Tag Archives: synecdoche

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!

 

Boots on the Ground – Synecdoche, Part 1

 

One of the most common uses of figurative language in American politics these days is the phrase boots on the ground. I have discussed this once before in an earlier post. Technically this type of figurative language is not a metaphor, rather is it something known as synecdoche (sih-NECK-duh-key) but it is so common I feel I must explain it further.   Synecdoche has many complex patterns of usage, but for our purposes here, we can say that it occurs when a part of something represents a whole. For example, in the sailing phrase all hands on deck, the hands represent the sailors who will be doing the work.

In the most recent Democratic debate, Martin O’Malley read a note from an anguished mother of a service member and objected to the usage of the phrase boots on the ground.

“I was in Burlington, Iowa. And a mom of a service member of ours who served two duties in Iraq said, Governor O’ Malley, please, when you’re with your other candidates and colleagues on stage, please don’t use the term ‘boots on the ground’. Let’s don’t use the term ‘boots on the ground’.

My son is not a pair of boots on the ground. These are American soldiers and we fail them when we fail to take into account what happens the day after a dictator falls and when we fail to act with a whole of government approach with sustainable development, diplomacy, and our economic power in alignment with our principles.”

This concerned mother touches on a controversial aspect of figurative language, i.e., whether or not English speakers use these types of language to deliberately obfuscate the true meaning of the phrase. For example, we have uses of euphemisms in English which are created solely to describe something unpleasant in a more pleasing way, such as with passing away to mean “dying,” or enhanced interrogation techniques to mean “torture.” We can also find certain types of metaphors that have a negative implication about certain political topics, such as a flood of immigrants or a jittery stock market.  I have discussed these examples in two earlier posts as well.

However, I am not sure if common examples of synecdoche are created to hide the real meaning of a phrase.   Here are a few examples of synecdoche derived from concepts of the human body, land, furniture and buildings. Please let me know what you think!  Next week I will share some examples from other interesting categories.

 

Body

blog - synecdoche - Mount_Rushmoreheads of state

In a common phrase, the leaders of state governments are referred to as heads of state. In this case, the part of the body, the head, represents the whole person.

Example: Every year the heads of state from the largest nations meet at economic summits.

 

joint chiefs of staff

Many departments in government are managed by a head person, sometimes referred to as a chief. In what is now considered a dead metaphor, the word chief is derived from a French word meaning head, similar to the word chef meaning the person in charge of the cooking. Thus, the chiefs are the heads of the department. In U.S. government, the heads of the different branches of the military are collectively called the joint chiefs of staff.

Example: After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the joint chiefs of staff advised President Bush on how to deal with the terrorists.

standing on shoulders

In cases of great success, some people say that they could succeed only because they stood on the shoulders to the people who came before them. Figuratively, the shoulders represent the people and their efforts that they are standing on.

Example: When Barack Obama became the first African-American president, he was standing on the shoulders of Martin Luther King, Jr., Medgar Evers and the Reverend Jesse Jackson among others.

blog - synecdoche - Army-bootsboots on the ground/boot camp

In a common expression of the quantity of military troops, we say that we have boots on the ground. The boots refer to the soldiers wearing the boots. Similarly, the training grounds for new soldiers is sometimes called boot camp for the same reason.

Example: In 2007, President Bush requested more boots on the ground to help win the War in Iraq. This troop surge eventually did lead to the end of the war.

 

 

Land and Country

American soil

As mentioned in the chapter on Nature, soil can be representative of the country that lives on that soil.

Example: The 9/11 terrorist attacks were the first attacks on American soil since World War II.

blog - synecdoche - USA_Flagthe flag

The American flag is symbolic of the country of the United States. When Americans salute the flag, they are respecting the country that it represents.

Example: Each American president must respect the flag during military or diplomatic ceremonies.

 

 

 

Furniture and Buildings

seat of government

The capital city or group of buildings that contain government offices is known collectively as the seat of government. In this case, the government is represented by the places where the government officials literally sit to do their work.

Example: The seat of government for the United States is in Washington D.C.

blog - synecdoche - seat of governmentseat/unseat

A person elected to the Senate or House of Representatives is said to have earned a seat in Congress. For the same reason described above, the literal seat in the building represents the person and the work he or she does for the government. When a person loses an election, we may say that he or she has been unseated.

Example: In 2014, many Democratic members of the House of Representatives were unseated in the November election.

sit on the committee

Members of Congress who are hardworking and well-liked may be asked to work on special committees trying to pass bills for defense, employment, budget, etc. When they do such work, we often say that they sit on the committee, as if the seat represents the work that the person is doing.

Example: Newly elected members of Congress hope that they can sit on important committees to best serve their districts and their country.

pass the bar

Many politicians began their careers as lawyers. To become a lawyer, a person must pass a series of difficult tests referred to as passing the bar. Originally, the bar referred to a railing separating a judge from the lawyers in a courtroom in the 16th century. In a case of synecdoche, the bar came to represent the entire process of beginning a lawyer.

Example: Mitt Romney and Barack Obama were both trained as lawyers. Romney passed the bar in Michigan while Obama passed the bar in Illinois.

board of directors

The word board used to mean a long table. Our modern phrase of a board of directors originated from the practice of people sitting together around a table at a meeting.

Example: Many politicians who work with local business leaders must sometimes speak with the board of directors of those companies.

blog - synecdoche - Garden_benchthe bench

In the Middle Ages, judges sat on a wooden bench. The bench itself has come to represent an entire court or legal system. Supreme Court Justices are said to read their sit on or read their verdicts from the bench.

Example: In 2010, Barack Obama nominated Elena Kagan to the bench of the Supreme Court.

reach across the aisle

Democrats and Republicans usually sit in different sections of the seating area in Congress separated by an aisle. When they work together on passing legislation, we may say that they are reaching across the aisle. Thus the aisle of the floor represents the separation between Democrats and Republicans.

Example: In the first few years of Barack Obama’s presidency, some Republicans accused him of not reaching across the aisle. Some Democrats, however, complained that it was the Republicans who were blocking bipartisan cooperation.

lobbyist

A lobby is the main entryway in a large building. In the early days of American government, people wishing to gain favor from politicians waited in the lobbies of governmental buildings to visit the legislators. Later the term lobbyist referred to these people hoping from special favors from the government.

Example: Health care advocates claim that tobacco company lobbyists kept the dangers of smoking from public view for many decades.

Next time: More examples of synecdoche.

More Metaphors of the ISIS Crisis

Hello dear readers! Before getting to the metaphors of the day, I would like to say thanks to everyone who continues to read my blog.  As my Facebook or email group members have already heard, I reached a few milestones this past week.  For one, this past week I sent off my 100th post!  My, how time flies!  It is hard to believe, but I have been doing this for 22 months now.  And, according to the stats on my blog software, I have also just reached a total of 50,000 views of my blog.  Pretty amazing for an academic blog! I am not sure if that is 50,000 different people reading the blog one time each, or 500 people reading it 100 times each, most likely the latter.   Once again, thanks for reading.  As always, feel free to leave comments or questions after the blog post.  I would love to hear from you!

Today I would like to add a few more metaphors used in the discussion about the ISIS terrorist group that President Obama did not use in his national speech.

blog - soldiers and bootsboots on the ground

The first example the common phrase boots on the ground.  This phrase is technically not a metaphor but an instance of the type of figurative language called synecdoche (sin-NECK-duh-key).  I have discussed this linguistic phenomenon in a previous post, so I won’t provide too many details here.  However, I should point out that synecdoche occurs when a part of something is used to refer to the whole.  Common examples include all hands on deck, when hands refer to the sailors working on a ship, or the Yankees have a great glove at third base, when the glove refers to the baseball player.  With the phrase boots on the ground, the boots refer to the soldiers who wear them when they go into battle.

Example: A few weeks ago, American military advisors have been saying that there would be no American boots on the ground.  Now, some experts are saying that it might be inevitable to have American soldiers in battle in Iraq or Syria.

Dinosaur footprintlarge footprint

In a strange mixture of synecdoche and personification, we can also talk about a country leaving a footprint in another country.  People and animals leave footprints in sand or soft soils as they walk.  Metaphorically, countries can leave footprints in another country if they have many people working in that country.  Recently, I have heard pundits on TV talking about not having American boots on the ground in Syria because we don’t want to have a large footprint there.

Example:  After the U.S. government spent billions of dollars on the War in Iraq, many Americans are vehemently against having another large footprint in Iraq or Syria trying to defeat ISIS.

blog - ISIS - neighborhoodneighborhood 

As explained in the analysis of President Obama’s speech in my previous post, it is common for people to talk about countries as if they are people.  Another example worthy of mention is the notion of a neighborhood of countries.  We may say for example, that Mexico and Canada are American neighbors as if they are families that live on the same street.  On TV news shows the past few weeks, some commentators have wondered why the other countries in the Middle East are not helping more to defeat ISIS.  President Obama himself used the metaphor of a neighborhood in a television interview.

Example:  “Saudi Arabia needs to help take down ISIS because it’s in their neighborhood.” – Pres. Obama on Meet the Press, Sep. 7.

war fatigue

Yet another example of personification is the phrase war fatigue.  People and animals can get tired or have fatigue.  Metaphorically, countries can be described as being fatigued if its citizens collectively share a common emotion.  Specifically, a country can have war fatigue if most of its citizens are tired of their country being at war.

Example:  After more than 10 years of wars with Afghanistan and Iraq, most Americans are suffering from war fatigue and are very reluctant to see more American boots on the ground in the Middle East.

clear vision

People and countries can also have a collective vision.  This is indeed a strange metaphor since no one can see through someone else’s eyes.  And yet we can talk about the United States having a clear vision of how a war against ISIS will develop militarily and/or diplomatically.

Example:  Supporters of President Obama claim that he laid out a clear vision of the war against ISIS with the four-step strategy he explained in his national speech.

blog - ISIS - 58_edsel_pacerwhat does a victory look like?

Another odd metaphor of vision is the question one might hear on a news show: “What does a victory look like?”  We have all had the experience of listening to someone describe a physical object in answer to a request, as in “What did the 1958 Ford Edsel look like?”  Metaphorically, we can also talk about an event as if it is a physical object, as in what winning a war looks like in terms of government takeovers, captured soldiers or the end of combat.

Example:  Many TV news commentators are asking American military advisors what a victory against ISIS would look like.

blog - ISIS - needlethreading a needle

In a totally different conceptual metaphor, we can describe military strategies in terms of a sewing technique.  Anyone who has tried to sew a garment knows that it is very difficult to thread a needle, inserting the slender thread through a tiny hole at the top of the needle.  Metaphorically, threading a needle indicates a situation that is very difficult and takes great precision to do accurately.

Example:  “Obama and his top advisers appeared to be threading a needle as they carefully clarified how exactly U.S. troops might be used, a day after Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey opened the door to approving ‘U.S. military ground forces’” (“White House: No ‘combat role,’ but US troops could ‘forward deploy’ with Iraqis” Foxnews.com, Sept. 17, 2014).

hawks and doves

Finally, I must mention one of the most common metaphors from our experiences with animals.  Traditionally, hawks are symbolic of war since they are very skilled at killing prey, while doves are symbolic of peace since they are quiet, calm birds with a soothing call.  Metaphorically, people who support military activities are commonly referred to as hawks, while people who are anti-war and who support diplomacy and peace negotiations are often called doves.   The recent crisis in the Middle East has caused TV commentators to begin describing experts as being hawks or doves. (I discussed other metaphors of birds in a previous post.)

Example:  Despite a country filled with war fatigue, some hawks in Congress immediately supported air strikes against ISIS, while the doves argued for restraint in getting involved in another war in the Middle East.

blog - nature - hawkblog - nature - dove

 

 

 

 

 

Next time:  Metaphors of vision

President Obama’s State of the Union Address

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

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

Sports

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

the playbook

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

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

blog - sports - footballstanding on the sidelines

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

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

the game

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

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

a full team

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

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

 

Motion/Journeys

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

trapped

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

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

stalled

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

Example:  Upward mobility has stalled.

reverse

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

Example:  So our job is to reverse these trends.

blog - journey - derailmentderail

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

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

stay on track

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

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

launch

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

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

trajectory

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

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

get on board

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

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

America does not stand still/take steps

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

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

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race to the top/big strides

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

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

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

speed up/picking up speed

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

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

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

get by/get ahead

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

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

Race to the finishin the lead

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

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

move this nation forward

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

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

stumble

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

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

Personification – Metonymy

this chamber speaks

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

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

Personification – Synecdoche

war footing

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

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

into the wrong hands

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

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

blog - synecdoche - hands

Personification – Body Position

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

focused

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

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

clear/clear-eyed

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

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

reaching out/ reach their potential

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

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

seize this opportunity/ stand ready

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

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

standing up/weakened/strengthen

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

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

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

blog - body - standing upwe stand for

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

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

drain our strength

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

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

backed/backed by pressure

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

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

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

at their side

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

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

shoulder to the wheel of progress

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

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

feet planted/eyes cast towards tomorrow/ within our reach

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

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

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

Next time:  Metaphors of Silver and Gold

Rattling Sabers and other Metaphors of Swords, Knives and Spears

A few weeks ago, North Korean president Kim Jong-un was described as rattling sabers as he was threatening to attack South Korea.  More recently, the phrase has come up again as some conservatives in the U.S. Congress are calling for military action in Syria.   Pundits are also talking about putting boots on the ground, a topic covered in an earlier post.

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The metaphor of rattling sabers is an interesting one.  A saber is a type of sword with a rounded blade.  To rattle a saber metaphorically means to prepare for war, as if one is drawing out one’s sword for a fight.  Technically the metaphor of saber rattling is a type of synecdoche, i.e., when the part represents the whole, since the saber represents the fighting.

Here are some additional metaphors based on the use of spears and knives.

tip of the spear

A spear is one of the most basic weapons.  The tip of the spear is the most sharp and dangerous part.  Metaphorically the tip of the spear is the first part of a military invasion or a new process.

Example: Writing new tax laws is the easy part.  The tip of the spear is getting Republicans and Democrats to agree on the bill in Congress.

spearhead

The tip of a spear may also be called the spearhead.  Metaphorically, someone who takes the first actions in a new process may be said to be spearheading the project.

Example: Barack Obama hired David Axelrod to spearhead his campaign for the 2008 election.

freelance

A lance is a type of lightweight spear.  In the middle ages, a knight who could be hired to fight in different battles was referred to as a free lance.  Later the term came to mean anyone who did work for hire.

Example: During an election, many freelance journalists try to get the top story on the candidates.

knife-wielding journalist

A knife is a dangerous weapon that can be used in fights.  An attacker who carries a knife may be called a knife-wielding attacker.  Metaphorically, a journalist who makes strong criticisms against a person or group may be called a knife-wielding journalist.

Example: Sarah Palin considered running for president in 2012 but changed her mind after a series of articles against her by knife-wielding journalists.

blog - Bowie_Knife_by_Tim_Lively_2

take a stab

When a knife is used to break the flesh in a person, this is called a stabbing.  This action requires a quick forward movement of the knife to be successful.  This action is also called taking a stab at someone but it is not always successful if the stabber does not reach far enough to injure the person.  In common terms, a person trying something new when he or she is not sure if they will be successful may also be called taking a stab at something.

Example: Some people are persuaded to run for office even if they are not sure if they can win.  They may consider taking a stab at becoming elected for an important office.

backstabbing

To stab someone in the back is called a backstabbing.  However, metaphorically, someone can also stab a person in the back if he or she is revengeful and unfair in a verbal criticism.

Example: When some Democrats in Congress did not vote for President Obama’s bills, some people wondered why they were backstabbing him like that.

brandish

Brandish is an old word meaning to bring out one’s sword with a flourish as if ready for a fight.  In modern terms, one can brandish documents or signs that indicate one is about to start an argument.

Example: During the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011, protestors brandished homemade signs complaining about the richest 1% of the country controlling the other 99%.

Next time:  The Red Line and other Machine Metaphors

Metonymy and Synecdoche: When the House Speaks and the Boots Walk

Metonymy

Metonymy (pronounced meh-TAHN-uh-me) and synecdoche (sih-NECK-duh-key) are two specialized forms of figurative language. Metonymy occurs when a word for a feature of something is used to represent the entire concept.  For example, in the famous phrase the pen is mightier than the sword, the pen represents writing and the sword represents fighting.

White House

blog - white house

The White House is the place where the U.S. president lives.  The name of this residence is used to represent the statements, policies, programs and government of the United States. When a proper name is used as a metonym, technically this is called a toponym.  Metonymy thus includes both common nouns and toponyms.

Example:  On May 2, 2011, the White House issued a statement that Osama bin Laden had been killed.

Washington

The U.S. government headquarters is located in Washington D.C.  The name Washington can be used as a toponym to represent the entire U.S. government.

Example:  Washington is always working on new trade agreements with China.

Wall Street

The largest investment banks in the United States are located on a street in New York City named Wall Street.  For many decades, the name of Wall Street represents all of the investment banks in the United States.

Example:  Many economists blame the 2008 financial problems directly on Wall Street.

Main Street 

Most small towns in America have a principal road in their downtown area known as Main Street.  Symbolically, Main Street represents all aspects of small town life.

Example:  Middle class Americans are sometimes frustrated with federal policies that favor Wall Street instead of Main Street.

 

Synecdoche


boots on the ground/boot camp

As mentioned, synecdoche is a special form of figurative language.  Synecdoche has many complex patterns of usage, but our purposes here, we can say that it occurs when a part of something represents a whole.  For example, in the sailing phrase all hands on deck, the hands represent the sailors who will be doing the work.

blog - soldiers and boots

In a common expression of the quantity of military troops, we say that we have boots on the ground.  The boots refer to the soldiers wearing the boots.  Similarly, the training grounds for new soldiers is sometimes called boot camp for the same reason.

Example:  In 2007, President Bush requested more boots on the ground to help win the War in Iraq.  This troop surge eventually did lead to the end of the war.

the bench

In the Middle Ages, judges sat on a wooden bench.  The bench itself has come to represent an entire court or legal system.  Supreme Court Justices are said to sit on or read their verdicts from the bench.

Example:  In 2010, Barack Obama nominated Elena Kagan to the bench of the Supreme Court.

lobbyist

A lobby is the main entryway in a large building.  In the early days of American government, people wishing to gain favor from politicians waited in the lobbies of governmental buildings to visit the legislators.  Later the term lobbyist referred to these people hoping from special favors from the government.

Example:  Health care advocates claim that tobacco company lobbyists kept the dangers of smoking from public view for many decades.

 

Next time:  Balancing the budget and other metaphors derived from physical forces