Tag Archives: sports

State of the Union Address 2016, Part 1

President Obama’s State of the Union Speech last week was interesting for several reasons. Most SOTU speeches are filled with metaphors looking forward to better days ahead. Thus there are many journey metaphors such as taking steps, on the right path, going around roadblocks, etc. However, since this was Obama’s final SOTU speech at the end of his two terms, he was talking more about looking back instead of looking forward. Although he does use a few journey metaphors, they are not a primary rhetorical strategy in his speech. He mostly describes the progress he has made in his two terms with metaphors of sports, nature, machines, buildings, physical forces, personification, and journeys. Today I will analyze his use of metaphors in the first four categories listed here. As always, the examples are direct quotations from the transcript of the speech. Italics are mine.


It is very common to talk about group efforts in terms of sports teams. President Obama uses two sports metaphors to indicate how people are working together to solve problems as in team up, or using a wrestling metaphor to describe making a brave effort to defeat an enemy as in gone to the mat.

Example: “Tonight, I’m announcing a new national effort to get it done. And because he’s gone to the mat for all of us, on so many issues over the past forty years, I’m putting Joe in charge of Mission Control. For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the family we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.”

blog - SOTU16 - teamExample: “We’re taking steps to give homeowners the freedom to generate and store their own energy — something environmentalists and Tea Partiers have teamed up to support.”


It is also very common to describe complex problems in terms of natural phenomenon. The origins of a problem are often described as roots of a tree, while the same word root can be used to mean a process similar to a person or animal digging up food from the ground. Intractable problems can also be described as a marsh or quagmire whose muddy ground makes it almost impossible to cross over. Finally a process that is not succeeding may be described as withering, as if it is a dying flower. President Obama uses nature metaphors to describe problems of terrorism and extreme right-wing politics.

Example: “The Middle East is going through a transformation that will play out for a generation, rooted in conflicts that date back millennia.”

blog - SOTU16 - rootsExample: “We just need to call them what they are — killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed.”

Example: “We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis. That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately weakens us. It’s the lesson of Vietnam, of Iraq — and we should have learned it by now.”

Example: “Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get attention.”


Talking about abstract processes often involved comparing them to buildings. We can talk about building lives or nations, building up terrorist organizations, or rebuilding society. We can also talk about supporting or propping up organizations as if they are buildings that are about to fall down.

Example: “Americans understand that at some point in their careers, they may have to retool and retrain. But they shouldn’t lose what they’ve already worked so hard to build.”


Example: “And that’s why the third big question we have to answer is how to keep America safe and strong without either isolating ourselves or trying to nation-build everywhere there’s a problem.”

Example: “That’s the story ISIL wants to tell; that’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit. We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, nor do we need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is representative of one of the world’s largest religions.”

Example: “We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis.”

Example: “American leadership in the 21st century is not a choice between ignoring the rest of the world — except when we kill terrorists; or occupying and rebuilding whatever society is unraveling.”

Example: “Even as their economy contracts, Russia is pouring resources to prop up Ukraine and Syria — states they see slipping away from their orbit.” 

Machines and Tools

We are all familiar with various types of machines – everything from household appliances to lawnmowers, cars and trucks. We commonly compare abstract processes to everyday machines. We talk about societies breaking down, or the need to shut down a prison. Sometimes we need to get a machine going again, so we can talk about reinventing a part of society, or reigniting our spirit. To get a machine working again we needs tools to fix it, so we may talk about tools to enforce an agreement, laid off workers retooling for a new job, or the government working to fix problems.

Example: “That’s our approach to conflicts like Syria, where we’re partnering with local forces and leading international efforts to help that broken society pursue a lasting peace.” 


Example: “Most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some narrow interest.”

Example: “That is why I will keep working to shut down the prison at Guantanamo: it’s expensive, it’s unnecessary, and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies.”

Example: “It’s how we reformed our health care system, and reinvented our energy sector;”

Example: “This brings me to the second big question we have to answer as a country: how do we reignite that spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges?”

Example: “Americans understand that at some point in their careers, they may have to retool and retrain. But they shouldn’t lose what they’ve already worked so hard to build.”

Example: “Approve this agreement. Give us the tools to enforce it.”

Example: “It will only happen if we fix our politics.”

blog - SOTU16 - Hand_tools

Next Time: SOTU 2016, Part 2

Donald Trump: Streetball Rhetoric

Dear readers,

My apologies for the long delay since my last post. I have been swamped with work and family obligations the past few weeks. One of the work projects I have been involved in was being on the selection committee to hire not one, but two, deans at my college. I spent many, many hours in the evenings and weekends reading the files of the job candidates – the time I normally spend working on this blog. I mention this only because I was quite amused to observe that the metaphors we use to describe a hiring process are the same that we use to describe an election process.

blog - nature - Corn_field
A field of candidates?

We used metaphors of nature to talk about the group of candidates who applied for the positions: we had a large field of candidates that we narrowed down to a small pool of hopeful administrators. We also used personification to talk about the qualities of the candidates: we talked invited many strong candidates to the interview process, while we had to eliminate several other weak candidates.


blog - personification - strength 2
A strong candidate?

Then we used boxing metaphors to describe how we arranged the interviews: we had many candidates in the first round of interviews, and then only a few candidates were invited to the second round. Finally, we used metaphors of spatial prepositions to talk about the expected results of the hiring process (still not finalized as I write this): we were excited about the outcome of the hiring process, but it was up to the college president to make the final decision. And now we are getting down to the wire, because the new deans are supposed to be in place at the beginning of our fall quarter only a few weeks away… I am always amazed how commonly we use metaphors to describe everyday actions.

Anyway, back to the blog…

Readers of this blog will know that I have been analyzing the metaphors used in recent announcements of candidates in the 2016 presidential election. Some candidates have used many colorful metaphors such as Rand Paul and Hilary Clinton. Most other candidates have used fairly direct rhetorical styles with few metaphors.

Donald Trump has earned a great deal of notoriety in the past few weeks by being blunt and critical of President Obama, other presidential candidates, other countries and certain ethnic groups. Most liberals and even other Republican candidates have condemned his comments while some conservatives have applauded his candid remarks. In fact, he has surged to the top of the Republican polls. Pundits on TV news shows have claimed that Donald Trump appeals to conservative voters who are frustrated at government gridlock, trade imbalances and foreign policy actions by President Obama.

It has been a mystery to me how a candidate who has alienated so many Americans can be leading in the polls. He dominated the recent Republican debate, and has just appeared on the cover of the most recent Time magazine. I wondered if there was anything in the rhetoric of Donald Trump’s speeches that would attract conservative voters. I was surprised to find a rhetorical style with unusual metaphor usages that would definitely attract some voters.

blog - trump - bball hoop outdoorsI found that Trump speaks like someone trash talking other players in a streetball game. He is very critical of other players, uses a lot of hyperbole and compares political situations to various sports. The term streetball normally refers to basketball games played by local people in an urban neighborhood. However, when I was growing up in a far south suburb of Chicago, we did not have any city parks nearby. We had to play all kinds of sports in the street – baseball in the hot and humid days of summer, football in the cool, crisp days of fall, even hockey in the winter if the streets were icy enough. Lacking a hoop, we never played basketball in the street but we called both our baseball and football games streetball. We had our share of trash talking back in the day, mostly teasing our siblings and friends about their lack of abilities in whatever sport we happened to be playing. Calling someone stupid or lazy was not acceptable behavior on our block. In urban streetball games and professional basketball games, however, the teasing and name calling can amount to downright rude or vicious attacks on other players.

Even in common parlance talking about sports, we use metaphors of violent physical attacks to describe victories and losses. We say that one team beat or killed another team. Donald Trump uses similar expressions to talk about political rivals. He often uses hyperbole or exaggeration as he does his trash talking. Here are a few examples from his speech announcing his candidacy for president back in June. The metaphors in question are in italics.

Hyperbole/Trash Talking

Example: “Our country is in serious trouble. We don’t have victories anymore. We used to have victories, but we don’t have them. When was the last time anybody saw us beating, let’s say, China in a trade deal? They kill us. I beat China all the time. All the time.”

Example: “When did we beat Japan at anything? They send their cars over by the millions, and what do we do? When was the last time you saw a Chevrolet in Tokyo? It doesn’t exist, folks. They beat us all the time.”

Ohio State University beat the University of Michigan 34 to 0 in 1934.
Ohio State University beat the University of Michigan 34 to 0 in 1934.

Example: “When do we beat Mexico at the border? They’re laughing at us, at our stupidity. And now they are beating us economically. They are not our friend, believe me. But they’re killing us economically.”

Example: “I like them. And I hear their speeches. And they don’t talk jobs and they don’t talk China. When was the last time you heard China is killing us? They’re devaluing their currency to a level that you wouldn’t believe. It makes it impossible for our companies to compete, impossible. They’re killing us.”

Example: “Free trade can be wonderful if you have smart people, but we have people that are stupid. We have people that aren’t smart. And we have people that are controlled by special interests. And it’s just not going to work.”

Example: “Hey, I’m not saying they’re stupid. I like China. I sell apartments for — I just sold an apartment for $15 million to somebody from China. Am I supposed to dislike them? I own a big chunk of the Bank of America Building at 1290 Avenue of the Americas, that I got from China in a war. Very valuable.”

Example: TRUMP: “Sadly, the American dream is dead.”

AUDIENCE MEMBER: “Bring it back.”


Another aspect of streetball is taking the ball away, common in either basketball of football, as in a steal or a fumble.  In poor areas of town, such as where I grew up, often only one person on the block could afford a nice basketball or football, so we had to make sure that person was playing in the game or else we could not play at all. In rare cases, the person owning the ball, having lost a game or felt cheated, could say, “I’m going home and taking my ball with me!” thus ending the game. Not surprisingly, taking the ball away has many emotional feelings attached to the action. Donald Trump talks about countries taking away our jobs, our money or our military equipment. Ironically, in each case, as far as I know, our government or our corporations have given away those resources instead of someone else actually taking them. Nonetheless, Trump routinely blames other people for these losses. In one example, he even uses a street fighting phrase of saying that no one will push us around. He also talks about taking or bringing the jobs back as if he is taking a basketball back during a game.

One player tries to take the ball from another in a women's basketball game in Australia.
One player tries to take the ball from another in a women’s basketball game in Australia.

Example: “Iran is going to take over the Middle East, Iran and somebody else will get the oil, and it turned out that Iran is now taking over Iraq. Think of it. Iran is taking over Iraq, and they’re taking it over big league.”

Example: “Last week, I read 2,300 Humvees — these are big vehicles — were left behind for the enemy. 2,000? You would say maybe two, maybe four? 2,300 sophisticated vehicles, they ran, and the enemy took them.”



Example: “That’s right. A lot of people up there can’t get jobs. They can’t get jobs, because there are no jobs, because China has our jobs and Mexico has our jobs. They all have jobs.”

Example: “We need a leader that can bring back our jobs, can bring back our manufacturing, can bring back our military, can take care of our vets. Our vets have been abandoned.”

Example: “We need — we need somebody — we need somebody that literally will take this country and make it great again. We can do that.”

Example: “I’ll bring back our jobs from China, from Mexico, from Japan, from so many places. I’ll bring back our jobs, and I’ll bring back our money.”

Example: “And guess what? No problem. They’re going to build in Mexico. They’re going to take away thousands of jobs. It’s very bad for us.”

Example: “I will find — within our military, I will find the General Patton or I will find General MacArthur, I will find the right guy. I will find the guy that’s going to take that military and make it really work. Nobody, nobody will be pushing us around.”

Sports metaphors

Finally, Donald Trump uses more obvious sports metaphors. He talks about winners and losers, and alludes to people who lose card games or gambling who end up with nothing. He also uses the metaphor of being a football cheerleader to describe someone who is a champion of important causes. Most often, he uses the baseball metaphor of being in the big leagues, meaning professional baseball teams instead of minor league teams. He uses this metaphor to imply that something is happening on a large scale, or that he is a professional while other politicians are in the minor leagues. At the same time, he continues to use hyperbole such as describing results as a disaster, something being destructive, or the entire country going down the drain.

blog - trump - Sign_wrigley_fieldExample: “Iran is going to take over the Middle East, Iran and somebody else will get the oil, and it turned out that Iran is now taking over Iraq. Think of it. Iran is taking over Iraq, and they’re taking it over big league.”

Example: “And we have nothing. We can’t even go there. We have nothing. And every time we give Iraq equipment, the first time a bullet goes off in the air, they leave it.”

Example: “But Obamacare kicks in in 2016. Really big league. It is going to be amazingly destructive. Doctors are quitting. I have a friend who’s a doctor, and he said to me the other day, ‘Donald, I never saw anything like it. I have more accountants than I have nurses. It’s a disaster. My patients are beside themselves. They had a plan that was good. They have no plan now.’”

A cheerleader for the Green Bay Packers
A cheerleader for the Green Bay Packers

Example: “And we also need a cheerleader. You know, when President Obama was elected, I said, “Well, the one thing, I think he’ll do well. I think he’ll be a great cheerleader for the country. I think he’d be a great spirit.” He was vibrant. He was young. I really thought that he would be a great cheerleader. He’s not a leader. That’s true. You’re right about that. But he wasn’t a cheerleader. He’s actually a negative force. He’s been a negative force. He wasn’t a cheerleader; he was the opposite.”

Example: “We have all the cards, but we don’t know how to use them. We don’t even know that we have the cards, because our leaders don’t understand the game. We could turn off that spigot by charging them tax until they behave properly.”

blog - trump - Slot_machineExample: “But he used to say, ‘Donald, don’t go into Manhattan. That’s the big leagues. We don’t know anything about that. Don’t do it.’”

Example: “We have losers. We have losers. We have people that don’t have it. We have people that are morally corrupt. We have people that are selling this country down the drain.


Clearly Donald Trump has tapped into the anger of many Americans towards their government and what they perceive as the lack of effective policies. More specifically it seems that Trump is appealing to middle-class and lower socioeconomic groups of Americans who feel the government has not been fair to them. Growing up in a lower middle class neighborhood myself, I can attest to the common sentiment in those areas that somehow the game of life is rigged against them, and that the rich people in the United States have gotten rich on the backs of the poor, which, historically, is actually true. It is quite ironic, then, that a billionaire such as Donald Trump is seen as the savior to the working class citizens of the United States.

To continue my streetball metaphor further, we can liken American society to a streetball game. The players like the game to go on peacefully just as it is, with everyone playing by the rules. However, in Trump’s ideology, Mexican immigrants have been breaking up their games for years, and China is constantly taking away the ball (well, the ball was probably made in China anyway…). Donald Trump acts as if he can keep the streetball game going without interference from anyone else. He is going to beat or kill anyone who tries to push them around, because he can play in the big leagues. Even though he is great at trash talking, we shall see if he can walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

Next time: More metaphors in the news

Hockey and Basketball Metaphors

Metaphors derived from sports terms are quite common. I have previously discussed general sports metaphors, and those from baseball and football. Today, I would like to discuss metaphors from two other sports. We are in the middle of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Tampa Bay Lightning will be facing my hometown Chicago Blackhawks. (Go Blackhawks!) The NBA playoffs are soon to start as well, with the Cleveland Cavaliers going against the Golden State Warriors. Here are a few common metaphors from basketball and hockey.


Michael Jordan at Boston Garden
Michael Jordan going up for a slam dunk

slam dunk

A basketball player can score two points by jumping and smashing the ball through the hoop. This is known as a slam dunk. Metaphorically, a slam dunk is any action that seems to be 100% certain.

Example: While supporters of Barack Obama hoped he would win reelection in 2012, they knew it was no slam dunk since Mitt Romney was a tough opponent.



                  In basketball, the game begins by the referee throwing the ball straight up in the air. This is called the toss up. The player who can reach and control the ball after the toss up will win the ball for his or her team. In common terms, any competition or election that might be one by any player or team may be called a toss up.

Example: Up until the last minute, the 2012 election between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama seemed like a toss up.

full-court press

When a basketball team puts pressure on the players with the ball on both sides of the court, this is known as a full-court press. In common terms, any group effort to pressure someone to do something or to achieve a goal may be called a full-court press.

Example: Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan gave a full-court press in trying to defeat Barack Obama in the 2012 election.

Shawn Marion pivoting to take a shot
Shawn Marion pivoting to take a shot


A basketball player handling the ball must pivot his or her feet to keep the ball away from the opponents. Pivoting in a new direction can help the player move forward with the ball towards the net. In common terms, any person who changes direction in order to focus on a new project may be said to be pivoting.

Example: In a presidential campaign, a candidate who does not to discuss certain issues may pivot to focus on other problems he or she would like to discuss in the media.

no harm, no foul.

Rules in basketball do not allow a player to deliberate push or shove another play. If this happens, the player is given a foul and may be removed from the game. If two players are in close contact but one player is not pushed, the referee may say that there is no penalty. This is called the no harm, no foul rule. In politics, if a statement or action does not insult or injure another person, we may also that there is no harm, no foul.

Example: Many American citizens have been frustrated that the Wall Street banks who created the 2008 economic collapse cried no harm, no foul and were not held accountable by our own Department of Justice.

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Hockey and Figure Skating

Wayne Gretzky skating as a New York Ranger
Wayne Gretzky skating as a New York Ranger

skate by

Both figure skating and hockey require the participants to skate on ice. The skates allow the person to glide over the surface of the ice with little resistance. Metaphorically, to skate or skate by something means that a person can do something without much pressure to do something different, or to do something illegal without being punished.

Example: Wall Street bankers who gave themselves bonuses while losing the pensions of thousands of investors in 2008 skated by with hardly any fines or prosecutions.


The actual skates worn by Boston Bruin great Bobby Orr in 1970
The actual skates worn by Boston Bruin great Bobby Orr in 1970


skate over, skating-over

If a person does a job in a superficial way or avoids dealing with a problem, we may say that the end result is a skating over of the responsibilities.

Example: Most viewers of presidential debates do not like it when candidates skate over problems brought up by the moderators and never really answer their questions.

Next time: Flag Day!

Describing Presidential Candidates

A recent Time magazine article described 16 different prospective Republican presidential candidates (Feb. 16, 2015, pp. 10 -11, by Zeke Miller, illustrations by Lon Tweeten). I was amazed to find 29 different metaphors in 13 different categories (with a few more I decided not to analyze this time…) in a very short graphic article (pictures below). Once again, it is not hard to find evidence that metaphors are ubiquitous in describing American politics.

TIME GOP candidates Feb 15 1

TIME GOP candidates Feb 15 2








Here are a few examples from the article. I include the exact descriptions of candidates in quotation marks, along with the notes indicating whether they are currently “trending up,” “holding steady” or “trending down” in current opinion polls. I have maintained the use of all caps to note the names of the candidates and the polling trends while the italics are mine indicating the metaphors in question. In some descriptions, there is an amazing variety of mixed metaphors so I am forced to repeat some descriptions to illustrate different metaphors. I hope it all makes sense.

Horse racing

            Presidential elections are often compared to horse races because of their similarities in competition, close finishes and large amounts of money involved. Candidates are described as jockeying for position or running in the race.

blog - candidates - jockeyrun/run to the right

Example: Article title – “See How They Run


The Louisiana governor has one reliable move: run to the right with innovative policy solutions. But he still barely registers in the polls.” 



The big beneficiary of Mitt Romney’s decision to abandon a third presidential bid, the former Florida governor has dominated the early jockeying for moneymen and staff. Unknown: how he performs with voters.”


There are several different types of metaphors derived from our experiences with nature.


EPSON DSC PictureA field is a large, open tract of land using for farming or grazing. Metaphorically, any large group of people may be called a field, as in a field of job candidates or in politics, a field of presidential candidates.

Example: “With a potential field larger than any other in memory, the GOP presidential sweepstakes has already split into several smaller contests with different candidates competing in separate lanes for the nomination.”


The only woman in the anti–Hillary Clinton field, Fiorina has been one of the most effective critics of the former Secretary of State. But her record, both as a Senate candidate and Hewlett-Packard CEO, is … complicated.”

defense hawk

There are also several metaphors derived from animals. For one, politicians who are pro-military or pro-war are sometimes referred to as hawks or defense hawks in comparison to the bird of prey, famous for quick attacks on small animals (in contrast to doves who are passive, quiet birds).


South Carolina’s most colorful defense hawk wants to reclaim traditional GOP foreign policy–in which instability is usually the enemy. He also may have an ace up his sleeve: support from casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.”

a breakout

Wild animals may also be caught and held in cages. If they escape, they may be described as breaking out of their enclosures. Metaphorically, an obscure political candidate who suddenly gains a great deal attention in the media may also be described as breaking out.


After wowing an Iowa audience, the Wisconsin governor flew to Washington to attack its politicians, putting him on the verge of a breakout. Next he must prove his mastery of the issues.”

blog - candidates - baskingbasks in high poll numbers

Finally, cold-blooded animals need to warm them up by lying or basking in the sun. In a strange metaphor, we can also say that people bask in the attention of others or in this case, basking in high poll numbers.


A pediatric neurosurgeon with zero political experience, he basks in high early poll numbers and a massive online-fundraising ability. Is he for real? There is a difference between punditry and politics.”


            In one brief example, the entire field of candidates is described as if it is one large container with the successful politicians in Washington D.C. being the insiders, while newcomers from outside Washington are classed the outsiders.   In this case, the Time article describes five governors as being in this category.


Example: “THE OUTSIDERS” [Scott Walker (Wisconsin), George Pataki (New York, former), Rick Perry (Texas), Mike Pence (Indiana), and John Kasich (Ohio)] 


            We use tools to build or repair machines, buildings or household objects.

My beautiful picturegood wrenches

Metaphorically, people who solve problems may be described as being good wrenches (perhaps derived from the slogan of General Motors car parts and mechanics called “good wrenches.”)

Example: “Governors position themselves as good-wrenches ready to fix the nation’s broken politics”


If one changes an attitude or position in a certain situation, he or she may be described as retooling himself or herself.


Social conservatives’ favorite former Arkansas governor has retooled himself as a culture warrior after six years at Fox News. He has a shot if he can reignite his old populist message in an economic upturn.”

Card games/gambling

There are several metaphors derived from card games and gambling.


In one instance, the presidential election is compared to a sweepstakes competition in which one person wins the entire amount of prize money. This term is derived from a practice of people playing games of chance seated at a table. The prize money or stakes would be set out on the table, and the winners would use their arms to sweep the stakes closer to their bodies to collect their earnings.

Example: “With a potential field larger than any other in memory, the GOP presidential sweepstakes has already split into several smaller contests with different candidates competing in separate lanes for the nomination.”

blog - candidates - jokerwild cards

In some card games, one or more types of cards are considered wild cards, meaning that they could take on the values of other cards. This is a complex term originally comparing the card to a wild animal with unpredictable behavior. Later the phrase wild card came to mean any person or group with unpredictable behavior such as a football or baseball team in a playoff situation. In politics, a wild card is a candidate who may be unknown but may surprise everyone and win the election.


They want to change the Republican Party, not just win it over” [Lindsey Graham (Senator from South Carolina), Carley Fiorina (former CEO of Hewlett-Packard), and Rand Paul, Senator from Kentucky]

an ace up his sleeve

In high stakes poker games, players may be tempted to cheat in order to win. Some cheating players may hide an ace – the highest-ranking card – up their sleeves so they can secretly pull it out at the correct time in order to win a hand. This is known as having an ace up your sleeve. In general terms, and in politics, having an ace up your sleeve means that you have a secret strategy that may be used later in a process when no one is expecting it.


South Carolina’s most colorful defense hawk wants to reclaim traditional GOP foreign policy–in which instability is usually the enemy. He also may have an ace up his sleeve: support from casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.” 


            Presidential elections are often compared to boxing matches or other examples of competitive sports.

071020-N-9818V-459take a blow

In boxing, the contenders must hit or punch each other. Receiving a punch is sometimes called taking a blow. Metaphorically, when a person has a setback in politics, this may also be described as taking a blow.


The former Texas governor’s quest to move beyond “oops” took a blow when a state judge refused to throw out his criminal indictment for abuse of power. Mug shots make lousy campaign posters.”

a champion

The winner of a boxing match is normally called a champion. In politics, a person who wins an election may also be called the champion. Interestingly, the word champion has its origins in the Latin word campio meaning a combatant in a field of battle, lending more credence to the use of the word field to describe a group of political candidates.


The base wants a champion, and several have stepped forward” 

blog - candidates - Fish-hookmaster barb thrower

In the old days before firearms, people used spears to attack each other. In track and field events, we still have javelin competitions imitating the need for throwing spears. In the sport of fishing, the hooks sometimes contain barbs which are metal points going in the opposite direction of the hook so that the fish cannot get away once it is hooked. Metaphorically, a barb is a stinging, insulting comment. In a combination of physical and abstract actions, we can say that people can throw barbs at someone else as if they are throwing a spear at their target. Someone who is good at witty insults may be called a master barb thrower.


An intellect and master barb thrower, the Kentucky Senator is expanding his father’s libertarian coalition. But his stumble over vaccine mandates suggests that transcending it will be harder.”

have a shot

In hunting and warfare, it is important to be a good marksman with a rifle. A hunter, for example, must wait for the right opportunity to shoot at an animal.   This is known as having a good shot. Metaphorically, having a good opportunity to do something is also known as having a shot at something. 


Social conservatives’ favorite former Arkansas governor has retooled himself as a culture warrior after six years at Fox News. He has a shot if he can reignite his old populist message in an economic upturn.”


            We are all familiar with fire, going back to our ancestors millions of years ago. There are three metaphors of fire to describe these candidates.

catching fire, reignite

The first two describe the process of starting a fire as in some combustible materials catching fire, or igniting a fire with some device. Metaphorically, a political candidate or idea that suddenly becomes popular may be described as catching fire, while an issue that had formerly been popular may need to be reignited.


The go-it-his-own-way Ohio governor has been touring the country in support of a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution. This is not an issue that shows any sign of catching fire.”


Social conservatives’ favorite former Arkansas governor has retooled himself as a culture warrior after six years at Fox News. He has a shot if he can reignite his old populist message in an economic upturn.”


A final metaphor from fire comes from the use of a piece of burning wood from one fire to start another fire. This piece of wood is called a firebrand. Metaphorically, a person who can be a catalyst to change the lives of the people around him or her may also be called a firebrand.


The Tea Party firebrand is a proven draw among the party’s evangelical and Obama-hating grassroots. That same orthodoxy, and an inability to attract campaign staff, could limit the Texas Senator’s ambitions.”


            We can use our experiences with clothing or accessories to describe political situation.

SONY DSCBeltway cred

In a very common metaphor, the political culture surrounding Washington D.C. is known as the beltway. This is for two reasons: there is literally a circular highway system that surrounds Washington D.C., and this highway and political system both resemble a belt that a person would wear to hold up his or her pants. In an unusual slang phrase, a politician who has a good reputation, credit, or “cred” for short in Washington is said to have beltway cred.


A competition for party pros, billionaire money and Beltway cred 

Physical forces

            We often use words and phrases from physical forces such as cutting or hitting to describe abstract processes.

squeeze, drag

In this case, political pressure can be described as squeezing someone. Also, physically moving a heavy object may be called dragging the object. In airplanes or boats, anything that slows down the forward motion of the vehicle is also called drag. Metaphorically, anything that slows down a process may be called a drag on that process.


Squeezed by Jeb’s success and New Jersey’s economic drag, the governor keeps working both sides of the Atlantic. His bombast remains untested in the heartland.”

Body parts/body position

            It is very common to create metaphors based on body parts, such as the foot of the mountain, or the arm of a chair.

The Heartland Inn in Bettendorf, Iowa
The Heartland Inn in Bettendorf, Iowa


We also use metaphors of our hearts to indicate the center of something. The term heartland means the center of a country or culture, normally meaning the Midwestern area of the United States where we grow most of our grains and vegetables.


Squeezed by Jeb’s success and New Jersey’s economic drag, the governor keeps working both sides of the Atlantic. His bombast remains untested in the heartland.”


We can also use metaphors of body actions or positions to describe abstract processes. To embrace or hug someone means to physically hold them close with our arms. Metaphorically, to embrace something means to be in favor of some idea or process.


A conservative star with both Washington and talk-radio polish, the Indiana governor found a way to embrace Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. He says he won’t decide whether to run until the end of April.”


            In rare cases, political actions are related metaphorically to theater movements or actions.

bow out

In this instance, we can talk of a politician bowing out of an election. This phrase is derived from the practice of a performer taking a bow at the end of the performance.


The betting money says Bush’s campaign will keep the Florida Senator from running this cycle, but he has impressed GOP bigs nonetheless. Watch for whether he bows out after this month’s book tour to run for re-election instead.”


blog - candidates - Base-foundation-2base

            Every building needs a foundation or base upon which one can build the structure. Metaphorically, the most ardent supporters of a political party are sometimes called the base. Politically, a presidential candidate must appeal to his or her base in order to raise the necessary campaign funds and win the election. The base may even help select the candidate for the next election.


The base wants a champion, and several have stepped forward”


            As I have mentioned many times in analysis of political speeches, journey metaphors are very common in describing the process of political actions. In two simple examples, we can talk of presidential candidates stepping forward on their journey to the White House, or we can say someone stumbles when he or she makes a bad remark or policy decision.

stepped forward

Example: “The base wants a champion, and several have stepped forward”



An intellect and master barb thrower, the Kentucky Senator is expanding his father’s libertarian coalition. But his stumble over vaccine mandates suggests that transcending it will be harder.”


            It is pretty clear that metaphors are commonly used to describe political candidates. The wide field of Republican candidates provides an opportunity for journalists to use these metaphors describing each one’s unique qualities. Time will tell which of the 16 candidates will survive the grueling primaries to become the party’s nominee next year. I will keep watching the news to see what political metaphors are used in the media. Stay tuned!

Next time: More Metaphors of the Theater

Metaphors of Pushing and Pulling

Happy Superbowl Sunday!  Sorry I don’t have any whiz-bang metaphors about football today.  I covered those in a previous post.  However, there will be a lot of pushing and pulling today in the big game.  With that in mind, today I will share some examples of how metaphors based on strong physical forces are used in American politics.

Metaphors based on physical forces are some of the most common metaphors used in English. Phrases such as cut the budget or a swing voter are understood by native speakers without any sense of a metaphor being used. In fact, some experts may even consider these to be so-called dead metaphors, meaning the metaphorical comparison is so old it is no longer considered a metaphor.  Rather it is considered common English usage.  A survey of the most common physical forces will demonstrate that these forces are one of the most powerful sources of political metaphors.


The motion of pushing an object away from a person’s body is the source of many metaphors in politics, war and economics.

Example:   Critics of the War in Iraq accused President Bush of pushing America into war without valid reasons for national security.

push back

                  When someone pushes against another person, the second person may push back to avoid being knocked down.  Metaphorically, pushing back means to resist being pushed over by an outside force.

Example:  To his credit, when Iraqi forces challenged American troops, President Bush pushed back and helped win the war.

blog - forces - push hands

push the issue

Focusing on a particular issue in government may be referred to as pushing it.

Example:  President Obama pushed for health care reform in the first few years of his presidency.

push polls

A specific use of the push motion is in the phrase push poll.  Normally in election years polling is done with neutral questions to determine opinions about issues or candidates.  If the questions are misleading or designed to favor one candidate over another, we call these push polls, since the pollsters are pushing their opinions on to those they are interviewing.

Example:  Although no one approves of push polls, sometimes they can be used to persuade voters to change their minds about a candidate in a presidential election.


Something that is not strong or balanced can be pushed over its center of balance until it falls down.  People who can be persuaded to change their minds or are weak in certain areas of government may be called pushovers.

Example:  When Barack Obama was elected president, critics thought he would be a pushover when it came to foreign policy due to his lack of military experience.  However, he actually increased military operations in Afghanistan and was able to track down and kill Osama bin Laden.


Another word for push is propel.  People or machines can propel objects or individuals with physical force.  In politics, scandals, economic problems, military events or voters groups can propel a politician to win an election.  Usually there is a positive upward connotation to the meaning of propel.

Example:  Latino voters helped propel Barack Obama to victory in both 2008 and 2012.


drive up

Yet another term meaning to push is to drive, meaning to push something with great force.  We commonly speak of economic forces driving up prices or costs of something.

Example:  Short supplies of crude oil often drive up the price of gasoline at the pump.

drive out

When someone pushes a group of people from a certain geographical area or larger group, this may be referred to driving out.

Example:  In the war on terror, American forces struggled for years to drive out Al Qaida terrorists from strongholds in Iraq and Afghanistan.

drive someone crazy

In a common parlance, to drive someone crazy means that an annoying practice can force someone to become very frustrated or upset.

Example:  Corruption in American politics tends to drive voters crazy.


The opposite of push is to pull, to move an object closer to the person instead of farther away.  In metaphors, the pulling motion is used to describe many abstract activities.

pull out

One of the most common pull metaphors is the phrase to pull out, used to describe when people remove something or someone from a certain geographical area or situation.

Example:  Barack Obama successfully pulled American troops out of Iraq by 2012.

pull back

Similar to pull out, pull back indicates retreating from a situation or lessening focus on a certain issue.

Example:  Many American voters wanted the U.S. government to pull back their troops from Afghanistan instead of adding more troops.

pull off

Another expression using pull is to pull off, meaning to succeed in doing something despite many obstacles.

Example:  Wall Street bankers pulled off one of the greatest crimes in history, causing the economic crisis of 2008.

blog - forces - pull

yank their support

The word yank means to pull with great force or speed.  In politics, donors or voters may yank their support for a candidate if he or she disappoints them with words or actions.

Example:  Some conservative voters yanked their support for Rick Perry after disappointing debate performances in the 2011 Republican primaries.


Another word with a similar meaning of pull is to draw.  A politician can draw support or draw crowds because of his or her speaking abilities.

Example:  Martin Luther King, Jr. was always able to draw huge crowds because of his amazing rhetorical skills.

draw down

One can also draw down something, meaning to reduce its quantity or quality.

Example:  Many Americans supported Barack Obama to draw down the troop levels in Iraq as soon as the fighting began to subside there.


The notion of pulling is combined with the idea of backing up to create the compound word drawback, meaning a disadvantage or problem with a certain situation or strategy.

Example:  One drawback of President Obama’s health care reform was that it still left many American uninsured if they could not afford the insurance premiums.


Another word meaning to pull is to wrest, indicating pulling something with a great deal of difficulty or resistance from another group of people.

Example:  Every election year, Democrats and Republicans try to wrest control of Congress from the other party.

Next time:  President Obama’s State of the Union Address

Home Run! Baseball Metaphors!

Since we are in the middle of the action of the exciting World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals, I thought I should share a few baseball metaphors.  Even though there are not many baseball metaphors that I could find, they are very commonly used, perhaps due to the popularity of “American’s national pastime.”   Here are a few metaphors I am sure you have heard before.

Ken Griffey, Jr., hitting a home run for the Seattle Mariners in 2009

major leagues

Baseball teams are organized into different leagues.  The professional players play in what is called the major leagues.  In politics, we may say that people who are elected high office in the government such as the House of Representatives or the Senate are playing in the major leagues.

Example:  After her loss with John McCain in 2008, Sarah Palin was criticized by some who said that she was not ready for the major leagues.

bush league

Amateur baseball players who are trying to get into the major leagues play in what are called farm teams or bush leagues, since they are often located in the rural areas.  In politics, to say that someone is in the bush leagues, or makes a bush-league mistake, means that he or she is inexperienced or incompetent at what they do.

Example:  Critics of Barack Obama claim that his handling of the economic crisis in 2008 was a filled with bush-league mistakes.


Hardball is the type of baseball played by professional teams, as opposed to softball played by younger players learning the game.  Playing hardball indicates that a person is talented, experienced and willing to take risks in a dangerous game.  In politics, playing hardball indicates that a politician is very serious and works at the highest levels of government.

Example:  A popular television news show called Hardball is hosted by the liberal commentator Chris Matthews.


On baseball fields, it is important to keep the fast, dangerous pitches of balls from hurting any spectators.  Thus, behind the batter and catcher is a tall fence called a backstop.  In common terms, a backstop is a person or group of people who support someone else in their work.

Example:  When the U.S. government bailed out banks in 2009, taxpayer money was used to backstop further potential losses by those financial institutions.

a swing and a miss

In baseball, a batter must swing and hit a pitch thrown past him. These pitches can be thrown very fast or made to curve so they are very difficult to hit.  When a batter misses a pitch, this is known as a swing and a miss.  In politics, a swing and a miss may be an attempt by someone to accomplish something that does not succeed.

Example:  Bill Clinton’s attempt at revising the American health care system was a swing and a miss since the bills were not passed by Congress.

flat footed

To be flat footed literally means that a person does not have arches on the bottom of his or her feet so the feet hit the ground flatly instead of on a curve.  In baseball, a fielder must always to be in a standing position ready to run to catch the ball.  A person throwing the ball must also have the feet spread apart and use the body to create enough leverage to throw the ball with force.  To be flat footed, therefore means to be unprepared to do one’s job or to make a weak effort at something.

Example:  Presidential candidates must always be prepared with good answers to important questions during debates.  They must not be caught flat footed or else they might embarrass themselves on national television.


blog - baseball - grandstand Yankee-stadium-frieze
Yankee stadium grandstand

Grandstands are the high seating areas in a baseball park, football stadium, or other sports arena.  The term grandstanding comes from the practice of some baseball players making great catches in the outfield causing the spectators in the grandstands to cheer wildly.  Thus the term grandstanding means to do something to show off.  Political grandstanding indicates the practice of doing something more to make an impression than to get things done or to unnecessarily boast about something.

Example:  Critics of Barack Obama complained he was guilty of political grandstanding after quickly taking credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden.

step up to the plate

In baseball, the batter must try to hit the ball while standing near home plate.  Each new batter must take his turn by stepping up to the plate.  Metaphorically, anyone who makes a strong attempt to do something may be described as stepping up to the plate.

Example:  In 2012, Mitt Romney stepped up to the plate to run for the president of the United States against Barack Obama.

home run

A home run in baseball occurs when a player hits the ball out of the park or deep enough into the outfield that he can run around all four bases and return home.  This is the best possible hit that a batter can make.  Figuratively, a home run is anything that is a great success for a person or group.

Example:  Tracking down and killing the most wanted terrorist in the world, Osama bin Laden, was a political home run for Barack Obama.

blog - baseball - third baseborn on third base

If a baseball player makes a hit and advances all the way to third base, we say that he has hit a triple.  In 1986, former Dallas Cowboy football coach Barry Switzer coined a new metaphorical saying to describe people who were born rich but acted as if they developed their own income through hard work. He described such people by saying, “Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they made a triple.”  At the 1988 Democratic Convention, Texas politician Jim Hightower described George W. Bush as being out of touch with ordinary people by using the same saying.  More recently, actor/activist Martin Sheen expressed the same sentiments about Mitt Romney.

Example:  In 2012, Martin Sheen said of Mitt Romney, “He was born on third base and thought he hit a triple.”




Next time:  More sports metaphors