sun is still there and will shine again. Metaphorically, a silver lining means that even when life is bad, good things can still happen so we need to stay hopeful.

Example: When the economy is bad and many people lose their jobs, one silver lining is that prices for many items such as houses, cars and gasoline actually go down. 

silver tongued

If someone is described as being silver tongued, this means that the person is very good at speaking.

Example: Barack Obama proved himself to be a silver-tongued politician during the 2008 presidential election.

golden

Gold is one of the most expensive metals and if something is called golden, this means that it is very valuable.

Example: During Ronald Reagan’s presidency, Republicans thought he was the best president ever; he was absolutely golden.

golden boy

A young man with potential for doing great things is sometimes called a golden boy.

Example: John F. Kennedy, Jr., the son of the late 35th U.S. president, was considered America’s golden boy until his tragic death in 1999 at the age of 38.

golden parachute

                  When a business executive retires, he or she is often given a sum of money as a retirement gift. In some cases, these gifts amount to millions of dollars. These gifts are sometimes called golden parachutes because they allow the person to retire as if they are jumping from an airplane and landing safely in retirement.

Example: American citizens become angry when they learn that some business executives get million-dollar golden parachutes even though their companies went bankrupt and investors lost a great deal of money. 

gold star

In many American elementary schools, children are given a gold star sticker on their schoolwork meaning that the work was very good. In popular terms, anything that has high quality can also be described as being gold star.

Example: The Kennedy family has a gold-star reputation in the United States because of the many contributions their family members have made to American politics.

gold star families

When a soldier is killed in a war, his or her family receives a gold star made from paper that they can put in the front window of their home indicating their loss. Thus gold star families are those who have lost a family member in military service.

Example: Some gold star families support political candidates who try to end wars; other gold star families support those who continue America’s military strength around the world.

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.

If you hear of any unusual color metaphors in the news, please let me know. Questions and comments are always welcome!

 

 

 

President Trump’s 1st Address to Congress

This past week, Donald Trump made his first address to Congress as president of the United States. In contrast to his negative inauguration speech about “American carnage,” this speech was more positive and hopeful. You can read the transcript of the speech here.

Trump supporters were very pleased with the speech and claimed he was very “presidential.” Critics of Donald Trump were quick to point out many factual errors in his speech and were not very impressed. The Washington Post found errors on many different issues including immigration rates, defense spending, crime rates, welfare statistics and unemployment rates. You can read the summary here.

 

Regardless of the controversies surrounding the speech, I found that the frequency and type of metaphors also differed significantly compared to the inauguration speech. It has taken me a week to sort through all the different examples of metaphors in this long speech. Although there were many negative metaphors involving physical forces, there were also positive metaphors of vision and journeys looking forward as one might expect in an address to Congress. Here are a few interesting examples. As always, the quotations are taken directly from the transcript. I have added italics to mark the metaphors under analysis. In some cases, quotations are repeated if they contain more than one type of metaphor.

Building

            This speech presents an interesting contrast between using some metaphors in a negative manner, while using others in the same category in a positive manner. President Trump describes various aspects of the country as if they are buildings that are crumbling, collapsing or imploding. However, he also talks about building for the future.

crumbling

Example: “And we’ve spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas, while our infrastructure at home has so badly crumbled.”

Example: “Crumbling infrastructure will be replaced with new roads, bridges, tunnels, airports and railways gleaming across our very, very beautiful land.“

collapsing

Example: “Obamacare premiums nationwide have increased by double and triple digits. As an example, Arizona went up 116 percent last year alone. Governor Matt Bevin of Kentucky just said Obamacare is failing in his state — the state of Kentucky — and it’s unsustainable and collapsing.”

Example: “Remember when you were told that you could keep your doctor and keep your plan? We now know that all of those promises have been totally broken.   Obamacare is collapsing, and we must act decisively to protect all Americans. (Applause.)”

imploding

Example: “Action is not a choice, it is a necessity. So I am calling on all Democrats and Republicans in Congress to work with us to save Americans from this imploding Obamacare disaster. (Applause.)”

building

Example: “We must build bridges of cooperation and trust — not drive the wedge of disunity and, really, it’s what it is, division. It’s pure, unadulterated division. We have to unify.”

Example: “I am sending Congress a budget that rebuilds the military, eliminates the defense sequester — (applause) — and calls for one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.”

Example: “The only long-term solution for these humanitarian disasters, in many cases, is to create the conditions where displaced persons can safely return home and begin the long, long process of rebuilding. (Applause.)”

Example: “We’ve financed and built one global project after another, but ignored the fates of our children in the inner cities of Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit, and so many other places throughout our land.” 

Machines and Tools

Similarly, Trump’s speech contrasts what can be broken and what can be fixed as if the United States is a machine. He also offers to provide the proper tools to the U.S. military to prevent war.

broken, fixed

Example: “Everything that is broken in our country can be fixed. Every problem can be solved. And every hurting family can find healing and hope.”

tools

Example: “Finally, to keep America safe, we must provide the men and women of the United States military with the tools they need to prevent war — if they must — they have to fight and they only have to win.”

Physical Forces

            The Trump speech also contains a large set of metaphors in a category of what I called physical forces, i.e., using a physical action to describe an abstract process. Donald Trump uses many of these metaphors to describe the state of the country, in some cases, in ways similar to his ideas of “American carnage.” We find that the middle class is shrinking, and we have job-crushing government regulations while he desires to demolish, destroy and extinguish ISIS. He also claims that drugs are pouring into the country. In contrast, he also uses metaphors of physical forces to describe positive efforts. He describes a desire to expand treatment for drug users, while national pride is sweeping the country and optimism is surging in the United States.

shrink

Example: “For too long, we’ve watched our middle class shrink as we’ve exported our jobs and wealth to foreign countries.”

crush

Example: “We have undertaken a historic effort to massively reduce job-crushing regulations, creating a deregulation task force inside of every government agency.”

demolish, destroy and extinguish

Example: “As promised, I directed the Department of Defense to develop a plan to demolish and destroy ISIS — a network of lawless savages that have slaughtered Muslims and Christians, and men, and women, and children of all faiths and all beliefs. We will work with our allies, including our friends and allies in the Muslim world, to extinguish this vile enemy from our planet. (Applause.)”

pour in, expand

Example: “We’ve defended the borders of other nations while leaving our own borders wide open for anyone to cross and for drugs to pour in at a now unprecedented rate.”

Example: “We will stop the drugs from pouring into our country and poisoning our youth, and we will expand treatment for those who have become so badly addicted. (Applause.)”

sweep, surge

Example: “A new national pride is sweeping across our nation. And a new surge of optimism is placing impossible dreams firmly within our grasp.”

Binding objects

Similarly, we find examples of a specific type of physical forces dealing with using force to bind two objects together. Again, these metaphors can be used with either positive or negative connotations. He spoke movingly of a young woman named Megan who suffers from a rare disease and whose father had to fight the government to approve new drugs to help her. Thus, Donald Trump speaks of FDA regulations are restraints that need to be slashed, while the girl had the unbounded love of her father. He also said that we should not be bound by the failures of the past but have an unbroken chain of truth, liberty and justice in America.

restraints

Example: “If we slash the restraints, not just at the FDA but across our government, then we will be blessed with far more miracles just like Megan. (Applause.) In fact, our children will grow up in a nation of miracles.”

unbounded

Example: “Megan’s story is about the unbounded power of a father’s love for a daughter. But our slow and burdensome approval process at the Food and Drug Administration keeps too many advances, like the one that saved Megan’s life, from reaching those in need.”

bound

Example: “From now on, America will be empowered by our aspirations, not burdened by our fears; inspired by the future, not bound by the failures of the past; and guided by our vision, not blinded by our doubts.”


unbroken chain

Example: “Each American generation passes the torch of truth, liberty and justice in an unbroken chain all the way down to the present.”

Fragile Objects

            Processes can be described metaphorically as if they are fragile objects. Trump uses some of these metaphors to describe various aspects of government policies and processes. He claims that President Obama broke many of his promises about the Affordable Care Act, while we must break the cycles of poverty and violence. He also claims that we have an unbreakable alliance with Israel.

break promises

Example: “Remember when you were told that you could keep your doctor and keep your plan? We now know that all of those promises have been totally broken.   Obamacare is collapsing, and we must act decisively to protect all Americans. (Applause.)”

break the cycle

Example: “But to break the cycle of poverty, we must also break the cycle of violence.”

unbreakable

Example: “I have also imposed new sanctions on entities and individuals who support Iran’s ballistic missile program, and reaffirmed our unbreakable alliance with the State of Israel. (Applause.)”

Nature and Natural Disasters

            Metaphors of nature are very common in political speeches. I have already analyzed Donald Trump’s frequent claim of draining the swamp, meaning the process of removing corrupt officials from government. He uses the metaphor again here. However, he also uses more powerful metaphors of natural disasters comparing the tremendous rise in his popularity during the election campaign to an earthquake, even describing the earth shifting beneath our feet. In one case, he has an odd mixing of metaphors saying that the chorus became an earthquake.

drain the swamp

Example: “We have begun to drain the swamp of government corruption by imposing a five-year ban on lobbying by executive branch officials and a lifetime ban — (applause) — thank you — and a lifetime ban on becoming lobbyists for a foreign government.”

earth shifting

Example: “Then, in 2016, the Earth shifted beneath our feet. The rebellion started as a quiet protest, spoken by families of all colors and creeds — families who just wanted a fair shot for their children and a fair hearing for their concerns.”

earthquake

Example: “Finally, the chorus became an earthquake, and the people turned out by the tens of millions, and they were all united by one very simple, but crucial demand: that America must put its own citizens first.”

Military

Along with the large sets of conceptual metaphors described above, the speech contains a nice variety of unusual metaphors that occur only once. We find there are metaphors of the military, animals, light, literature and sports. In one military metaphor we find the example of a beachhead which is the area on a shore where an invading force lands in order to bring troops and supplies. Metaphorically a beachhead is the first step of progress in a complex operation. Here Trump compares the growth of ISIS to a beachhead of terrorism.

beachhead

Example: “We cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside America. We cannot allow our nation to become a sanctuary for extremists. (Applause.)”

Animals

Animals have great strength and are often used as sources of metaphors. In one case, Trump compares the dying American manufacturing companies as lions that will come roaring back to life.

roar

Example: “Dying industries will come roaring back to life.”

 

 

 

Light

            Metaphors of light are often used in political speeches. Trump claims that his new government policies will light up the world. 

torch, light up

Example: “That torch is now in our hands. And we will use it to light up the world.”

Literature

            Politicians often claim that their policies will begin a new chapter of life as if American history is a book that is being written and they are the authors.

chapter

Example: “I am here tonight to deliver a message of unity and strength, and it is a message deeply delivered from my heart. A new chapter — (applause) — of American Greatness is now beginning.”

Sports

There is also a wide variety of sports metaphors used in political speeches. Strangely, I have not seen many of these yet in Trump’s speeches. However, there is one unusual metaphor used here describing tax codes for the middle class as being on a level playing field with corporations. As described in a previous post, the idea of a level playing field is derived from the problem in the early 20th century of creating level footballs fields so one team would not have the advantage of being able to run downhill and possibly score more points. Strange but true!

level playing field

Example: “At the same time, we will provide massive tax relief for the middle class. We must create a level playing field for American companies and our workers.”

Synecdoche

I also found a very strange and unusual example of synecdoche, the type of figurative language in which a part represents a whole. In this case, Trump speaks of “two world wars that dethroned fascism.” This is complex for two reasons. For one, the idea of dethroning a government implies that the throne represents the government because the leader sits on the throne to rule the country, a classic example of synecdoche. However, there is also an element of personification in that fascism is described as being a person, i.e., the leader that sits on the throne. It’s amazing that we can understand this type of figurative language!

dethrone

Example: “We strongly support NATO, an alliance forged through the bonds of two world wars that dethroned fascism, and a Cold War, and defeated communism. (Applause.)”

Personification

Speaking of personification, I found many examples of these types of metaphors. Trump compares cities to babies being born or having a rebirth, while America is strong, and we need to strengthen national security. We also find that countries are described as either friends or enemies.

rebirth

Example: “And our neglected inner cities will see a rebirth of hope, safety and opportunity. Above all else, we will keep our promises to the American people. (Applause.)”

strong, strengthen

Example: “All the nations of the world — friend or foe — will find that America is strong, America is proud, and America is free.”

Example: “I believe that real and positive immigration reform is possible, as long as we focus on the following goals: To improve jobs and wages for Americans; to strengthen our nation’s security; and to restore respect for our laws.”

friends and enemies

Example: “All the nations of the world — friend or foe — will find that America is strong, America is proud, and America is free.”

Example: “America is friends today with former enemies. Some of our closest allies, decades ago, fought on the opposite side of these terrible, terrible wars. This history should give us all faith in the possibilities for a better world.”

Vision

The final two sets of metaphors are very common in political speeches in which the speaker tries to convince his or her listeners that the country is moving forward with a strong vision and everyone in the country is on the same journey together.  Although these types of metaphors were absent in previous Trump speeches, they make their appearance here, perhaps initiating a newly positive direction for his speeches. In terms of vision metaphors, we find that Trump wants to focus on specific goals for the country with a collective vision for the future. In a nice contrast of light and dark, Trump contends that we need to be guided by our vision, not blinded by our doubts.

focus

Example: “I believe that real and positive immigration reform is possible, as long as we focus on the following goals: To improve jobs and wages for Americans; to strengthen our nation’s security; and to restore respect for our laws.”

vision

Example: “When we have all of this, we will have made America greater than ever before — for all Americans. This is our vision. This is our mission.”

Example: “When we fulfill this vision, when we celebrate our 250 years of glorious freedom, we will look back on tonight as when this new chapter of American Greatness began.”

guided, not blinded

Example: “From now on, America will be empowered by our aspirations, not burdened by our fears; inspired by the future, not bound by the failures of the past; and guided by our vision, not blinded by our doubts.”

Journeys

Finally, we find many examples of journey metaphors as Trump speaks of finding the right vehicle, following the correct path, clearing the way of obstacles, restarting the engine of the economy or reaching milestones in our journey to become a better nation.

vehicle, path

Example: “Free nations are the best vehicle for expressing the will of the people, and America respects the right of all nations to chart their own path.”

Example: “Tonight, as we mark the conclusion of our celebration of Black History Month, we are reminded of our nation’s path towards civil rights and the work that still remains to be done.”

clear the way

Example: “We have cleared the way for the construction of the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines — (applause) — thereby creating tens of thousands of jobs.”

restart the engine

Example: “But to accomplish our goals at home and abroad, we must restart the engine of the American economy — making it easier for companies to do business in the United States, and much, much harder for companies to leave our country. (Applause.)”

milestones

Example: “It will be one of the great milestones in the history of the world. But what will America look like as we reach our 250th year? What kind of country will we leave for our children?”

*******

            As one can see, President Trump’s first address to Congress contains a wide variety of metaphors. Although there are many examples of metaphors with negative connotations as in previous speeches, for the first time here we see some metaphors that are more positive and look to the future. Time will tell if President Trump can achieve all of the goals he laid out in this speech. Stay tuned for more analyses of Trump speeches… As always, comments and questions are welcome!

 

Trump’s Inaugural Address

Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States this past weekend.   He delivered a short 16-minute speech. It was not the normal inaugural address. Most new presidents make efforts to unite the country and outline the goals of their term.   These addresses also normally include some soaring rhetoric rich in metaphors to try to inspire the American public to follow the president’s new agenda. This address was surprisingly negative in tone. I looked back at Donald Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican convention in July of 2016. That speech was much longer and was more positive in tone. This speech was apparently written largely by two of Trumps closest advisors, Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, who are known for their conservative approaches to politics. Most journalists were surprised and confused at how negative the speech was. George Lakoff published a very unflattering summary of the speech and Donald Trump’s politics on his blog at georgelakoff.com.  You can read the transcript of the speech here.

In any case, the speech is very interesting in its rhetorical style and the limited numbers of metaphors that were used. First, allow me to summarize some of the rhetorical strategies used in the speech. The speechwriters included a dystopian background, hyperbolic descriptions and deliberate repetition. As always, the examples below are taken directly from the speech. Some quotes are repeated if they contain more than one examples of a rhetorical style or a metaphor. Italics are mine.

RHETORIC

Hyperbole

Trump provides a very grim description of the United States, and uses words and phrases normally associated with violence, crime and death. He talks about people being trapped like animals, empty factories looking like tombstones, with gangs and drugs stealing lives and robbing people of their potential. Meanwhile, our infrastructure fallen into decay, and the wealth of the middle class is ripped from their homes. He also describes other countries as ravaging our borders, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.

Example: “But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.”

An abandoned factory outside Duluth, Minnesota

Example: “… America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay.”

Example: “The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed across the entire world.”

Example: “We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs.”

Dystopia

Needless to say, these types of hyperbolic descriptions do not paint a picture of a successful society. Rather, these terms describe a dystopian society on the road to ruin. In the middle of these descriptions, Trump summarized the society as “American carnage.” The term carnage is an especially violent connotation. The word is derived from the Latin word for flesh or meat. The word carnage literally means the slaughter of animals, and is most commonly used to describe a scene of many people being killed such as soldiers on a battlefield, or victims of a bombing. George Lakoff provides even more details about this term in his recent blog post. Nonetheless, Trump tries to explain how he can stop the carnage and provide a “glorious destiny” for all Americans.

The carnage after the Battle of Gettysburg

Example: “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now. We are one nation — and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams; and their success will be our success. We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny.”

Repetition

President Trump uses repetition of words and phrases very effectively to emphasize some of his main points. He claims that Americas have one heart, one home and one destiny. In his line about American carnage, instead of saying “the carnage stops right here and now” he repeats the word stop for effect. In another example, instead of saying he will bring back our jobs, borders, wealth and our dreams, he repeats the phrase bring back. Finally, to finish the speech with a bang, he repeats the phrase “We will make America _________ again” filling in the blank with many different adjectives describing the new country he hopes to create.

Example: “We are one nation — and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams; and their success will be our success. We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny.”

Example: “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”

Example: “We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams.”

Example: “Together, We will make America strong again.

We will make America wealthy again.

We will make America proud again.

We will make America safe again.

And yes, together, we will make America great again. Thank you. God bless you. And God bless America.”

METAPHORS

In addition to these rhetorical strategies, President Trump uses a few metaphorical expressions to explain some of his goals for the country.

Personification

As mentioned many times in my blog posts, it is very common for politicians to describe the United States as a person, as if the country is one person, or if all the American citizens collectively are one person. Other countries act as a single person as well. So other countries are described as stealing our companies and destroying our jobs. At the same time, the United States will face challenges and confront hardships. Trump also claims that we share one heart and one home, and we will seek friendships with other countries.   In the end, America will be strong again.

stealing, destroying

Example: “We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.”

face, confront

Example: “Together, we will determine the course of America and the world for years to come.

We will face challenges. We will confront hardships.”

heart, home

Example: “We are one nation — and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams; and their success will be our success. We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny.”

friendship

Example: “We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world — but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.”

strong

Example: “Together, We will make America strong again.”

Taking

Following the logic of the personification metaphors, if a country steals something from the United States, the obvious question is if we can get it back. In a previous post on Donald Trump’s Streetball Rhetoric, I found that Trump sometimes thinks of politics as a street basketball game. In some cases, the person who brought the basketball to the game goes home and takes the ball with him. In those cases, the remaining players are hoping that the person can bring the ball back so they can continue the game. Similarly, Trump claims he can bring back what was taken from us, such as bringing back our jobs, our borders, our wealth and our dreams.

bring back

Example: “We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams.”

Death

I do not believe I have ever had to explain a metaphor of death. In a strangely dark simile, Donald Trump compares abandoned factories to tombstones.

tombstones

Example: “But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation…”

Building

I have also mentioned many times that politicians use metaphors of building a new America. However, I could only find one example of this type of metaphor in Trump’s speech. In this example, we find a serendipitous pairing of the literal meaning of building with the metaphorical building. Enjoy!

rebuilding

Example: “We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation. We will get our people off of welfare and back to work — rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.”

Vision

Politicians also talk about having a vision for the future when they give important speeches.   I could only find two brief examples of these vision metaphors, looking to the future and having a new vision to govern the country.

looking

Example: “But that is the past. And now we are looking only to the future. We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power.”

vision

Example: “From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land.”

Sailing

Metaphors of sailing boats or ships are very colorful and powerful in a political speech. They have a sense of grandeur, great movement, and global implications. Trump uses two clever examples of sailing metaphors including saying that our factories have left our shores and our confidence has disappeared over the horizon as if they were large ships that recently set sail around the world. Instead, he wants to determine the course of America as if he is starting on a new sailing journey.

our shores

Example: “One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions upon millions of American workers left behind.”

Sunset Evening Cancun

horizon

Example: “We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon.”

 

 

course

Example: “Together, we will determine the course of America and the world for years to come.”

Journey

Finally, another of the most powerful political metaphors are journey metaphors. These metaphors also connote movement, power and progress. Strangely, there were not many examples of these metaphors, only one negative example and one positive example. Trump contends that many American workers have been left behind, as if the country has gone on a journey without them. And yet, he also maintains that America is unstoppable as if it is a powerful train.

left behind

Example: “One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions upon millions of American workers left behind.”

unstoppable

Example: “When America is united, America is totally unstoppable.”

*******

It is difficult to judge the rhetorical and metaphorical power of a speech that only lasted 16 minutes. Clearly, President Trump is going to speak and act completely differently than any previous president. I am looking forward to more detailed speeches from Donald Trump where we can learn more of his policies and vision for the future and, if the United States is truly in a dystopian condition, he can lead us to a brighter future.

 

Obama’s Farewell Address

Hello! Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day! I hope everyone can take a moment today to appreciate the work and sacrifices of this great civil rights leader. Unfortunately, I do not have any analyses of Dr. King’s speeches today. I have covered those in previous posts. However, today I present an analysis of President Obama’s farewell address, perhaps fitting today, as the final speech of our first African-American president.

But first I must say thank you to my many readers. I have recently reached many big milestones. I have now been writing this blog for more than four years. This month, in fact, is my 50th month of writing the blog. I have also recently passed the mark of having more than 400,000 total views! In 2016 alone, I had over 186,000 views, with more than 140,000 new visitors from 198 different countries. My posts on Martin Luther King’s speeches remain my most popular articles. Sadly, I still have been unsuccessful in getting my book published but I will continue to work on that this year. I am glad the blog continues to be useful to so many students, teachers and professors around the world. Thanks for reading!

Back to business…

After eight years of being the president of the United States, Barack Obama gave his farewell address this past week in a sold-out auditorium in Chicago where he began his political career. The speech was nearly an hour long, and covered many aspects of his two terms as president. He teared up near the end of the speech praising his wife Michelle for her support and leadership as first lady. He also thanked his staff for all of their hard work for many years.

Rhetorically, the speech was interesting since it is one of the few speeches by President Obama that was not confidently looking toward the future. Of course, since he was giving a farewell address, he was looking more backwards to what he had accomplished than what he would be doing in the future. However, he spent the bulk of the speech describing current threats to our democracy and asking the younger generation of Americans to save the country from those threats.

There were no soaring metaphorical passages or grandiose ideas in the speech. However, there was an amazing variety of metaphors used in the speech, once again demonstrating that it is nearly impossible to talk about politics without using dozens of common metaphors. In this case, we find examples of personification, and metaphors of vision, animals, shapes and sizes, strong chemicals, books, games, food, machines, buildings and journeys.

All examples below are from the transcript of the speech. Some quotes from the speech are repeated more than once if they contain more than one metaphor. The metaphors in question are presented in italics.  You can read the full transcript of the speech here.

Personification

It is very common to describe a country as if it is a person. This occurs in two different ways: either the government of a country or its citizens as a collective whole is imagined as a person who has a beating heart, has strength or weakness, can stand up to something, stand for something, fight back against bullies, or even buckle under pressure. The term buckle, by the way, is derived from the 16th century English word bokelen meaning “to arch the body.”

beating heart

Example: “After eight years as your President, I still believe that. And it’s not just my belief. It’s the beating heart of our American idea — our bold experiment in self-government.”

strength and weakness

Example: “And as it turned out, America wasn’t weakened by the presence of these newcomers; these newcomers embraced this nation’s creed, and this nation was strengthened.”

stand up

Example: “Whether or not we stand up for our freedoms. Whether or not we respect and enforce the rule of law. That’s up to us.”


stand for/ bullying neighbors

Example: “Rivals like Russia or China cannot match our influence around the world — unless we give up what we stand for — (applause) — and turn ourselves into just another big country that bullies smaller neighbors.”

buckle

Example: “But protecting our way of life, that’s not just the job of our military. Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear.”

Vision

Political speeches often contain metaphors of vision, i.e., speakers take the physical properties of seeing and extend those properties to abstract processes such as implementing governmental policies. Thus we have metaphors such as being in focus on something, setting sights on a goals, having a vision of a completed process or being able to describe political differences as a spectrum.

sights

Example: “…if I had told you all that, you might have said our sights were set a little too high. But that’s what we did.”

focus

Example: “That’s what I want to focus on tonight: The state of our democracy.”

vision

Example: “There’s a second threat to our democracy — and this one is as old as our nation itself. After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. And such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic.”

spectrum

Example: “You can see it not just in statistics, you see it in the attitudes of young Americans across the political spectrum.”

Animals

Nature is one of the most common sources of political metaphors. Although we do not usually describe politicians as animals, we do use our common experiences with animals and pets to describe political positions or processes. One famous example is the lame duck, the position of the outgoing president in the time after the presidential election and before his or her successor takes office. The metaphor is derived from an old comparison to a duck that cannot walk because of an injured leg, sometimes attributed to a quote from Abraham Lincoln in 1863. In another example, we must often put our dogs on a leash to control them. When a dog or other strong animal is unleashed, it can run wild and cause unexpected consequences. Thus, metaphorically, an unexpected set of events may be described as being unleashed by a person in charge. Finally, wild animals, especially big carnivores such as wolves or tigers, jump or pounce on their prey as they try to kill it. Metaphorically, suddenly criticizing an opponent in politics may also be described as pouncing.

lame duck

Example: “You can tell that I’m a lame duck because nobody is following instructions.”

unleash

Example: “If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history…”

pounce

Example: “How do we excuse ethical lapses in our own party, but pounce when the other party does the same thing?”

Shapes and Sizes

We often describe abstract shapes in terms of well-known boxes, circles or spheres. Thus we can talk about corners of the globe, even though, of course, the world is spherical and has no corners. The world or any abstract process can also be described as a balloon that can expand or shrink depending on the air pressure inside.   We can also describe a process or an argument as if it is in the middle of a picture frame. George Lakoff has famously trained many politicians to frame arguments in certain ways to not only win the argument but become successful in achieving their political goals. Finally, we also talk about economic processes or political attitudes as being in a bubble. This term can have two metaphorical connotations. In some cases, the bubble describes an untenable set of circumstances that will eventually collapse, as when a balloon pops from too much pressure. Many experts talk about the housing bubble that burst in 2008 when housing prices suddenly fell. In other cases, a bubble refers to the close-mindedness of groups of people who only believe information given to them from like-minded friends, radio announcers or television pundits.

corner

Example: “Let me tell you, this generation coming up — unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic — I’ve seen you in every corner of the country.”

expand

Example: “That’s why we cannot withdraw from big global fights — to expand democracy, and human rights, and women’s rights, and LGBT rights.”

shrink

Example: “A shrinking world, growing inequality; demographic change and the specter of terrorism — these forces haven’t just tested our security and our prosperity, but are testing our democracy, as well.”

frame

Example: “If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves.”

bubble

Example: “For too many of us, it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods or on college campuses, or places of worship, or especially our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions.”

Example: “And increasingly, we become so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information, whether it’s true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that is out there.”

Strong Chemicals

In an interesting and unusual metaphor, Barack Obama describes certain political processes as being corrosive, as if strong chemicals are eating away at a metal surface.

corrosive

Example: “But stark inequality is also corrosive to our democratic ideal.”

Example: “America, we weaken those ties when we allow our political dialogue to become so corrosive that people of good character aren’t even willing to enter into public service; so coarse with rancor that Americans with whom we disagree are seen not just as misguided but as malevolent.”

Literature

Political speeches often contain metaphors of literature such as telling a story, finding the correct narrative or turning the page on a new process. However, Obama’s farewell address was notably lacking in these metaphors, perhaps because his terms in office, and his narrative, are finished. However, there is one literature metaphor, opening a new chapter, used to describe his groundbreaking work to open new relations with Cuba.

new chapter

Example: “…if I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people…”

Games

Politicians are famous for comparing elections or economic processes to games or professional sports. In this case, Barack Obama describes the economy as a game that is fixed or rigged against working class Americans by corrupt politicians. He also describes the economy as a zero-sum game, a perception that the loss in wages or opportunities of the working class means huge gains for the corporations.

game

Example: “…the laid-off factory worker; the waitress or health care worker who’s just barely getting by and struggling to pay the bills — convinced that the game is fixed against them, that their government only serves the interests of the powerful — that’s a recipe for more cynicism and polarization in our politics.”

zero-sum game

Example: “And we have shown that our economy doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game.”

Food

Everyone eats so everyone is familiar with metaphors of food. A very common food metaphor used to describe a political process is to say it is a recipe as if one is baking a cake. Obama describes a theoretical government that only serves the rich and not the poor as a recipe for cynicism among our citizens. He also uses the metaphor of food scraps. After a large meal, most of the food is eaten but small portions called scraps may remain. Historically, in rich British and American families, the family members ate the main portion of the meal while the servants or the dogs were given the scraps. In cases of extreme hunger, poor people even had to fight for scraps just to get enough to eat.

recipe

Example: “…the waitress or health care worker who’s just barely getting by and struggling to pay the bills — convinced that the game is fixed against them, that their government only serves the interests of the powerful — that’s a recipe for more cynicism and polarization in our politics.”

scraps

Example: “If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves.”

Machines

Government programs and political processes are often compared to machines that can crank out the same results time after time. In this case, Obama refers to terrorists as groups with a propaganda machine distorting truth and lies. Economic processes can also be compared to computers. When a computer stops working it may need to be restarted or rebooted to get it going again. Obama uses the idea of rebooting to describe his administration’s success in saving the auto industry. A complex machine can also be shut down if it is getting out of control. Obama uses this metaphor to describe his work to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program.   Finally, sometimes machines break down and must be repaired or fixed. Metaphorically we can describe broken economic or political processes as something that can be fixed.

machine

Example: “It represents the fear of change; the fear of people who look or speak or pray differently; a contempt for the rule of law that holds leaders accountable; an intolerance of dissent and free thought; a belief that the sword or the gun or the bomb or the propaganda machine is the ultimate arbiter of what’s true and what’s right.”

reboot

Example: “If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history…”

 

shut down

Example: “…shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot…”

fix

Example: “But there are no quick fixes to this long-term trend.”

Buildings

Yet another common rhetorical strategy in political speeches is to compare governmental processes to buildings. The idea of physically constructing a building is used to describe abstracting creating political processes. In this case, Obama describes the necessity of rebuilding our democratic institutions. In an unusual metaphor, Obama also quotes George Washington’s farewell address in which he talked about the underpinning of democratic rights. The term underpinning originally referred to the materials used to create the foundation of a building or a bridge. Metaphorically anything that supports or sustains a process or programs can be described as an underpinning.

rebuild

Example: “All of us, regardless of party, should be throwing ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions.”

underpinning

Example: “In his own farewell address, George Washington wrote that self-government is the underpinning of our safety, prosperity, and liberty, but ‘from different causes and from different quarters much pains will be taken…to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth.’”

Journey

The final set of metaphors worth mentioning is that of a journey. Readers of this blog are well aware that journey metaphors are almost ubiquitous in political speeches since the speaker rhetorically wants to demonstrate to the audience that he or she is making progress towards goals that will be of benefit to them as if proceeding on a grand journey. Journey metaphors can be quite complex, and Obama uses a wide variety of them in his speech. In one case, one can describe a process as if people are walking along a road. One can meet people along the way, or approach a destination. Thus metaphorically, we can say that one can approach a problem or meet a challenge. In another case, people travelling as a group must be careful not to leave anyone behind when they take off. Metaphorically people can be left behind economically if they do not have living wage jobs. We can also talk about the speed at which one travels. Thus we can talk about the pace of an ongoing process as if it is a vehicle travelling down the road. And of course, one does not want to go in reverse when trying to reach a destination. But we can also speak of reversing a bad trend to make things better for the American people.  More commonly, we talk about achieving a goal as if we are taking steps along a path. Obama shares his frustration of not achieving as much as he wanted to by describing it as taking two steps forward and one step back, even though he claims that the country is still going in a forward motion. Captains of ships set a course when they set sail towards a new destination. Thus, we can talk about a journey as a long course of action. Finally, Obama uses a colorful phrase derived from an essay from Ralph Waldo Emerson, that of hitching one’s wagon to a star to achieve great things in life. Obama encourages young Americans to hitch their wagon to something bigger than themselves.

approach

Example: “Now, we can and should argue about the best approach to solve the problem. But to simply deny the problem not only betrays future generations, it betrays the essential spirit of this country — the essential spirit of innovation and practical problem-solving that guided our Founders.”

meet

Example: “We have everything we need to meet those challenges.”

left behind

Example: “While the top one percent has amassed a bigger share of wealth and income, too many families, in inner cities and in rural counties, have been left behind…”

pace

Example: “It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes a lot of good, middle-class jobs obsolete.”

reverse

Example: “If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession…”

steps/forward motion

Example: “For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back. But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all and not just some.”

course

Example: “Over the course of these eight years, I’ve seen the hopeful faces of young graduates and our newest military officers.”

journey

Example: “America is no fragile thing. But the gains of our long journey to freedom are not assured.”

hitch your wagon

Example: “Because I know our work has not only helped so many Americans, it has inspired so many Americans — especially so many young people out there — to believe that you can make a difference — (applause) — to hitch your wagon to something bigger than yourselves.”

*******

Barack Obama’s farewell address was a poignant description of his past accomplishments and his hopes for the future. While not deliberately grandiose with few rhetorical flourishes, the speech succeeded in pleasing his supporters in reminding them of his successes as the 44th president. As I hopefully have described here, the speech also contained a wide variety of political metaphors that illustrate how we conceptualize political processes. I look forward to analyzing the speeches of Donald Trump as he takes office this week.

A Seismic Election – Trump Wins!

This past week, Donald Trump won the 2016 election, much to the surprise of most of the country. In fact, the result was so unexpected that most television, radio and print media reporters described it as a shock, a tsunami, an earthquake or a seismic election. It is not surprising that elections are described in terms of natural disasters. I have written about some of these examples in a previous post. This time, the usage is a bit different.

When one candidate wins the election by a large margin, we sometimes say that he or she won in a landslide, as if the election results came down a mountain after a heavy rain. However, in the most recent election, the margin of victory was very slim. In fact, it seems that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but Donald Trump won the electoral vote – a slim margin indeed. Since everyone was surprised that Donald Trump won the election, there were other examples of natural disasters to describe the unexpected results. Here are a few examples (italics are mine). The source of each quotation is provided below each example.

blog-trump-tsunami-wavetsunami

A tsunami is a huge ocean wave that devastates coastal communities as happened in Indonesia in 2004 and in Japan in 2011. Metaphorically, the word tsunami is used similarly to the term flood indicating a large amount of something happening quickly.

Example: Headline: The Pollster Who Foretold the Trump Tsunami : Robert Cahaly, derided by Nate Silver as a C-rate pollster, gets the last laugh on 2016 (http://www.lifezette.com/polizette/pollster-foretold-trump-tsunami/)

 

tremors/earthquakes

Earthquakes are caused by shifts in the earth’s crust or continental plates. Tremors are smaller quakes that happen before or after a major earthquake. Metaphorically, earthquakes and tremors can describe important events that happen in an organization that change the normal course of activities.

Example: Headline: ‘A complete earthquake’: Joe Scarborough reacts to Trump winning the presidency (http://www.businessinsider.com/joe-scarborough-donald-trump-2016-11) 

shock

The word shock has several different meanings. One can experience shock from an electrical outlet or a violent impact in a collision. There can also be shocks or aftershocks after an earthquake. There were many people who were shocked by the Trump victory this week.

Example: Headline: Donald Trump’s Victory Is Met With Shock Across a Wide Political Divide (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/10/us/politics/donald-trump-election-reaction.html?_r=0)

blog-trump-earthquake

seismic

The word seismic describes the level of movement in the earth’s crust during an earthquake. Metaphorically, any event that has deep and widespread effects on people or organizations may also be described as seismic. 

Example: Headline: Trump maps out a new administration to bring a seismic shift to Washington (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-maps-out-a-new-administration-to-bring-a-seismic-shift-to-washington/2016/11/09/8bb6629e-a6a6-11e6-8fc0-7be8f848c492_story.html)

blog-trump-eruptionerupt/eruption

When a volcano explodes, this is called an eruption. In common terms, anything that happens quickly without notice may be called an eruption.

Example: The eruption of shock, outrage, and action post-election is yet another parallel to Brexit. (https://thinkprogress.org/anti-trump-protests-sweep-the-nation-65b7b836457c#.thzsvjy9e)

flood

When a river overflows its banks, the surrounding countryside, towns, and cities can be flooded with water. As a metaphor, the concept of flooding is used to describe a large amount of something that covers a wide area.

Example: Headline: Thousands of outraged protesters flood streets across America to oppose President-elect Donald Trump (http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/angry-protesters-flood-nyc-streets-oppose-trump-election-win-article-1.2866671)

blog-trump-floodfloodgates

In some areas, rivers are dammed up and the water is held back with gates. When the water reaches a high level, the floodgates may be opened to release the pressure. Metaphorically, opening the floodgates means that a large amount of information or many actions are suddenly released.

Example: The predatory practices of the Washington elite were actively supported by congressional carpetbaggers who approved legislation that opened the floodgates to every imaginable form of financial manipulation. (http://www.atimes.com/trump-undermines-americas-already-tattered-authority/)

*******

Once again, we can see how our experience with nature, or in this case, natural disasters creates metaphors that we can use to describe political events. Sadly, New Zealand just suffered a 7.8 earthquake early this morning, with possible tsunami waves striking the coast. Fortunately, only two people were killed based on current news reports. The use of such violent metaphors of natural disasters indicate how traumatic the Trump victory has been to many Americans. Stay tuned for more interesting metaphors used to describe the Trump presidency.

A Rigged Election?

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.

blog-rigging-on-ships-3

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.

captain

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.

blog-sailing-wheelhousewheelhouse

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.

embark on

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.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

blog-sailing-loose-endsloose ends

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.

smooth sailing

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.

blog-sailing-anchornews anchor

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.

anchor babies

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.

blog-sailing-harborharbor terrorists

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.

harbor resentment

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.

Passing the Baton

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.

blog - sports - Track_and_Field_ runnersthe 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.

blog - sports - hurdlingthe 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.

lap

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.

blog - sports - pole vaultvault 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.

 

070422-N-5215E-003 ANNAPOLIS, Md. (April 22, 2007) - A Special Olympics athlete participates in the long jump at the Naval Academy. This was the 39th year the Academy hosted the event, which drew 175 athletes from the surrounding area for two days of aquatics and track and field competition. More than 300 Midshipmen, active duty service members, and Annapolis-area high school students volunteered as event staff and athlete escorts for the event. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Matthew A. Ebarb (RELEASED)
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (April 22, 2007) – A Special Olympics athlete participates in the long jump at the Naval Academy. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Matthew A. Ebarb (RELEASED)

fall short

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.

track record

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.

U.S. Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Course (NJROTC) cadets hand off batons during a 8x220-yard relay race on Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., April 17, 2009, during the 2009 NJROTC National Academic, Athletic and Drill competition. Units from 25 high schools, in 13 states, competed in personnel inspections, academic tests, military drill, and athletic events. (U.S. Navy photo by Scott A. Thornbloom/Released)
U.S. Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Course (NJROTC) cadets hand off batons during a 8×220-yard relay race on Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., April 17, 2009 (U.S. Navy photo by Scott A. Thornbloom /Released)

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.

Bernie Sanders’ Uphill Battle

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.

blog - military - uphill battle

Obstacles on a Journey

obstacles

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.

block

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.

blog - journey - barrierroadblocks

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.

blog - journey - Rockslide_at_Oddicombeimpasse

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.

blog - width - Trinity_Bridge_-_span_of_a_bridgebridge, 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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERApotholes 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.

sidestep

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.

recourse

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.

blog - journey - uphill elephantlong, 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 look beyond 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

The Battle of New Orleans - Andrew Jackson wins the final battle of the War of 1812 on January 8, 1815 (painting by Edward Percy Moran, 1910)
The Battle of New Orleans – Andrew Jackson wins the final battle of the War of 1812 on January 8, 1815 (painting by Edward Percy Moran, 1910)

primary battles

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.

 

battle cry

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.

battleground states

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.

The Battle of Cedar Mountain, Virginia, August 9, 1862 - Currier and Ives, 1862
The Battle of Cedar Mountain, Virginia, August 9, 1862 – Currier and Ives, 1862

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

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.

Members of Co. C, 1st Bn, 8th Inf, 1st Bde, 4th Inf Div, descend the side of Hill 742, located five miles northwest of Dak To. 14–17 November 1967.
Members of Co. C, 1st Bn, 8th Inf, 1st Bde, 4th Inf Div, descend the side of Hill 742, located five miles northwest of Dak To. 14–17 November 1967.

firefight

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.

 

 

 

clash

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.

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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.

Latch on!

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.

 

blog - physical - shoe lacesties

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.

tied

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.

blog - physical - rope knotstie 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.

bound together

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.

bonds, bonded

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.

blog - physical - strap car seatstrapped

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.

blog - physical - latchlatch on

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.

blog - shapes - Spool_of_stringno 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.

flapped, unflappable

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.

 

http://start.at/nevit Nevit Dilmen
http://start.at/nevit Nevit Dilmen

stick to

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.

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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!

Metaphors of Spring!

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.

blog - nature - ice meltingmelt away

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. 

blog - nature - sproutspring

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.

family tree

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

branch

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.

deep-rooted

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.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAgrassroots

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.

leaflets

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.

blog - nature - stem of flowerstem from

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.

offshoot

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.

flood

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.

Results of the flooding in Nashville, Tennessee in 2008
Results of the flooding in Nashville, Tennessee in 2008

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.

blog - nature - slippery slopeslippery slope

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 slippery slope 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.

erode

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 something

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.

blog - nature - mud 2mudslinging

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. 

wellspring

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.

blog - nature - natural springhope 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.

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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.