Tag Archives: war

Bernie Sanders’ Uphill Battle

Many newspaper and television reports have recently described Bernie Sanders’ quest for the Democratic nominee as an uphill battle. It seems that Hillary Clinton has an insurmountable lead in the votes and delegates to win the nomination. The phrase uphill battle is an interesting metaphor in this usage for several reasons. At first glance, it seems that it is a mixed metaphor, mixing journeys and military concepts. Technically, there is such a thing as an uphill battle, one in which an army must fight an enemy while moving up a hill or mountain. However, it is more likely that we think of this as a sort of compound metaphor combining the physical struggle of walking uphill with the danger of fighting a battle in a war. This compound metaphor makes us think of obstacles to journeys and military campaigns. I have described some of these metaphors in past blogs, but it is interesting to see how they are combined into one conceptual metaphor. Here is a review of metaphors of obstacles on a journey and military battles.

blog - military - uphill battle

Obstacles on a Journey

obstacles

On some journeys, there may be obstacles or things that prevent continuous progress, such as animals crossing the road, snow or rocks falling on the road, or bad weather conditions. Metaphorically, there may also be obstacles to continuous progress for the success of a program or any process.

Example: Barack Obama had to overcome many obstacles in his path to becoming the first African-American president including growing up poor, not having a father, and succeeding in an environment dominated by white politicians.

block

A block is a large log, brick or any compacted mass. A block can literally prevent the passage along a journey or prevent progress in an endeavor.

Example: Unfortunately, when a Republican president is in office, the Democrats often block the passage of the Republican bills, while Republicans often block the passage of Democratic bills when a Democrat is in office.

blog - journey - barrierroadblocks

Similar to the idea of obstacles, roadblocks can literally block the continuous progress on a journey or metaphorically block the progress of a program.

Example: In the first two years of Barack Obama’s presidency, the Republicans seemed determined to prevent any success of the Democrats so they put up many roadblocks in Congress.

stumble, stumbling block

A person can also trip or stumble on a branch or a brick in the path along a journey. Metaphorically, one can also stumble or have to overcome a stumbling block in the middle of a process.

Example: President Obama encountered many stumbling blocks from the Republicans and insurance companies when trying to pass health care reform in 2010.

blog - journey - Rockslide_at_Oddicombeimpasse

When one cannot continue on a journey because of a road being completely blocked by a natural disaster, we say that we have met an impasse, literally something that blocks the passage of a person.

Example: When Bill Clinton tried to pass health care reform in 1994, he ran into an impasse with insurance companies and other politicians and failed to pass any new legislation.

break down barriers

Another word for a roadblock is a barrier. To continue on a journey, one may have to break down the barriers. Metaphorically, one may also need to break down barriers to make progress in a process.

Example: Barack Obama had to break down many race barriers on his way to become the first African-American president of the United States.

blog - width - Trinity_Bridge_-_span_of_a_bridgebridge, bridge builder, bridge the divide, bridge the gulf

If one needs to cross a river or a valley during a journey, one may need to build a bridge to be able to continue the journey. Literally, this is called bridging the divide or bridging the gulf.

Metaphorically, when two people or groups cannot agree on something, someone may offer a compromise to solve the problem. This may also be called bridging the divide. The person who does this may be called a bridge or a bridge builder.

Example: Sometimes a U.S. president may need to bridge the divide between the Republican and Democratic members of Congress.

clear the way

Sometimes, if a road is blocked, one must clear the branches, wood or rocks away before one can continue. This process is referred to as clearing the way. In common terms, we can also clear the way for a process to continue after it had been delayed.

Example: In the 1960s, the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. cleared the way for the civil rights laws that were passed later that decade.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERApotholes to fill

Paved roads in cities often develop holes after many years of traffic and bad weather. Some of these holes are so big people say that they are as big as a cooking pot. City crews must fill the so-called potholes so that people can continue to drive on these roads without hurting their vehicles. Metaphorically, any process that has many difficulties or delays may be described as having many potholes to fill especially when used with another road metaphor.

Example: After the economic crisis of 2008, President Obama had many potholes to fill on the road to recovery considering problems with the banks, corporations and high unemployment.

sidestep

Some obstacles in the road are very small and can simply be avoided by walking around them. We can call this action sidestepping the obstacle. In common terms, we also say that one can sidestep a problem or an issue by not dealing with it directly.

Example: Many candidates running for office sidestep controversial issues such as abortion and gay marriage.

recourse

A course is a route that one follows on a journey. The route to return to the starting point of a journey may be called a recourse. Metaphorically, a recourse is something that one must consider when the first plan does not work.

Example: After years of fighting a war in Afghanistan, the U.S. government had little recourse when their military could not defeat the Taliban there.

blog - journey - uphill elephantlong, uphill task/struggle/battle

Walking on a level road is easy; walking uphill is more difficult. Metaphorically, a difficult task may be called an uphill struggle or an uphill battle.

Example: When John McCain returned to the United States after being a prisoner of war in Vietnam for several years, he had an uphill struggle to regain his health and his military career.

look beyond/move beyond

On a long journey with many hills, one must try to look over or look beyond the hills to see the rest of the road. In common terms, one must look or move beyond an obstacle to solve a problem.

Example: After many lost seats in the 2014 midterm elections, Democrats had to look beyond their losses and plan for the 2016 presidential election.

 

Battles

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

primary battles

Battles are the names of the primary engagements between armies in a war. Metaphorically, battles can also be fought verbally between people or groups. The notion of battle is commonly used in politics.

Example: In every presidential primary, there are many battles among the candidates to gain the nomination of the party.

 

battle cry

At the start of every battle, there is a call or cry from the commanding officer to alert the troops to begin fighting. The phrase battle cry can also be used to indicate the beginning of a political process.

Example: In 2011, the Occupy Wall Street protestors used the slogan “We are the 99%! as their battle cry to gain support against the richest 1% of the nation controlling the government.

battleground states

The land where battles are fought are called battlegrounds. In politics, states in which voters may vote for either Democrats or Republicans are called battleground states when candidates fight for the votes for their party.

Example: Ohio and Florida are often considered battleground states in presidential elections.

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

battle lines are drawn

The exact line separating the land controlled by two fighting armies is called the battle line. Metaphorically, a battle line is the ideological separation between two people or groups. In a public political argument, we may say that battle lines are drawn based on a certain view of a controversial topic.

Example: In the 2016 election, Democrats drew many battles lines with Republicans over the tax breaks given to millionaires and billionaires.

combat

Combat is another word for battles fought between armies in a war. Metaphorically, any verbal argument can be described as combat as well. As a verb the word combat can be used to describe efforts to fight against something.

Example: George W. Bush worked hard to combat the spread of AIDS in Africa during his presidency.

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

firefight

A firefight is an intense battle between two armies in which a great deal of gunfire is exchanged. In politics, a heated argument may also be called a firefight.

Example: Sometimes a peaceful presidential debate turns into a firefight among the top candidates.

 

 

 

clash

The word clash is an onomatopoetic word meaning that it represents the sound made by two metallic objects hitting together. A physical confrontation between people or battle between armies may be called a clash. However, metaphorically, a disagreement in words or ideas between two people or groups may also be called a clash. Often we speak of a clash of personalities between two people.

Example: During the 2016 Democratic presidential primary, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders clashed over positions on the economy.

*******

As I have mentioned many times, political campaigns are thought of as military operations, judging by the amount of war metaphors we used to describe them. The process of winning a nomination or becoming elected is also thought of as a long journey filled with obstacles. When a candidate struggles to win a nomination for his or her party, it is logical that the process be called an uphill battle.

Donald Trump: Battle Metaphors

Two recent articles on Donald Trump in Time magazine illustrate the ubiquity of metaphors of fighting, battles, and war in American politics. Sadly, just as I was working on this blog post about violent metaphors, violence erupted at a Trump rally in Chicago on Friday, March 11. It never ceases to amaze me that politicians treat their profession as a boxing match.   These two articles include a long piece by David Von Drehle entitled “Destination Unknown: As Donald Trump piles up GOP delegates, the nations braces for a very difficult 2016” (March 14, 2016, pp. 34-39), and a shorter piece by Alex Altman entitled “Donald Trump: Tribal Warrior” (March 14, 2016, pp. 40-43). The examples below are taken from the print articles and are labeled as being written by David Von Drehle [DVD] or from Alex Altman [AA]. Italics are mine.

Here in no particular order are a dizzying array of battle metaphors in these two articles.

Boxing and Fighting

Boxing metaphors are some of the most commonly used types of figurative language in politics. In this case, we see examples of lightweight versus heavyweight boxing weight classes.  We also talk about throwing punches, beating an opponent, or stopping the bleeding after a fight. An opponent beaten badly may be fighting for his or her life.

Judo is one of many different types of martial arts. One way of defeating an opponent in this sport is to do a judo-flip and pin the other person to the ground. In ancient Rome, fighters called gladiators fought each other and wild animals to the death.

blog - boxing - Boxing_Tournament_in_Aid_of_King_George's_Fund_For_Sailors_at_the_Royal_Naval_Air_Station,_Henstridge,_Somerset,_July_1945_A29806lightweight

Example:  “Judging the baby-faced junior Senator from Florida to be short of gravitas, Trump dubbed him ‘little Marco Rubio, the lightweight.’ Sensing shiftiness in Texas Senator Cruz, he coined the name Lying Ted.” [DVD, p. 38]

throwing punches

Example:  “You can be sure, as well, he’ll be throwing punches of his own.” [DVD, p. 39]

Example:  “’The reason their punches don’t land is they’re being thrown in a world that’s dying,” says former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who says Trump may ultimately prove to be ‘the most effective anti-left candidate of our times.’” [AA, p. 43]

fighting for life

Example:  “A new Justice Department team might reopen the matter, he implies, “so she is literally fighting for her life” in her effort to beat Trump.” [DVD, p. 39] 

beat

Example:  “CAN HE BEAT HER [Hillary Clinton]?” [DVD, p. 38]

bleeding 

Example:  “Their jobs, their futures, are bleeding away to ‘Mexico, China, India, Vietnam, Thailand’–Trump ticks through the list at his rallies.” [DVD, p. 39] 

judo-flip

Example:  “He is, they acknowledge, a force like no other: an utterly unpredictable candidate who has judo-flipped the entire political apparatus.” [DVD, p. 39] 

blog - war - gladiatorgladiatorial mojo

Example:  “The same gladiatorial mojo that powers football, war movies, professional wrestling and Judge Judy Trump transposes into a political key.” [DVD, p. 36]

  

War and Battles

Military metaphors are also very common in politics.  We can talk about sharpening a weapon, and having a military strategy of dividing and conquering smaller nations. Armies can go on the offense when starting a war while local people may rise up and fight by bringing torches and homemade weapons to a battle.

In occupied countries during a war, local people who fight back against the occupiers are called resistance fighters, while all soldiers and fighters fight against the invaders, and may have to fight in hand-to-hand combat, referred to in Spanish as fighting mano a mano. One of the most famous resistance fighters in history was the Scottish warrior William Wallace who fought against the British in the 13th century.  He was referred to as Braveheart in a popular 1995 Mel Gibson film of the same name. Invading armies can also harm or kill civilians in what as known as dragooning, based on the name of 17th century French soldiers.

During a war, armies decide how to defeat their enemies by assigning targets for their guns and bombs, and they attack their enemies. They may also burn the buildings and property of their enemies or putting them into flames. Metaphorically a word meaning to cause widespread disruption and damage to a process is called being inflammatory . At the end of a battle or a long war there is often vast destruction of lives and property. This is known as carnage. Finally, smaller wars between tribes instead of countries leads to the metaphors of tribal warriors who fight for their side in a war. These types of wars may be described as an us-against-them problem. Wars always have hidden threats and dangers for local citizens which may create fearful tribes.

blog - war - spear pointsharpening

Example:  “Even Hillary Clinton is sharpening her smooth-edged coalition politics, telling voters they’re ‘right to be angry.’” [AA, p. 41] 

 

 

divide and conquer

Example:  “How does he win? Divide and conquer” [AA, subtitle of article, p. 41] 

on the offense

Example:  “’He is totally on offense, 24/7.’ This gives Trump ‘the potential to scramble the electoral map.’” [DVD, p. 39]

torches

Example:  “The party bosses didn’t spot the torches on the horizon because they live comfortably cushioned from the concerns of Trump’s tribe.” [AA, p. 43] 

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resistance fighter, Braveheart, fight to stop, fighting mano a mano [hand to hand combat]

Example:  “What about those stop-Trump schemes? Tim Miller, a Bush spokesman turned resistance fighter, made like Braveheart on Super Tuesday. ‘The fight to stop Donald Trump from getting the nomination is intensifying regardless of tonight’s outcome,’ he declared. Cruz suggested it was time for Trump’s other rivals to drop out and let him go mano a mano.” [DVD, p. 38]

blog - war - dragoondragoon

Example:  “He hasn’t dragooned supporters into believing he’s a conservative; he’s leading a willing rebellion against modern conservatism itself.” [AA, p. 43] 

target

Example:  “Close allies of Clinton believe that Trump’s big mouth makes him a deliciously vulnerable target.” [DVD, p. 38]

 

Berlin, Germany at the end of World War II
Berlin, Germany at the end of World War II

attacks, attack ads, inflammatory, carnage

Example:  “Democrats have been stockpiling research and conducting polls on Trump since last summer, according to sources, and they are studying Cruz and Rubio as the Republican rivals test-drive attacks ranging from the size of Trump’s hands to the mysteries of his unreleased tax returns. They promise a long barrage of attack ads and negative messages in summer and fall, bristling with Trump’s most inflammatory moments, in hopes of motivating Democrats to go to the polls. Meanwhile, Clinton will float above the carnage, they predict, inviting independent women and even Republicans to join her bid for history.” [DVD, p. 39]

Example:  “Trump’s eagerness to be inflammatory on issues like deporting Mexicans and creating a registry for Muslims will drive that number higher, she predicts.” [DVD, p. 39]

Example:  “On the campaign trail, he leans on stereotypes to explain the world, in ways both inflammatory and complimentary.” [AA, p. 41]

blog - war - tribal warriortribal warrior

Example:  “Donald Trump: Tribal Warrior” [AA, title of article, p. 41]

tribal warfare, us against them, enemies 

Example:  “But nobody does tribal warfare like Trump. ‘It’s us-against-them politics,’ says Roger Stone, a Republican consultant and former Trump adviser. ‘You define yourself by who your enemies are.’” [AA, p. 41]

Example:  “Trump warns of enemies lurking everywhere.” [AA, p. 43]

new tribe

Example:  “Now the same knack for divisive rhetoric could tear the Republican Party in two, leaving Trump as the commander of a new tribe, a coalition of the disaffected.” [AA, p. 41]

Example:  “But there is no tribe Trump condemns more than the political elites, both Democratic and Republican.” [AA, p. 43]

hidden threats, fearful tribes

Example:  “This theme, of the hidden threat lurking in our midst, is part of what makes Trump a fitting prophet for a fearful tribe.” [AA, p. 43]

*******

As I said, it is always amazing to see how we speak of American politics with such violent metaphors. It is not surprising that real violence sometimes erupts in the political process. I hope that the recent rise in hateful rhetoric is short-lived and politicians and their supporters can revert to more civil and respectful discourse.

Next Time:  More metaphors in the news

Flashback: Obama’s Speech in Cairo, 2009

Following last week’s post, I continue today to add another analysis of the metaphors of Barack Obama’s speeches in response to requests from my readers. On June 4, 2009, President Obama gave a speech in Cairo, Egypt to discuss the challenges of controlling the unrest in the Middle East. The speech may seem a bit dated now, but still reveals many important views of the newly elected president with regard to the Middle East. It also contains a wide variety of metaphors. The examples included today range from metaphors from nature, farming and ranching, music and theater, buildings, personification, physical forces and journeys. The metaphors of physical forces are especially interesting in that Obama uses terms of physical stress and tension to describe the troubles in the Middle East.

All examples are taken directly from the transcript of the speech. Some quotations are repeated if they contain metaphors in several different categories. Italics are mine.

 

Nature

Many political speeches include metaphors from nature due to our close relationship with our environment. In this speech, President Obama uses the metaphors of political movements being born, political tension being rooted in historical forces, while describing separation between religious groups as being in flames, and learning as being a light carried through the centuries.

blog - nature - New_born_poodleExample: “We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words — within our borders, and around the world.”

Example: “We meet at a time of great tension between the United States and Muslims around the world — tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate.”

Example: “That is the world we seek. But we can only achieve it together.

blog - fire - fireExample: I know there are many — Muslim and non-Muslim — who question whether we can forge this new beginning. Some are eager to stoke the flames of division, and to stand in the way of progress.”

Example: “As a student of history, I also know civilization’s debt to Islam. It was Islam — at places like Al-Azhar — that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment.”

 

Farming and Ranching

Humans have long controlled their environments by raising crops and animals. President Obama describes hatred as something that can be sown like seeds on a farm, while extremist violence breeds fear and mistrust like ranchers breed animals, and tension is fed by colonialism like ranchers feed their animals.

Example: “So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, those who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity.”

Example: “The attacks of September 11, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. All this has bred more fear and more mistrust.”

blog - nature - feeding cowsExample: “More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations.”

 

Music and Theater

Comparisons are often made between politics and theater or music. In this case, politicians and countries can play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations while there is musical harmony between traditions and progress.

blog - music - harmony BeatlesExample: “I am honored to be in the timeless city of Cairo, and to be hosted by two remarkable institutions.   And together, you represent the harmony between tradition and progress.”

Example: “To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, recognize Israel’s right to exist.”

 

Buildings

Politicians often compare government programs to buildings. Thus we can take concrete actions and build new programs and countries.

blog - building - concrete blockExample: “We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.” (Applause.)

Example: “Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build.”

Example: “Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible.” (Applause.)

 

Personification

Countries are often seen as people in the type of metaphors known as personification. In this case, President Obama speaks of countries expanding their reach while Americans will not turn their backs on the Palestinians.

Example: “They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.”

Example: “And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.” (Applause.)

 

Physical Forces

It is quite striking that the most common type of metaphor used by President Obama to describe the problems in the Middle East are those metaphors of physical forces. He describes countries being shaped by culture, elevated by a good world order or bonded with other countries. The solidity of physical objects are described in various ways such as bonds which are unbreakable while freedoms are indivisible and beliefs that are unyielding as if they are all made of steel. Governments can also take hold of and maintain power as if they are physical objects. However, the most common metaphor in the entire speech is by far that of tension, used to describe the unrest in the Middle East, as if the countries are objects under tremendous pressure. President Obama used the metaphor of tension a total of nine times.

Example: “We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum — “’Out of many, one.’”

Example: “Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail.”

blog - physical forces - unbreakable glassExample: “America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.”

Example: “Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one’s religion.”

Example: “But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose.”

Example: “So no matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who would hold power: You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.”

blog - physical forces - tension bridgeExample: “We meet at a time of great tension between the United States and Muslims around the world — tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate.”

 

Journey

Not surprisingly, President Obama also uses a wide variety of journey metaphors to explain how the Middle East needs to progress from chaos to peace. Some long journeys require studying a road map, and then people need to take steps to start the journey or launch their vehicles as if they are rockets. People who take the journeys need to make sure they are not going down a dead end, or trapped in a certain place; rather they must move forward. They need to go down the correct path, although it may be dangerous. They may also need to understand what brought them to a certain point of the journey before they can continue forward, or find a bridge to a new route.   They may need to look for a beacon in the distance to achieve their goal as if they are on a ship in stormy seas looking for a lighthouse.

blog - journey - road mapExample: “The obligations — the obligations that the parties have agreed to under the road map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them — and all of us — to live up to our responsibilities.”

Example: “Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be a critical part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.”

Example: “On science and technology, we will launch a new fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries, and to help transfer ideas to the marketplace so they can create more jobs.”

blog - journey - dead end signExample: “This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It’s a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end.”

Example: “Rather than remain trapped in the past, I’ve made it clear to Iran’s leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward.”

Example: “This is not simply about America’s interests. It’s about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.”

Example: “It’s easier to start wars than to end them. It’s easier to blame others than to look inward. It’s easier to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path.”

Example: “I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight. I know there’s been a lot of publicity about this speech, but no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have this afternoon all the complex questions that brought us to this point. But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly to each other the things we hold in our hearts and that too often are said only behind closed doors.”

Golden Gate BridgeExample: “Around the world, we can turn dialogue into interfaith service, so bridges between peoples lead to action — whether it is combating malaria in Africa, or providing relief after a natural disaster.”

Example: “For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning; and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt’s advancement.”

*******

This speech is interesting for several reasons. Historically, it is the only speech I know of given by a sitting U.S. president from Cairo, Egypt. Metaphorically, it contains a wide variety of rich metaphors. While the journey metaphors were not surprising, it is telling that there were many metaphors of physical forces to describe the unrest in the Middle East while the most frequent metaphor of all was that of tension. Sadly, there has not been much progress in the Middle East since this speech in 2009. Even more tension has arisen since the growth of ISIS and the more recent terrorist attacks. I will continue to monitor how metaphors are used to describe the continued acts of terrorism around the world.

 

Next time:  Back to the campaign trail

Signature Issues – Synecdoche Part 2

Hello! Sorry for the delay with today’s post. This has been crunch time for my teaching schedule at the end of the quarter. I have been swamped with testing, grades and endless paperwork. I am trying to catch up with my blog posts.

Today I would like to provide the second part of my analysis of synecdoche. The last time I discussed examples from the human body, land, furniture and buildings. This time I explain examples from writing, money, tool, weapons and machines.

Writing

the fine print

In many legal documents, the details of the agreement are very long and complex so they are often printed in small letters. This is usually referred to as the fine print. Thus the small print represents the details of a process or agreement. There is also usually a negative sense to the phrase since people are sometimes fooled by not reading the fine print in a document before they sign it.

Example: Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act was a document of 2700 pages. Members of Congress had to read a lot of fine print before they could vote on it to be passed into law.

blog - business - JohnHancocksignature issues

A signature is a handwritten name. It represents the person’s identity and approval of the document that is signed.   For politicians, the issues that they are most passionate about are sometimes called their signature issues. Their signature represents their interest in those issues.

 

Example: For many Republicans, the signature issues are taxes and government spending.

blog - synecdoche - penthe pen is mightier than the sword

One of the oldest examples of synecdoche in English dates to a British play written in 1839. In this case the pen refers to the power of written documents to cause or end wars, while the sword refers to the power of military weapons to fight a war. Thus, saying that the pen is mightier than the sword indicates that diplomacy is more powerful than military solutions in times of war.

Example: For most American presidents, trouble in the Middle East is a difficult situation to handle. Some prefer military options while others say that the pen is mightier than the sword.

 

Money

hit the pocketbook

A pocketbook is a type of wallet for holding money. When politicians talk about a bad economy affecting the finances of average Americans, they may say that it will hit the pocketbook, meaning their wallet will have less money than usual. In this case, the container represents the important contents inside the container.

Example: The economic crisis of 2008 hit the pocketbook of millions of Americans.

Model of an ancient Roman coin purse
Model of an ancient Roman coin purse

purse strings

Purses for holding money used to be simple leather bags tied with a string. In an old phrase from the Middle Ages, holding the purse strings meant to control the money in the household. As an example of synecdoche, the purse strings represent the money contained in the purse.

Example:  Congress likes to hold the purse strings for funding entitlement programs such as Social Security.

 

Tools and Weapons

blog - synecdoche - forkfield to fork

We use forks to eat our food. In these days of trying to reduce transportation and energy costs of moving food from farms to our groceries stores, politicians have created the phrase of reducing the costs of field to fork. The field represents the farms; the fork represents our eating of the food in our homes.

Example:  Whenever gas prices go up, some politicians support the development of local farmers’ markets to reduce the costs of field to fork.

blog - saber 2rattle sabers

A saber is a type of sword. When some members of Congress begin speaking of going to war against other countries, we may say that they are beginning to rattle their sabers. The sabers represent war or the willingness to go to war.

Example:  After the War in Iraq ended in 2010, some conservative politicians began to rattle their sabers against Iran.

 

Machines

blog - synecdoche - voting_booth voters pull the lever

In some cases, when people go to vote in their communities, they must pull a lever on a small machine that records their votes. In a common phrase, we refer to the process of voting as pulling the lever. The lever represents the entire voting process.

Example: In a presidential campaign, each political party tries to persuade voters to pull the lever for their candidates.

blog - synecdoche - radio dialacross the dial

Before the digital age, radios had a dial that showed the frequencies of each radio station. To go across the dial meant to listen to a wide range of music and news stations. In a modern figurative phrase, to go across the dial means to survey many types of political views on a certain topic. The dial thus represents differing political opinions.

Example:  In the 2008 presidential election, people from all across the dial voted for Barack Obama.

blog - synecdoche - wirewired campaign

Wires have long been used in the construction of radio, television and computer equipment. To say that an office is wired, for example, means that it has the latest technology, especially the best Internet connections and website access. If a campaign is wired, this means that the campaign staff are connecting to voters through websites and social media outlets.

Example: In 2008, some pundits believed that Barack Obama’s wired 2008 campaign helped him win the election.

*******

I think most American English speakers would not even realize that these examples I have described in the last two posts are types of figurative language since they are so commonly used. Once again, I believe these uses of synecdoche illustrate how easily our minds can understand non-literal language and how common synecdoche is in the English language. I often wonder how speakers of English as a second language know what the heck we are talking about most of the time. As always, questions and comments are welcome!

Next time: A Holiday Smorgasbord of Metaphors!

 

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.

When Liberals Attack!

I have been studying the announcement speeches of the most recent Republican candidates (15 and counting!) but I was disappointed to find that there were almost no metaphors in their speeches. They were quite uniform in their plain language, laying out the problems of the United States and the steps they would take to solve those problems. I will keep looking for more interesting uses of metaphors in the speeches of those candidates.

In the meantime, I was just reading a fascinating article in a recent Time magazine article by Michael Scherer. If you are a subscriber, you can read the article online here.  In the paper edition, it is “Up with People: Populist Fury and Economic Anxiety are Remaking Democratic Politics. It’s the Message of Elizabeth Warren,” pp. 40-45 in the July 20, 2015 issue.

The author Scherer discusses how Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are challenging former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on many progressive and populist issues facing the country today. I found a nice variety of metaphors used to describe the political moves the various liberal leaders were using.   There were interesting uses of metaphors from communication, fire, fragile objects, physical forces, boxing and war. As always, all examples are taken directly from the article. The metaphors are highlighted with italics, and some examples may be repeated if there are several different metaphors in the same passage. Enjoy!

Communication

One area of metaphor usage I have not previously discussed is that of communication terms. A literal act of communication can be used to metaphorically describe a larger, abstract form of communication. For example, a simple action or statement may be described as something being said loud and clear, a clear signal, or calling out someone. Similarly, we may say that an action is a clarion call, a clarion being a medieval trumpet used to call the start of a battle. On a lighter note, we can also talk about a punch line, the final line of a joke. Metaphorically, a punch line is an important or unexpected statement in a description of a problem.

call out

Example: “In December she [Warren] attacked the White House and Democratic leaders for agreeing to roll back limits on derivatives trading by federally insured banks, even calling out Obama’s current and former advisers for their work with Citigroup, one of the major proponents of the change.”

blog - comm - traffic_light_on_redclear signal

Example: “Brookings scholars Elaine Kamarck and Bill Galston, for instance, both veterans of the Wall Street–friendly Democratic Leadership Council, sent a clear signal to Clinton this summer when they proposed new curbs on executive compensation, stock buybacks and other forms of financialization that they argue have bled the economy of jobs.”

loud and clear

Example: “‘They are sending a message not to Hillary Clinton, not to Jeb Bush,’ he said. ‘They are sending a message loud and clear to the people that own America, to the Big Money interests, that enough is enough. They cannot have it all.’”

blog - comm - Trumpet,_B_flat_-1623clarion call

Example: “The new fire is fueled by a shift in economics that feels like a crisis for many Americans and a clarion call for government action among liberals.”

punch line

Example: “‘Elizabeth [Warren] is, you know, a politician like everyone else,’ he told a reporter in May. ‘Her arguments don’t stand the test of fact and scrutiny.’ But he could not prevent the punch line: 78% of House Democrats and 73% of the Senate Democratic caucus initially voted against Obama, who prevailed only by restructuring the votes with the GOP.”

Physical Forces

It is very common to describe abstract actions as normal physical forces. We can find examples of shrinking, squeezing, or pressuring someone or something. There are also examples of holding sway and steamrolling families. Most famously, we have the nickname of supply-side economics as trickle down economics, as if money invested in corporations will trickle down like water to the middle and low socioeconomic classes.

shrink

Example: “‘The Wall Street wing of the Democratic Party is shrinking quite dramatically,’ says Robert Reich, a former Labor Secretary under Bill Clinton.”

squeeze

Example: “Obama talked about the middle-class squeeze as far back as 2005, and he shares much of Warren’s agenda, from increasing the minimum wage to expanding infrastructure investments and overtime pay.”

pressure

Example: “Warren, who clearly intends to apply as much pressure as she can on Clinton, says with some coyness that it is “too early to say” whether she will join Sanders on the campaign trail.”

My beautiful picturesteamroll

Example: “‘Here is this coalition of giant credit-card companies whose plan was to improve their bottom line by 1 or 2 percentage points by just steamrolling millions of American families,’ she says.”

 

hold sway

Example: “The old arguments and alliances no longer hold sway and won’t draw crowds.”

trickle down

Example: “Clinton, for her part, has already adopted much of Warren’s language, attacking the idea in her campaign announcement speech that ‘if we let those at the top pay lower taxes and bend the rules, their success would trickle down to everyone else.’”

Physical Forces with Objects

There are certain metaphors of physical forces that involved specific objects. We can speak of social relationships as if they are physically tied with string or rope.  Those ties can also be loosed like untying a knot in a rope. We also talk of bending the rules as if they are branches of a tree.

strong ties, cut ties

Example: “She [Warren] also concluded that the party’s strong ties to Wall Street were not anodyne or manageable. They were the problem.”

Example: [speaking of Warren] “But a woman whose family finances and political fortunes have long been entangled with the biggest Wall Street firms has not yet declared how far she is willing to take the party down the populist path, or whether she is willing to pay the price of cutting ties with some of her biggest backers.”

blog - phys forces - Sheepshank_knotloose (verb)

Example: “But the next party agenda will be the province of the Democrats’ 2016 nominee, and centrists have been rushing to propose their own set of reforms, retreating from the long-held view that loosing capitalism from regulation would unleash benefits for all.”

bend the rules

Example: “Clinton, for her part, has already adopted much of Warren’s language, attacking the idea in her campaign announcement speech that ‘if we let those at the top pay lower taxes and bend the rules, their success would trickle down to everyone else.’”

Physical Forces with Animals

Working with animals leads to a several interesting metaphors. Wild or even domestic animals often need to be controlled as with leashes for dogs or reins for horses.   The sudden release of a natural process may be called unleashing it, while controlling something that is more powerful than expected may be called reining it in.

unleash

Example: “But the next party agenda will be the province of the Democrats’ 2016 nominee, and centrists have been rushing to propose their own set of reforms, retreating from the long-held view that loosing capitalism from regulation would unleash benefits for all.”

blog - phys forces - reinsrein in

Example: “Economists like Summers, who encouraged the banking deregulation of the 1990s as a way to increase growth, speak often now about targeted measures to rein in the ‘rents’ accrued by the wealthy, like limits on intellectual property, stronger enforcement of antitrust laws and tax reforms to increase purchasing power at the bottom.”

Fire

We all have experience with fire. A spark may start a fire, while fuel is needed to keep a fire burning. Metaphorically, something that is excited or aroused may be called something inflamed, while a process that is growing larger may be described as a fire that is being fueled.

inflamed

Example: “Not since Woodrow Wilson promised to break the ‘money monopoly’ and Franklin Roosevelt hollered ‘I welcome their hatred’ at the plutocrats has the Democratic Party found itself so inflamed against the intersection of wealth and power.”

DSC_7139fuel the fire

Example: “The new fire is fueled by a shift in economics that feels like a crisis for many Americans and a clarion call for government action among liberals.”

Fragile Objects

Abstract concepts may be compared to fragile objects that can be broken. We can break up or break down something or simply break it.

break

Example: “Not since Woodrow Wilson promised to break the ‘money monopoly’ and Franklin Roosevelt hollered ‘I welcome their hatred’ at the plutocrats has the Democratic Party found itself so inflamed against the intersection of wealth and power.”

break up

Example: “She [Warren] wants to break up the big banks, increase funding for Social Security and slow the revolving door between the White House and Wall Street.”

break down

Example: “But the similarities break down over how far and fast to go in financial regulation and free-trade agreements.”

 

Boxing

Politicians are often compared to boxers fighting in a ring. A boxer may also be known as a pugilist while someone can pick a fight, stand up and fight, fight back or get back on offense instead of simply defending against blows from an opponent.

pugilist

Example: [speaking of Warren] “A legal academic by training, a teacher by disposition and a pugilist to the core, she never sought politics as a career or party as an identity.”

pick fights

Example: “To see where the battle lines are drawn, all you have to do is list the fights Warren has picked with her own party over the past year.”

blog - boxing - Boxing_Tournament_in_Aid_of_King_George's_Fund_For_Sailors_at_the_Royal_Naval_Air_Station,_Henstridge,_Somerset,_July_1945_A29806stand up and fight

Example: “In the meantime, Clinton is trying to get back on offense in her own party. ‘I take a backseat to no one when you look at my record in standing up and fighting for progressive values,’ she said, after speaking to a crowd of about 800 in New Hampshire.”

fight back

Example: “Obama, after promising hope and fighting back from the Great Recession, will almost certainly leave office having failed in the central economic challenge of his time: raising incomes for the American middle class.”

on offense

Example: “In the meantime, Clinton is trying to get back on offense in her own party.”

War

As I have pointed out many times before, politics in the United States is often compared to war between opposing parties. In some cases, politicians from a single party may be at war with themselves. People can be targets or be under attack from their enemies. There may also be battles between competitors and battle lines may be drawn before the beginning of a fight. In maritime battles, a ship can fire all of its guns on one side at the same time in an action known as a broadside. A ship that is shot full of holes will undoubtedly sink.   A ship’s crew working for an incompetent or abusive captain may quit or mutiny. Metaphorically, a large verbal attack may be called a broadside, and a project may sink if it fails to make progress. Finally, people working for a failing politician may also mutiny and give up.

at war

Example: “… at the White House, where a frustrated President Obama has spent the summer at war with his own party over how to write the rules of global trade.”

blog - war - targettarget

Example: “House minority leader Nancy Pelosi says bluntly that Warren’s view of Obama as soft on Wall Street ‘is not the consensus in our party.’ Warren’s targets are less delicate. ‘I don’t know if she fully understands the global banking system,’ needles JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon. Warren Buffett has suggested she be ‘less angry and demonizing.’”

under attack

Example: “The old arguments and alliances no longer hold sway and won’t draw crowds. And the giants of the party now find their credentials, and motivations, under attack.”

battle for the soul

Example: “‘The Democratic Party is being polarized to the left, laying the groundwork for a Tea Party–like insurrection,’ explains Bruce Josten, a top lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. ‘It is a battle for the soul of the Democratic Party.’”

battle lines are drawn

Example: “To see where the battle lines are drawn, all you have to do is list the fights Warren has picked with her own party over the past year.”

blog - war - Missouri_broadsidemutiny, sink, broadside

Example: “When Larry Summers, a top economic aide to both Presidents Obama and Clinton and a former consultant to Citibank, seemed close to getting his dream job as Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Warren joined a Democratic mutiny and sank his chances. This summer she launched a broadside against Mary Jo White, Obama’s Securities and Exchange Commission chair, accusing White of slow-rolling new rulemaking for the finance industry, and highlighting the conflicts of interest caused by her husband, who works at a Wall Street law firm.”

*******

I am always amazed at the wide variety of metaphors that can found in a short magazine article. It presents more evidence that we can barely talk about politics without using metaphors. See if you can find examples of metaphors the next time you pick up a news magazine.

Next time: More political metaphors in the news.

Independence Day Quiz

Hello! Happy 4th of July! Today I will depart from my usual description of metaphors to first talk a little bit about the history of our Independence Day. I am not an expert on American history by any means, but I teach quite a bit of history to my students as they prepare to pass their high school equivalency exams. Here are five questions I ask my students. How well do you know American history?

blog - 4th of July - Artillery_gun_crew-illustration

  1. July 4, 1776 is the day our founding fathers wrote the Declaration of Independence. When was it written in relation to the Revolutionary War? It was:
  • a) before the war
  • b) during the war
  • c) after the war

2.  When was the U.S. Constitution written?

  • a) 1776
  • b) 1781
  • c) 1787
  • d) 1789
  1. The famous phrase, “all men are created equal” is in:
  • a) the Declaration of Independence
  • b) the U.S. Constitution
  • c) the Bill of Rights
  • d) all of the above
  1. When did George Washington, our first president, begin his first term?
  • a) 1776
  • b) 1781
  • c) 1787
  • d) 1789
  1. The Bill of Rights was written:
  • a) to fix the mistakes of the Constitution
  • b) to codify additional rights for U.S. citizens
  • c) to expand the legacy of the founding fathers
  • d) all of the above

Bonus Question

  1. America is the greatest country ever! True or False?

 

  1. B. I remember thinking when I was younger that we must have declared independence after we had won the Revolutionary War against the British. On the contrary, we declared our independence only about a year after the battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775. It was a pretty brave thing to do given the fact that the signers of the Declaration most certainly would have been hanged by the British if the colonists had lost the war. The fighting lasted until the Battle of Yorktown in 1781 but the war was not officially over until the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783.

blog - 4th of July - Constitution doc

  1. C. The Constitution was not written until 1787. Prior to that, the country was governed through a loose assemblage of laws in each of the colonies directed by the Continental Congress.
  1. A. The phrase “all men are created equal” is part of the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution although it is in the latter document that most laws and rights are spelled out.

 

 

  1. D. George Washington did not start his presidency until 1789. It took two more years after the Constitution was written before elections were held for the first president.
  1. B. The Constitution was amended within two years of its creation with the writing of the Bill of Rights in 1789, and has been amended a total of 27 times since then. It gave additional rights to U.S. citizens not specified in the Constitution.
  1. To be discussed later…

Why do I bother mentioning these obscure facts? Studying how language is used in politics, it is not hard to notice the contradictions among words and actions in our history and current events. For one thing, I believe we take the notion of independence for granted. Isn’t it sad that we have to talk about independence at all? A country fighting for independence means that another country has taken over its governments, its laws and its people. Why is this taken as commonplace?

blog - 4th of July - Victim_of_Congo_atrocitiesWhile the Colonial Americans were frustrated with the British government for its tax laws and other unfair governmental treatment, they really had it easy. In many regions of Africa, workers were basically enslaved for most of their lives to do the work exploiting their country’s natural resources for the benefit of the colonial governments back in Europe. Workers in the Belgian Congo had their hands chopped off if they did not pick enough cotton to the liking of King Leopold back in Belgium. People in India starved to death as the British forced them to grow crops that were sent back to England. Under apartheid, South African workers worked and died in horrendous conditions of diamond mines, the profits of which went to a few rich white government officials.

As I have mentioned before, I served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Benin, West Africa back in the 1980s. At that time, most African countries had achieved independence only two decades before, and they were struggling under cruel dictatorships that had replaced the cruel colonial governments. They are still recovering from the legacy of greed and exploitation from the colonial era.

blog - 4th of July - slavery whippingThe irony is, of course, that while the colonial Americans were fighting for their independence, the writers of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were slave owners. The most brilliant political minds of the 18th century created our government, and yet no one noticed that the slaves were “created equal” but not treated equally? It seems incomprehensible to us today. About 100 years later, the Southern states started a civil war to preserve their rights to own slaves. It took a civil war for an open-minded President Lincoln to write the Emancipation Proclamation. But that was not the end of the discrimination against African-Americans. It took a massive civil rights movement in the 1960s to right many of those wrongs in this country. And it was only a few weeks ago that the Confederate battle flag was taken down at public buildings, and that happened only after a horrific tragedy at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Geronimo, the Apache chief, 1887
Geronimo, the Apache chief, 1887

Other “less equal” Americans did not fare much better.   Native Americans were treated with respect by the first few presidents, especially Thomas Jefferson. Only a few decades later, discrimination against native peoples began in earnest. In the 1830s, President Andrew Jackson forced the Native Americans of the Southeast states to march the “Trail of Tears” hundreds of miles to reservations in Oklahoma while he and his friends stole their land, their houses, and the gold found in the area. When I was a kid in the 1960s I loved watching the popular Western movies and TV shows in which those “Indian savages” were killed off with abandon in every battle scene, and I rooted for the cowboys. Most Americans thought nothing of it. Native Americans have only recently been treated with any manner of respect by the American government.  It seems that the independence we celebrate today was not for all Americans equally.

The other point is that the American government was not created overnight. Despite the contradictions described above, the model of government created in the Constitution is considered one of the best in the world. The Bill of Rights and the other 17 amendments, furthermore, provide civil rights in a manner many countries fall far short of.   America is still a young country, a mere 239 years old today, while England, for example, just had its 800th birthday judging by the date of the Magna Carta of June 12, 1215 while China can date its history back about 4000 years. Maybe it will take us a while to get things right. In the meantime, however, the foundations of our celebrated democracy are slipping away. More and more of the government seems to be controlled by corporations, given the number of lobbyists in Congress and the Citizens United Supreme Court decision which allows unlimited donations to people running for office, to the point that our government looks more like an oligarchy than a democracy.

And yet, I was reminded of the greatness of the United States just the other night. I awoke about 2 a.m. and realized that our power was off. The house was dark, all the clocks were off, the air conditioning was quiet, and the ceiling fan had stopped spinning. I was not surprised the power had gone off. We have had two straight weeks of temperatures over 100 degrees. Everyone in town has been running their air conditioning non-stop. My wife and I opened the windows to let some cool air in. A wonderful night breeze swept through the house as moonlight flooded the room. I also noticed an odd spotlight across the street. Even at that early hour, the local power company had teams on the street fixing the power. A rumbling diesel truck was parked nearby as a worker was looking over the power lines on our street. Within a half hour, the power was back on.

blog - 4th of July - Faucet2I never take our utilities for granted. While in the Peace Corps, I lived for two years without electricity or running water. During my first dry season, the local well went dry and I barely had enough water to use for bathing, washing dishes or even to drink. Turning on a tap and have potable water pour out is a luxury millions of people around the world do not enjoy. Having electricity available 24/7 is another luxury. In some countries, brownouts or blackouts are common. Power outages may last hours, days or weeks. And spotlights and rumbling trucks on our streets in the middle of the night simply mean that someone is fixing our utilities. In other countries, it may mean a death squad is coming to get your family.

Despite our failures in the past, the United States has excellent technological resources, infrastructure (although definitely aging), and communications, among other 21st century benefits. We also have great freedoms – we can live and work wherever we like, worship as we choose, speak and write whatever we like, etc., all freedoms citizens in many other countries do not enjoy.

So is the United States the greatest country ever? If you listen to conservative talk radio and television news shows, you might be persuaded that it is. Certainly, we have our good points. In addition to our mistreatment of minorities described above, we also have the greatest income inequality, the highest poverty rates, the highest incarceration rates, the highest healthcare costs, and some of the lowest rates for reading, math and science scores compared to the rest of the industrialized world, just to name a few shortcomings. Clearly we still have some work to do before we can be considered the greatest country ever.

The Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C.
The Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C.

So as we celebrate our independence today, keep in mind our checkered past and the hope that all Americans can truly be independent some day. And let’s not forget our service men and women over the last 239 years who have fought and died to preserve our way of life here in these United States.

Back to the reasons for writing this blog, what do metaphors have to do with the 4th of July? Here are a few examples of metaphors based on revolutions and preparing for war.

revolt

Wars can be started for many different reasons. One way is when people revolt against their government. In common terms, people can revolt against any group of people or organization. In politics, a party can revolt against its own members or another party in office.

Example: In 2008, some conservatives revolted against the Republican Party and started their own Tea Party.

The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis (Yorktown, 1781), by John Trumbull, 1820
The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis (Yorktown, 1781), by John Trumbull, 1820

insurgent

As with a revolt, people may fight against their own government. These people may be called insurgents. In politics, people who want to have different policies or programs than their own parties or government may also be called insurgents.

 

Example: In 2010, some insurgent Democrats voted with Republicans on key bills in Congress.

uneasy truce

To prevent a war from beginning, countries sometimes create an alliance or truce so that they do not fight each other. If tensions arise between the two countries, there may be an uneasy truce. In politics, two parties may also have an uneasy alliance while working on a difficult national issue.

Example: After the 2008 economic crisis, Barack Obama made an uneasy truce with the Wall Street bankers who caused the crisis but needed help to keep the economy from getting any worse.

Camp Union in Pennsylvania during the Civil War
Camp Union in Pennsylvania during the Civil War

camp

Military forces often set up an encampment or camp to prepare for battle. In politics, a group of campaign workers or strategists may be called a camp.

 

 

Example: In the 2012 Republican primary campaigns, the Mitt Romney camp traded criticisms with the Newt Gingrich camp.

pay tribute

Historically, when an army took control of a city or town, the local people often had to pay a tax or tribute to the new government. Later the phrase came to mean a paying a compliment to a person or group for what they have achieved.

Example: When Barack Obama was elected the first African-American president of the United States, he paid tribute to civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. for opening doors for him.

bulwark

A bulwark is a wall made of thick wood as part of a fortification of a city. In modern times, the word bulwark is used metaphorically to mean something that provides defense against a verbal or ideological attack.

Example: Some conservative politicians use their Christian faith as a bulwark against laws that condone abortions.

war chest

Historically, the money needed to finance a war on the battlefield was kept in a large chest that traveled with the commanding officers. Metaphorically, the phrase war chest now indicates the amount of money that a candidate has to finance his or her election campaign.

Example: Although John McCain had a large war chest when he ran for president in 2008, he did not win the election.

arsenal

An arsenal is the total quantity of weapons a military possesses. In politics, candidates can have an arsenal of complaints or attacks against their opponents.

Example: In the 2012 Republican primary, critics of New Gingrich launched an arsenal of attacks against his past record as former Speaker of the House.

blog - 4th of July - Kentucky's long riflearmed with ideas

When a soldier carries a weapon, we can say that he or she is armed. Metaphorically, a person can also be armed with ideas to be used in an argument.

Example: In a presidential debate, candidates must be armed with many ideas they can use to explain their policies and answer the moderators’ questions.

ammunition

Ammunition is the quantity of bullets used in a gun. Ammunition can also metaphorically indicate ideas or facts to fight against someone in an argument.

Example: A candidate in an election must not make a factual mistake in a speech. This mistake can be used as ammunition against him or her by opponents in future debates.

Next time: More Political Speeches

 

Memorial Day Metaphors

In honor of Memorial Day, and the thousands of servicemen and women who have given their lives in serving their country, I offer today a few comments on the metaphors of war. It is a sad fact that the United States has been at war for 222 of its 239-year history. That’s 93% of the time. Thousands of Americans have been killed fighting in these wars. I have done a little research, compiling data from several sources (primarily statistics from a Veterans Administration publication and from the Defense Department.)

Here is a summary of all military personnel killed fighting for our country. A few quick notes on the table below.  Only the largest wars are listed here and they are listed in reverse chronological order. The years of the wars are described according to the time of American involvement.  Battle deaths are listed separately from other types. As you may know, during the Civil War, more people were killed by disease than those killed in battle. Accidents and disease kill thousands of people in every war. There is not much specific data for the Revolutionary War or the War of 1812.  Please let me know if I have made any errors in this summary.

 

Years War Battle Deaths

Total Deaths

2001 – ?

War in Afghanistan

1,845

2,355

2003-2011

War in Iraq

3,491

4,425

1990-1991

Desert Shield/Desert Storm

148

1,948

1964-1975

Vietnam War

47,434

90,220

1950-1953

Korean War

33,739

54,246

1941-1945

World War II

291,557

405,399

1917-1918

World War I

53,402

116,516

1898-1902

Spanish-American War

385

2,446

1861-1865

Civil War

140,414

498,332

1846-1848

Mexican War

1,733

13,283

1812-1815

War of 1812

2,260

2,260

1776-1783

Revolutionary War

4,435

4,435

 

Totals

580,843

1,195,865

 

As you can see from the table, over half a million people were killed in battle in America’s wars, and incredibly, there have been more than a million total deaths.

It is no wonder, then, that words, phrases and metaphors from war are in our everyday vocabulary. I have made several bog posts concerning war metaphors in the past two years. Feel free to use the search function to search for any specific metaphors you are interested in. Here are a few of the most common war metaphors used in American politics.

blog - war - war chest

war chest

Historically, the money needed to finance a war on the battlefield was kept in a large chest that traveled with the commanding officers. Metaphorically, the phrase war chest now indicates the amount of money that a candidate has to finance his or her election campaign.

Examples: Although John McCain had a large war chest when he ran for president in 2008, he did not win the election.

under the watch

Sentries are required to watch the perimeter of an army base. This process is referred to as being under their watch. In government, actions and events that occur during a presidency or governorship may also be described as being under the watch of the elected leader.

Examples: President Roosevelt was upset that the attack on Pearl Harbor happened under his watch.

blog - war - triggertrigger happy

If someone frequently fires a gun, we may that this person is trigger happy. In politics, a government official may be called trigger happy if he or she is prone to go to war very easily.

Examples: Many people thought that George W. Bush was a bit trigger happy going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan during his presidency. However, Barack Obama was also keen to continue the war in Afghanistan as well when he became president.

target demographic

With guns as well as bows and arrows, people practice shooting their weapons by aiming at a target a long distance away. The literal target has been changed to mean a metaphorical goal in a process or project. In politics, candidates and elected officials try to please their constituents who may vote for them.   A specific group of people in a certain area with certain political views is called a demographic.   Trying to please this group of people is called targeting the demographic.

Examples: Democrats tend to work with wealthy liberal voters as their target demographic for raising campaign money.

blog - war - horizonenemies on the horizon

Battles at sea require that naval commanders be able to see enemies approaching across wide areas of ocean. In other words, they must be able to see their enemies as they appear on the horizon. In politics, candidates or politicians must be able to see their opponents before they attack in a debate or written argument.

Examples: During the Republican presidential primaries in 2012, popular candidates such as Mitt Romney had many enemies on the horizon.

swift-boat

A swift boat was the name of small, fast boats used on rivers by American soldiers during the Vietnam War. Senator John Kerry from Massachusetts famously captained one such boat during the war. During his run for the presidency in 2004, opponents claimed that he was not a decorated war hero after all. These criticisms helped Kerry’s opponent win the election. Afterwards, the process of unfairly criticizing a political candidate based on prior experience came to be called swift boating.

Examples: American voters dislike the swift-boating practices in presidential elections, but, unfortunately, these types of attacks are very common.

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

battleground states

The land where battles are fought are called battlegrounds. In politics, states in which voters may vote for either Democrats or Republicans are called battleground states when candidates fight for the votes for their party.

Examples: Ohio and Florida are often considered battleground states in presidential elections.

 

under attack

When two armies are fighting in a battle, the army on the offensive will be shooting guns or missiles at the other army. The second army is said to be under attack. In politics, candidates running for office or elected officials may be described as being under attack if they are constantly criticized for their views of behavior.

Examples: George W. Bush was constantly under attack from Democrats while he was in office. Later, his Democratic successor, Barack Obama, was always under attack from Republicans.

MAP - war - arms trainingwar on terror

Although the word war is usually used in a military sense, it is commonly used metaphorically to describe the efforts of a government to fight against a social problem. Most famously, after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the United States began a so-called war on terror.   We also talk about war on cancer, poverty, or drugs.

Examples: George W. Bush’s war on terror led to the war in Iraq and trillions of dollars fighting al-Qaeda terrorists around the world.

*****

Linguistically, it makes perfect sense that we use metaphors of war to talk about politics – both are intense competitions with great financial and human costs. However, psychologically it is sad that our system of government is so antagonistic that comparisons to war are almost second nature. Perhaps in the future, we will have more metaphors of peace in our politics. Please remember our service men and women on this national holiday.

Next time:  TBA

Launching Campaigns before Running

Even though the 2016 elections are a year and a half away, several candidates have already announced they are running for president: Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio among the Republicans, and the sole Democrat so far, Hillary Clinton. There are three metaphors commonly used to describe these actions, all three of which are fascinating examples how ingrained metaphors are in our daily English language usage. For one, the common phrase of running for president is derived from our collective experience with horse racing. We speak of presidential candidate in a race for the White House as if they are racehorses, and yet no know ever thinks twice about it. We also talk about the campaigns of these candidates. The word campaign was originally used as a term from military operations. In fact the English word campaign is derived word from the French word campagne meaning “country” since military forces often engaged in large battles in open fields in the countryside. This term dates back to Napoleon’s armies in the early 19th century.  Once again, we see how political actions are compared to military operations. Finally, we also find that we say political campaigns are launched. Normally we use the term launch to describe the liftoff or blast of the engines when a rocket begins its trajectory into space. The word launch was originally derived from a Latin term meaning “to throw a spear” related to our term lance.

blog - ACA - rocket

In sum, we cannot even describe a simple beginning of an interest in becoming the president of the United States without using metaphors from three different conceptual domains: horse racing, military operations, and rocket liftoffs. Even more strangely, I cannot think of any alternate literal terms to replace these metaphors. Can you have a process to win an election, begin a campaign, or try to become president? Most of us were taught in school that metaphors and similes are mostly only used in poems and plays, and that normally we speak in literal language. However, these examples are further evidence that thinking in metaphors is a common cognitive process.

Although I have explained some of these metaphors in previous posts, here are a few more examples from horse racing, military operations and vehicles.

 

Horse Racing

blog - horse - out of the gateout of the gate

Horses begin a race locked behind a wide gate. When the race begins, the horses are released and run as fast as they can out of the gate. Metaphorically, anyone beginning a new process may be described as being out of the gate. In politics, candidates and political figures must make quick decisions and be consistent with their messages. Thus they must be quick out of the gate.

Example: Although Barack Obama promised big changes if he were elected president, he was very slow out of the gate and it took years to make any of the changes that he promised during the campaign.

run for office

Horses run to win the race. Similarly, candidates for political office are said to run in an election to win a position in a government. We may also call this running for office.

Example: Any candidate running for office these days needs millions of dollars to have a successful campaign.

running mate

Extending the idea of running for office, the phrase running mate refers to the person who runs for election with someone else. For example, commonly a vice-presidential candidate is called the running mate of the presidential candidate.

Example: Conservative women voters were excited when John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate for vice president in the 2008 election.

blog - horse - front runnerfront runner

When a horse is winning a race, we say that it is out in front of the other horses. We can also say that the horse is the front runner. In a political election, the candidate who is leading in the polls is also referred to as the front runner.

Example: Usually the candidate is who is the strong front runner a month before an election wins the race.

fast track

In a horse race, the horses run on a dirt track inside a horse racing arena. If the track gets wet from recent rains, it will be very hard for the horses to run on it. If the dirt is dry, it will be a fast track for the horses to run on. In common terms, any person or activity that seems to be moving very quickly is said to be on a fast track.

Example: When Paul Ryan was chosen as Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential candidate in 2012, he started on the fast track to political fame and power in the United States.

inside track

On an oval track, the shortest distance for the horses to run is close to the inside rail of the track. In common terms, there are two meanings to the phrase inside track. First, as in horse racing, to be on the inside track means to be on course to win in whatever competition one is engaged in. Secondly, the word inside also has the connotation of having restricted or secret access to something. Thus, to have the inside track on something means that someone has information that is not available to other people.

Example: In 2008 when the housing market crashed and banks started to fail, the economy was on the inside track to be in the worst recession since the Great Depression.

Example: Television reporters in Washington D.C. are always competing to get the inside track on the latest news from the White House.

outside chance

Just as the horses on the inside of the track have the greatest chance of winning, the horses running on the outside have the greatest chance of losing since they have farther to run to win the race. Thus to have an outside chance at completing something means that it is not very likely to happen.

Example: When Barack Obama first announced that he was running for president in 2006, most people thought he only had an outside chance of winning since he was the first African-American in years to try to become president.

blog - horse - photo finishneck and neck

In some horse races, two horses may be running at the same speed in which case the horses’ necks are close to each other and it is difficult to tell who will win the race. We say that the horses are running neck and neck.   In politics, when the candidates are very close to winning the election, we say that the candidates are running neck and neck.

Example: In 2004, John Kerry and George W. Bush were running neck and neck for many months but Bush won the election by a small margin.

home stretch

Towards the end of a horse race, the horses must usually run one last section of track in the middle of the arena. This is called the home stretch because it is the last section or stretch of the track before the horses get home to the finish line. In common terms, the home stretch is the last tiring section of a competition.

Example: Several days before a presidential election, the candidates crisscross the country giving speeches at campaign rallies trying to win as many votes as possible in the home stretch.

Battles

blog - war - revolutionprimary battles

Battles are the names of the primary engagements between armies in a war. Metaphorically, battles can also be fought verbally between people or groups. The notion of battle is commonly used in politics.

Example: In every presidential primary, there are many battles among the candidates to gain the nomination of the party.

battle cry

At the start of every battle, there is a call or cry from the commanding officer to alert the troops to begin fighting. The phrase battle cry can also be used to indicate the beginning of a political process.

Example: In 2011, the Occupy Wall Street protestors used the slogan “We are the 99%! as their battle cry to gain support against the richest 1% of the nation controlling the government.

battleground states

The land where battles are fought are called battlegrounds. In politics, states in which voters may vote for either Democrats or Republicans are called battleground states when candidates fight for the votes for their party.

Example: Ohio and Florida are often considered battleground states in presidential elections.

battle lines are drawn

The exact line separating the land controlled by two fighting armies is called the battle line. Metaphorically, a battle line is the ideological separation between two people or groups. In a public political argument, we may say that battle lines are drawn based on a certain view of a controversial topic.

Example: In the 2012 election, Democrats drew many battles lines with Republicans over the tax breaks given to millionaires and billionaires.

MAP - war - arms trainingcombat

Combat is another word for battles fought between armies in a war. Metaphorically, any verbal argument can be described as combat as well. As a verb the word combat can be used to describe efforts to fight against something.

Example: George W. Bush worked hard to combat the spread of AIDS in Africa during his presidency.

firefight

A firefight is an intense battle between two armies in which a great deal of gunfire is exchanged. In politics, a heated argument may also be called a firefight.

Example: Sometimes a peaceful presidential debate turns into a firefight among the top candidates.

clash

The word clash is an onomatopoetic word meaning that it represents the sound made by two metallic objects hitting together. A physical confrontation between people or battle between armies may be called a clash. However, metaphorically, a disagreement in words or ideas between two people or groups may also be called a clash. Often we speak of a clash of personalities between two people.

Example: During the 2012 Republican presidential primary, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and other candidates clashed over positions on the economy.

Starting Vehicles

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAkick start

Some motorcycles require the rider to start the motor by forcefully kicking a pedal. This is known as kick starting the motorcycle. Metaphorically, to kick start something means to begin a new process with great energy and enthusiasm.

Example: Most presidential candidates kick start their campaigns with a big rally at a famous landmark.

kick into gear, put in high gear

Many vehicles have different gears for different speeds. Starting a motorcycle or changing a gear on a bicycle requires the use of one’s foot. This may be called kicking it into gear. Increasing the speed may be referred to as putting the vehicle into high gear.   Figuratively, kicking something into gear means beginning a new process.

Example: During a bad economy, a president may need to kick a new jobs program into high gear to reduce unemployment.

shift gears

Some cars, trucks and buses have manual transmissions which require the driver to shift from lower to higher gears to travel. Figuratively, shifting gears means to change one’s focus from one project to another.

Example: Presidential candidates may need to shift gears during a campaign depending on current events or the questions of media reporters.

blog - vehicles - Shift_stickstuck in neutral

When the gears are not engaged, we say the vehicle is in neutral. It is impossible for the engine to move the engine forward or backward when it is in neutral. In a figurative phrase, being stuck in neutral means that a person or group of people is not making progress towards a desired goal.

Example: Peace talks between warring countries in the Middle East always seem to be stuck in neutral. 

lurch

Originally a nautical term, to lurch meant that a ship moved to the side instead of going straight ahead. Now it can also mean the jerky movement of any vehicle forward or to the side. Often when the vehicle does not go smoothly into the next gear, it may lurch forward. Metaphorically, the irregular or inconsistent action of a person or group of people may be called lurching.

Example: Political tensions between two countries with nuclear weapons may lurch the world toward a nuclear war.

freewheeling

A freewheel is a special type of clutch used in some bicycles, motorcycles and trucks that allows the driveshaft to spin freely under certain operating conditions. The freewheel allows the driveshaft to spin without any friction or resistance. Metaphorically, freewheeling means to engage in behavior without any rules or regulations.

Example: Presidential candidates normally do not like to have freewheeling town meetings with the general public. They prefer to have more structured question and answer sessions.

blog - vehicles - Disk_brakeput the brakes on

When a driver needs to slow down a vehicle, he or she needs to apply or put on the brakes. In a figurative phrase, putting the brakes on something means limiting or stopping an action already in progress.

Example: Many environmentalists would like to put the brakes on building new nuclear power plants around the world.

*******

It is pretty clear that we describe politics in English using a wide variety of conceptual metaphors. It is amazing that we can hardly talk about candidates for an election without resorting to metaphors from war, horse racing and vehicles. Please let me know if you hear any more unusual examples as these candidates conduct their campaigns.

Next time: Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Video

The Republican Wave of 2014

Wow!  I was planning to share a few common metaphors used to describe elections in my post this week.  Instead I found myself struggling to keep up with the brutal, hyperbolic metaphors used to describe the domination of the elections by the Republicans last week.   These metaphors are derived from our collective experiences of physical attacks, war and natural disasters.

First a few metaphors we hear about elections not related to the common metaphors of horse racing as discussed in the previous post.

Games and Sports

blog - elections - Poker_chipshigh stakes

In a poker game or other gambling games, the amount of money that is risked is called the stakes.  The stakes can be high or low depending on the game. In politics, any deal or negotiation between political parties or businesses may be referred to as a high stakes game.

Example: The 2014 midterm elections were a high stakes game for the U.S. economy.

toss-upWizards v/s Bulls 02/28/11

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: Many governors’ races were toss-ups but most were won by Republicans.

 

blog - elections - Swing stateswing state

Swings are popular games on a school playground.  A child on a swing can push and pull on the chains until the swing goes back and forth going higher and higher in the air. Metaphorically, anything that can move back and forth in two directions might be described as swinging.  In politics, a swing state is one in which the voters could elect either Republicans or Democrats depending on the candidates in each election.  Importantly, the very notion of a swing state implies that there are only two principal parties in United States politics since swings only move in two directions; third-party candidates have difficulty raising money for campaigns, being invited to debates, and winning state or national elections.

Example: In 2014, Republicans won many midterm elections in red states, blue states and swing states.

Battles

battles

Battles are the names of the primary engagements between armies in a war.  Metaphorically, battles can also be fought verbally between people or groups.  The notion of battle is commonly used in politics.

Example:  The 2014 midterm elections turned into a battle for the control of the U.S. senate.

A reenactment of the Battle of Hastings in 1066
A reenactment of the Battle of Hastings in 1066

battleground states

The land areas where battles are fought are called battlegrounds.  In politics, states in which voters may vote for either Democrats or Republicans are called battleground states when candidates fight for the votes for their party.

Example:  Senate races in the battleground states of New Hampshire and North Carolina were closely watched by television commentators on the night of the midterm elections.

common ground

The land where battles are fought between two armies is called the common ground.  In an argument, the points on which both sides can agree may also be called the common ground.

Example:  After the election, both Republicans and Democrats talked about finding common ground to work together for the next two years.

Fighting and boxing

beat

In a fight, the two opponents can hit each other with great force, also known as beating one’s opponent.  In sports and politics, the winning team or candidates may also be described as beating their opponents.

Example:  The Republicans beat the Democrats in many elections for the House of Representatives, the Senate and state governor’s positions.

A true political beating: On May 22, 1856, Preston Brooks, a pro-slavery Democratic Representative from South Carolina beat abolitionist Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner with his cane on the floor of the Senate.  Brooks was fined $300; Sumner took 3 years to recover from traumatic head injuries and was in chronic pain the rest of his life.  Many South Carolina lawmakers sent Brooks replacement canes...
A true political beating: On May 22, 1856, Preston Brooks, a pro-slavery Democratic Representative from South Carolina, beat abolitionist Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner with his cane on the floor of the Senate. Brooks was fined $300; Sumner took 3 years to recover from traumatic head injuries and was in chronic pain the rest of his life. Many South Carolina lawmakers sent Brooks replacement canes… Contemporary cartoon by J.L. Magee.

drubbing

Another way to describe a person beating another person is to say that one drubs or gives a drubbing to another.  In politics, candidates who lose elections by a large margin may be described as getting a drubbing.

Example:  The Republicans gave the Democrats a severe drubbing in the 2014 midterm election.

slaughter

A more hyperbolic term used to describe a loss in an election is a slaughter.  The term slaughter was originally used to describe the process of killing and butchering a farm animal.  In more common usage, a mass killing of animals or people may also be called a slaughter, as in a military battle with many casualties.  In politics, when many different candidates from one party lose their elections, these defeats may be collectively described as a slaughter.

Example:  Some cynical television commentators described the Democrats’ losses last week as a slaughter.

blog - elections - Blood_lettingbloodbath/bloodletting

Similar to the notion of a slaughter, a bloodbath is an event in which many people are killed, as if there is so much blood one is bathing in it.  This term is usually reserved to describe horrific battle scenes in a war.  However, it may also be used to describe a series of tremendous losses by one political party.  Oddly, the term bloodletting has a similar meaning despite having quite a different literal meaning.  In the Middle Ages, doctors believed that draining people of their “bad blood” would cure them of their illnesses.  This process was known as bloodletting.  Metaphorically, the term bloodletting can also be used to describe a great loss by one political party.

Example:  The Republicans gained six Senate seats in the midterm election bloodbath.

Natural Disasters

A building in Concepcion, Chile, destroyed in a 2010 earthquake.
A building in Concepcion, Chile, destroyed in a 2010 earthquake.

tremors/earthquakes/seismic shift

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

Example:  It was an earthquake for the Democrats last Tuesday night when they lost so many seats in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

A landslide near San Salvador, El Salvador on January 13, 2001
A landslide near San Salvador, El Salvador on January 13, 2001

 

landslide

A landslide is similar to an avalanche, but usually indicates a great deal of land and mud falling rapidly down a hill.  Metaphorically, a landslide is a large amount of something that happens quickly and forcefully.

Example:  Republican Governor John Kasich was reelected in a landslide victory winning 64% of the vote.

 

blog - elections - Waves_in_pacifica_1

wave

A wave is a movement of water coming into a shore.  Metaphorically, any strong movement in a process or actions may be called a wave.  The most common metaphor used to describe the Republican victories last week was a wave.

Example:  The 2014 midterm elections were described as a Republican wave of victories over Democratic candidates.

tide

A tide is the movement of the ocean going out and coming in based on the moon’s gravitational pull.  The term tide is used in a wide variety of metaphors indicating a powerful force such as a strong wave coming in to a shore.  These metaphors include the phrases the tide of war, turning the tide, or turning back the tide.

Example:  There was a strong tide of victories for the Republicans in the 2014 midterm elections.

A wave crashes ashore in the 2004 tsunami in Thailand
A wave crashes ashore in the 2004 tsunami in Thailand

tsunami

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

Example:  The Republican tsunami in the midterm elections surprised everyone on the television news shows.

rout

The term rout is derived from an old French word meaning a strong battlefield win during a war.  Metaphorically a rout is a strong victory in sports or politics.

Example:  President Obama was forced to admit that the midterm elections were a rout for the Republicans against the Democrats.

Furniture

                  One final example is one of the strangest of all political metaphors…

A beautiful piece of shellacked furniture at the Palace of Versailles in Paris
A beautiful piece of shellacked furniture at the Palace of Versailles in Paris

shellacking

Shellac is a type of furniture varnish or protective coating.  It is famous for being long lasting because it is thick and requires many coats to apply it to the furniture.  Treating furniture in this way is called giving it a shellacking.  Metaphorically, to give a person a shellacking means that they are treated very roughly by someone else.

Example:  The Republicans gave the Democrats a clear shellacking in the 2014 midterm elections.

Next time:  Metaphors vs. Slang and Analogies