Obamacare Part 3: “Rollout,” “Bugs” and other Metaphors in the Media

Hello again!  In the last of my three-part series on the language of Obamacare, I will analyze several metaphors used by the national media to describe the Affordable Care Act.


A rollout is a term used to describe the process of bringing an aircraft out of a hanger for a flight or launch.   Metaphorically, the delivery of a new product or government program may also be called a rollout.

Example:  Many Americans were frustrated that the rollout of Obamacare was filled with glitches.


When a rocket takes off towards space, this is known as a launch.  Metaphorically, starting a new program may also be called a launch.

Example:  Critics of Obamacare claim that the website should not have been launched before all the software problems were resolved.

blog - ACA - rocket


Rockets shoot towards space at incredible speeds.  In a compound word metaphor, to say that something skyrockets indicates that it is increasing at a great rate of speed.  In politics and economics, skyrocketing usually refers to quickly increasing prices of some commodity.

Example:  Some experts believe that Obamacare will result in skyrocketing prices for insurance policies.


Prices of items in a store are often indicated on a sticker attached to the item.  More expensive items such as cars and trucks also have stickers on the windows of the vehicles indicating the prices.  When one is surprised at a high price of an item, we may say that the person is suffering from sticker shock, such as when gas prices go up at your local gas station.  In politics, government programs with unexpectedly high costs may be described as causing sticker shock among politicians or consumers.

Example:  Although many critics of Obamacare claim that consumers will have sticker shock when they see the prices of their new policies, other experts maintain that the cost of policies will actually go down.

cap costs

The word cap has its origins in the same word as cape, meaning a covering, especially for the head.  Later the term was used to indicate any item that is used to cover the top of something.  Thus we have caps for pens, or caps for oil wells.  Metaphorically we can also have salary caps for professional sports teams or efforts to cap rising costs of some government program.

Example:  Supporters of Obamacare contend that it will work to cap out-of-pocket health care costs.


Government programs are often compared to machines.  When they work well, no one complains; however, when something goes wrong, we may say that the program is broken.

Example:  President Obama maintains that he created the Affordable Care Act because the previous health care system with millions of uninsured Americans was completely broken.


In keeping with the idea of a program as a machine, we may also that the system needs to be fixed or repaired.

Example: It was clear from the early days of Obamacare that the website needed to be fixed although the necessary repairs would take several weeks.

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            The word bug is another word for insect. As a verb, it means to annoy people in the same way that an insect annoys someone at an outdoor gathering.  As a noun it can mean problems in a system that are also very annoying or difficult to fix.

Example:  When the Obamacare website did not work very well, software experts scrambled to fix all of the bugs as soon as possible.

shut down the website

When a machine is working properly, mechanics may need to turn it off or shut it down to make the necessary repairs.  Metaphorically, we may also say we need to shut down a government program.

Example:  When the Affordable Care Act website was first launched with many bugs, the government decided to shut it down every night to make the necessary repairs.  Hopefully, it will be running smoothly soon.

Next time: Metaphors are for the Birds!