Monthly Archives: January 2014

Balancing, Taking and Shaking

There are many examples of metaphors created from our experiences with physical actions. Last year I described a few metaphors of balancing and cutting.  Today I will like to add a few more examples of balancing, taking and shaking that one often hears in the news.


Two objects of equal weight are said to be in balance if weighed on a scale. Metaphorically, costs and situations that are of equal quantity or quality are also said to be in balance.

blog - balance - see sawteeters on the edge

                  In yet another way to talk about balance, we say that an object teeters on the edge of another larger object before it falls in one direction or another.  As a metaphor, we can say that an event or process is teetering on the edge of going one way or another.

Example:   During the 2008 economic crisis, some experts claimed that the United States was teetering on the edge of another Great Depression.


If a balanced object is no longer in danger of falling, we say that it is stable or stabilized in that position.  If the object loses its point of balance for some reason, we may then say that it is destabilized.  Metaphorically, we can describe any process, situation or even government as being destabilized.

Example:   One of the reasons for the lack of success in the war in Afghanistan is that the government is constantly destabilized by terrorists.


If one pushes an object to one side, we say that it is tilted.  We can also say that people can tilt their opinions or decisions one way or another.

Example:   Progressives tend to tilt their support towards Democratic candidates while conservatives favor Republicans.

blog - balance - Lopsided_treelopsided win

If an object rests tilted to one side or another, we may say that it is lopsided.  In politics, a candidate who wins by a large margin may be described as having a lopsided win.

Example:   In 1980, Ronald Reagan had a lopsided win over Jimmy Carter.


The physical action of taking refers to the action of removing an object from one person and taking it for yourself.  Metaphorically, we use the word take to indicate doing something for oneself, or being able to withstand pressure from someone else.

take the oath

When orally promising to do something, we say that we are taking an oath.

Example:   President Obama took the oath of office in January, 2009.

Welding it togethertake heat

One way of describing tolerating criticism is to take heat from the critics.

Example:   Barack Obama took a lot of heat from critics when he failed to close Guantanamo Bay prison as he promised in his campaign speeches.





A compound term referring to removing something from a location is called a takeaway.  Metaphorically, radio and television commentators often refer to their opinions about an issue or a speech as their takeaway.

Example:   Radio personality John Hockenberry hosts a show reviewing top issues in politics called the Takeaway.


                  To shake something means to move it vigorously back and forth. Metaphorical examples include shake or shaken, shake up and shake down.

blog - forces - shaker


We may speak of someone being emotionally affected by an event as being shaken.  We can also speak of a group of people or an entire country as being shaken as if it is one person.

Example:   The entire nation was shaken by the terrorist attacks in New York on September 11, 2001.

shake up

Metaphorically to shake up something means to make drastic changes in a situation.

Example:   In 2004, at the start of his second term in office, George W. Bush had a shakeup in his cabinet as many top staff members such as Colin Powell left for other positions.


A shakedown is a slang expression from the practice of thieves getting money from victims as if they were shaking their pants until money comes down.  In common practice, a shakedown is any practice of getting money or favors from someone due to force or pressure.

Example:   In 2010, after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, President Obama asked the oil company BP to put up $20 billion to pay for damages.  Critics of this decision claimed that this was a shakedown of BP.

blog - forces - rattlesnakerattle

Another word for shake is to rattle, as in a rattlesnake’s tail rattling, or a baby’s rattle. Metaphorically, to rattle people means to upset them emotionally or disrupt their plans.

Example:   In 2012, during Barack Obama’s hopes for reelection, a poor economy and high unemployment numbers rattled his chances for a second term.

Next time: Metaphors of pushing and pulling

Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this year, I offer another analysis of one of Dr. King’s historic documents, his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” written on April 16, 1963.  This past August I conducted an analysis of the metaphors from his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.  While the “I Have a Dream” speech contains some of the best examples of political metaphors in any speech in the English language, his “Letter” does not contain the same level of soaring rhetoric, perhaps simply because it was written as a letter and not a speech. Nonetheless, the “Letter” contains some of Dr. King’s most important writing and is studied worldwide by high school and college students.

recreation of Dr. KIng's jail cell at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN
recreation of Dr. KIng’s jail cell at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN

First, a little background. Dr. King was in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 to protest the discrimination against African-Americans in that city.  He was arrested along with several other civil rights leaders and was confined to a cramped jail cell for eight days.  While in jail, he was given a copy of a local newspaper in which eight white clergymen criticized the civil rights movement claiming that progress needed to be made in the courts, not in the streets.  Dr. King addressed his letter to these clergymen, brilliantly explaining the reasons for his nonviolent protests.  He quotes the Bible and many historical figures defending his methods to fight injustice. It is in this letter that he created many memorable quotes such as, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed” or the famous line, “A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

I must also add a few notes on the text.  Originally, Dr. King did not have any writing materials in his jail cell, so he wrote most of the letter in the margins of the newspaper.  Later he was given a writing tablet and rewrote the letter.  After his release from jail, several different versions were published, some without his permission.  A common version seen on the Internet is one that was published in the Atlantic Monthly magazine in July, 1963.  However, this version leaves out about 500 words of the complete text which amounts to nearly 6000 words.  For my analysis, I have used a scholar-reviewed text from the University of Pennsylvania’s African Studies Center which I found to be the most complete:  There is even disagreement on the exact title.  Some sources list the title with an “a” or “the” Birmingham Jail, while more authoritative sources list it without any article.  The most definitive anthology of Dr. King’s writings list it without the article so that is the form I follow here (see A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.).

As for the metaphors, there are not as many colorful examples as one finds in the “I Have a Dream” speech.  However, there are interesting parallels to that speech in the “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”  Here are a few examples taken directly from the text of the letter.  I use italics (not in the original) to highlight the metaphorical terms or phrases being used.

Buildings and Prisons

One way that Dr. King frames his arguments in his letter is by describing the society that has allowed the discrimination to continue in terms of its structure and cages.


Buildings have complex structures that give it strength and durability.  Metaphorically social systems can also have structure.

Example:  In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure.

Example:  It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.


In several different writings, Dr. King referred to discrimination and poverty as putting people in cages as if they were wild animals.

Example:  … when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society…


Dr. King uses metaphors of groups of people being tied or bound to an unjust society as if they are in a prison.

Example:  Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world?


Dr. King refers to chains to imply a connection to the shackles of slavery or prison.  In this example, he has been describing how many clergymen have not been supportive of the civil rights movement due to traditions in their churches.

Example:  But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom.

blog - mlk - mlk why we can't waitoutsider

As Lakoff and Johnson pointed out years ago, we often conceptualize social processes in terms of containers, as in falling in or out of love. In this case, Dr. King takes offense at the clergyman calling him an outsider to the city of Birmingham, since this implies that he is outside of the box or the shape of normal social structures.

Example:  I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against “outsiders coming in.”

Example:  Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

Tension and Pressure

To follow the framing of people being put into cages or bound structures, Dr. King describes the tension and pressure that African-Americans were feeling at the time.


Although we may not think of the word tension as a metaphor, it is actually a case in which a physical action is used metaphorically to describe an emotional feeling or social situation.  Not surprisingly, the word tension is used to describe some of the feelings of African-Americans who were enslaved and discriminated against for centuries.  It also perfectly describes the results of the many fights and arguments among white and African-American politicians, clergymen and ordinary people during the early 1960s.  By my count, Dr. King uses the word tension 24 times in the document.

Example:  My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.

blog - MLK - pressure_gaugepressure

The word pressure is also a scientific term used metaphorically to describe the increased tension of the time.  Importantly, note that in physics, pressure occurs when one strong or heavy object is exerting force onto a weaker object.  In race relations at the time, it was certainly true that the whites were a much more dominant force exerting pressure on the blacks to conform to their traditional norms.  In contrast, the blacks were trying to pressure the power structure of the whites to end discrimination. In the following example, Dr. King describes the situation when Albert Boutwell has just been elected as mayor of Birmingham, defeating the infamous Bull Connor, who several months later, as safety commissioner, used fire hoses and dogs to quell a demonstration there.

Example:  I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure.


As I described earlier in the “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. King often uses journey metaphors to describe the process of trying to end discrimination and gain civil rights for African-Americans in the United States.  Here he uses a few more examples of journey metaphors describing the process in terms of walking or driving.

open doors

The first step of a journey is to step out of the house.  Metaphorically, opening a door indicates that the journey can begin.

Example:  The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.


Paths are small roads.  Metaphorically, paths are a way to reach a destination or goal.

Example:  You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?”

tiptoe stance

Walking carefully or silently sometimes requires walking on one’s tiptoes.  Walking on tiptoes also implies that someone is taking care not to upset or offend someone else who has equal or greater status.  In this example, Dr. King is describing how difficult it is for blacks to live in a country where they are constantly discriminated against.

Example:  …when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments…

bogged down

People walking through marshy areas will be slowed by the muddy ground known as a marsh or bog.  We may say that they get bogged down in the mud. Metaphorically, being bogged down means that the person is slowed down in a process to reach a goal due to unseen obstacles or impediments.

Example:  I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

stumbling block, strides

To trip and fall while walking may be called stumbling.  An obstacle in the path of someone may be referred to as a stumbling block.  Metaphorically, anything that impedes the progress of someone trying to reach a goal may be called a stumbling block.  In this example, he also refers to the journey as someone taking strides towards freedom.

Example:  I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler [sic] or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice…


We may also take journeys in cars or trucks which rely on wheels for smooth movement. In this example, he describes progress towards civil rights as a vehicle rolling on wheels.

Example:  Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.


Some roads in mountainous regions can go around the mountains.  In other areas, engineers must dig a tunnel through the mountains so the road can continue.  In a poetic example, Dr. King applauds the efforts of some clergymen who have helped people in the civil rights movement.

Example:  They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.

blog - mlk - Horse_and_buggy_(Beaverton,_Oregon_Historical_Photo_Gallery)_(37)jets and buggies

In a final example, Dr. King describes the speed of the progress towards civil rights as being as slow as a horse and buggy, while other countries are speeding along as if they are flying a jet.

Example:  We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter.

Metaphors of  Antithesis

As the previous two examples illustrate, Dr. King was a master of creating what is called juxtaposition or antithesis in studies of rhetoric.  He compares and contrasts two ideas to make a point about the distance one must travel in a journey or the vast differences between two sections of society.  In the “I Have a Dream” speech he used contrast with light and dark, and high and low.  He uses some of the same imagery here.

dark depths and majestic heights

In the first example, he describes prejudice and racism as being dark and low while understanding and brotherhood are high.  He also uses an interesting insect metaphor, comparing civil rights protesters to “nonviolent gadflies,” i.e., those types of flies that fly quickly between different areas and annoy livestock, pets or people.  Note too that here he refers back to other metaphors of tension and bondage as he sets up the antithetical metaphor structure.

Example: Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.

dark and light, medical cures

In this more complex example, he compares the darkness of injustice to the light of national opinion.  At the same time he compares the injustice to a medical problem such as a boil that must be lanced and allowed to be out in the air in order for healing to take place.

Example:  Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

blog - mlk - Boldogkő_Castle_-_castle_dungeon_maturity-Hungarydungeons and hills

            In yet another example, he describes complacency and inaction to dark dungeons, while protesting is described as bright hills.

Example:  Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?”

quicksand and solid rock

Using a comparison found in nature, he also compares injustice to loose soil like quicksand while human dignity is described as solid rock.

Example:  Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

clouds, fog and stars

In the most amazing example of all, Dr. King combines many different juxtapositions in one long metaphorical passage.  He compares prejudice to dark clouds and deep fog, while love and brotherhood are described as radiant stars that shine with scintillating beauty.

Example:  Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

blog - mlk - stars

I wonder what Dr. King would think of current race relations in the United States?  Although we have the first African-American president and have made great progress in improving civil rights for all minorities, I think we are still making strides on that journey.

If you are interested in more analyses of the “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” please check out the excellent annotations on the document from Stanford University at

For a fascinating color-coded analysis of rhetoric – pathos, ethos, and logos – in the letter, please see$884.

Finally, for a brilliant analysis of metaphors used in Martin Luther King’s speeches, see the book Politicians and their Rhetoric: The Persuasive Power of Metaphor, 2nd edition, by Jonathan Charteris-Black.

Next time:  Balancing Acts

President Johnson’s War on Poverty

President Johnson’s War on Poverty

This past week marked the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Baines Johnson’s so-called War on Poverty, first proposed in his State of the Union address on January 8, 1964. The civil rights movements of the 1960s highlighted the appalling degree of poverty that many Americans were living in at the time.  President Johnson named his efforts solve this problem his War on Poverty.  Although some modern critics claim that this program was a failure (see Republican Representative Paul Ryan’s recent comments at others note how much the program has reduced poverty for millions of Americans, especially children and the elderly (see

Two months after his State of the Union address, President Johnson delivered a special message to Congress offering more details of his plan on March 16, 1964.  Out of curiosity I read through this speech to see what political metaphors he used in addition to the obvious war metaphors.  I was not surprised to find that he used a great deal of political metaphors in the speech, but I was intrigued that he used a complex array of four different conceptual metaphors to explain his program.  Using the format of Lakoff and Johnson, I can summarize these metaphors as follows: 1) POVERTY IS A PART OF NATURE; 2) POVERTY IS A PRISON; 3) LEAVING POVERTY IS A JOURNEY; and 4) POVERTY IS A ENEMY OF WAR.  I will categorize several metaphors below using excerpts from President Johnson’s speech as examples.  Italics are mine.  You can read the entire speech at



We often compare people or processes to parts of nature.  The word source is commonly used to indicate the origin of some process or phenomenon.  Its origins, however, lie in a French word meaning to be the source of natural spring water.  Thus, talking about the source of poverty is using a metaphor of nature.

Example:  … through a new Community Action program we intend to strike at poverty at its source – in the streets of our cities and on the farms of our countryside among the very young and the impoverished old.

blog - nature - rootsdeeply rooted

When we compare something to a tree, we are speaking of its strength, age or durability, e.g., saying someone is “as strong as an oak.”   A tree has roots that go deep underground to give it stability and strength in strong winds or high waters.  Saying that a problem is deeply rooted indicates that it has been around for many years and will be very difficult to solve.

Example:  We are fully aware that this program will not eliminate all the poverty in America in a few months or a few years. Poverty is deeply rooted and its causes are many.


Johnson compares being in poverty to being in a jail or prison.  People who are very poor often do not have the means to get a better job (or any job) due to a lack of resources, medical disabilities or financial difficulties.


If one is being forced to live in confined quarters, sometimes the only means of getting out of that situation is by escaping.

Example:  [The war on poverty] will give many workers and farmers the opportunity to break through particular barriers which bar their escape from poverty.

break out of

Another way of describing an escape is to say that a person is breaking out of prison.

Example:  … we intend to create new opportunities for certain hard-hit groups to break out of the pattern of poverty.

blog - journey - open dooropen door

In some situations, merely getting help opening a door can provide the escape that is needed.  Sometimes a tool such as a lever is needed to pry open the door.

Example:  It will provide a lever with which we can begin to open the door to our prosperity for those who have been kept outside.

carry out their plans

Although some people may not consider this to be a metaphor, the phrase carry out takes a physical process and turns it into a metaphorical action.  For example, a person can literally carry out a box from an office, or carry out plans to achieve a goal.

Example:  It will give every American community the opportunity to develop a comprehensive plan to fight its own poverty-and help them to carry out their plans.


show the way

Once a person begins a journey, sometimes a local expert may need to show that person the best road or direction to travel.

Example:  But this program will show the way to new opportunities for millions of our fellow citizens.


Distances on long roads or highways are sometimes indicated by stone markers along the side of the road. The markers that indicate the distance of one mile are called milestones.  In metaphorical terms, a milestone is the observance of a significant amount of progress made in a long process.

Example:  It can be a milestone in our one-hundred eighty-year search for a better life for our people.

blog - journey - barrierbarriers

            In some cases, roads are blocked by barriers because of construction or dangerous road conditions.  Metaphorically, any impediment to making progress towards a certain goal may be described as a barrier.

Example:  [The war on poverty] will give many workers and farmers the opportunity to break through particular barriers which bar their escape from poverty.

charts a new course

When the captain of a ship begins a long journey, he or she must chart the course towards their destination. Metaphorically, starting a new program or process may also be described as charting a new course.  Additionally, the idea of having a new course indicates that the approach being taken is different from previous approaches.

Example:  The Act does not merely expand old programs or improve what is already being done.  It charts a new course.


Finally, and most importantly, Johnson compares the entire approach to eliminate poverty in the United States to a war against a strong enemy.  I have written about war metaphors in previous posts, although I am not sure of the exact origin of these types of metaphors.  In 1964, President Johnson would have been speaking only a generation after World War II, and in the middle of the Vietnam War.  Perhaps war metaphors would not be unexpected in that time of history.  His approach to solving the problem of poverty is to relate it to a war.  He repeats the phrase war on poverty six times during the speech.

war on poverty

Example:  Therefore this bill creates, in the Executive Office of the President, a new Office of Economic Opportunity. Its Director will be my personal Chief of Staff for the War against poverty. I intend to appoint Sargent Shriver to this post. . . .



Opponents in a war are commonly called enemies.  Any social problem in a metaphorical war may be referred to as an enemy.

Example:  What you are being asked to consider is not a simple or an easy program. But poverty is not a simple or an easy enemy.


When a government goes to war, it needs soldiers to fight it.  Its leaders can then recruit people or enlist volunteers to become soldiers or other military personnel.

Example:  … I ask for the authority to recruit and train skilled volunteers for the war against poverty.

enlist volunteers

Example:  It will give dedicated Americans the opportunity to enlist as volunteers in the war against poverty.

Example:  A new national job Corps will build toward an enlistment of 100,000 young men. They will be drawn from those whose background, health and education make them least fit for useful work. . .

test our weapons

Countries that go to war are often developing new guns, tanks, bombs and other weapons to give them an advantage in a war.  However, new technology must be tested in the filed to make sure that it works properly.  This process may be called testing the weapons.  Metaphorically, trying out new approaches to solving old problems may be called testing weapons as well.

Example:  It will also give us the chance to test our weapons, to try our energy and ideas and imagination for the many battles yet to come.


A quick and strong military action against an enemy may be called a strike.  A forceful government action against a social or economic problem may also be referred to as a strike.

Example:  It strikes at the causes, not just the consequences of poverty.

Up you goattack

A strong military maneuver in a war is known as an attack.  In politics, the term attack is commonly used metaphorically to indicate any strong verbal message or executive decision.

Example:  It will give the entire nation the opportunity for a concerted attack on poverty through the establishment, under my direction, of the Office of Economic Opportunity, a national headquarters for the war against poverty.


A dominant military force may completely conquer another nation, as the Spanish conquistadors did to many Central and South American cultures in the 16th century.  In Johnson’s speech he refers to winning the war against poverty as being a process of conquering it.

Example:  Because it is right, because it is wise, and because, for the first time in our history, it is possible to conquer poverty, I submit, for the consideration of the Congress and the country, the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964.

driven from the land

In some cases, a losing army or an invading force may be pushed off of a section of land as a result of a large battle.  This may be described as an army being driven from the land.  Metaphorically, solving a large social problem may also be described as it being driven from the land.

Example:  It cannot be driven from the land by a single attack on a single front. Were this so we would have conquered poverty long ago.


            Winning a war requires winning many battles.  The idea of a military battle is often used metaphorically to indicate any struggle to solve a difficult problem.

Example:  It will also give us the chance to test our weapons, to try our energy and ideas and imagination for the many battles yet to come.

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)


Ultimately, defeating enemies in a war must result in a victory.   Metaphorically, any social problem that can be solved by government action may be described as a victory.

Example:  It is a total commitment by this President, and this Congress, and this nation, to pursue victory over the most ancient of mankind’s enemies.


In sum, I believe that President Johnson’s powerful use of the metaphors of nature, prison, journeys and war helped persuade Congress to enact his War on Poverty.  Sadly, many American today still live in poverty.  Perhaps more powerful speeches are needed to get our current Congress to act?

Next time:  Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”

Metaphors of Desserts and Drinks – Happy New Year!

Following my previous post on foods, I add a few more examples of metaphors derived from desserts and drinks.  Cheers!


a treat

A sweet candy or dessert is often called a treat, especially if it is unexpected.  In politics, a treat is something unexpectedly good for a candidate or the voters.

Example:  People in a small town are sometimes treated to an appearance by a famous politician if he or she is running for office.

bubble gum candidate

Bubble gum is a type of gum chewed by children.  Someone running for office who is young or naive may be called a bubble gum candidate.

Example:  In 2008, some voters considered Barack Obama to be a bubble gum candidate because he was so young, but he proved to be a very savvy politician.

blog - food - Bazooka_gum

candy for the crowd

Many people, especially children, love to eat candy.  However, it is not very healthful since it has a great deal of sugar and empty calories.  In politics, candy is something that may seem to be good at first, but is really not very meaningful or helpful.  The phrase throwing candy to the crowd means to give out information or promises that are not very helpful.

Example:  Some presidential candidates like to make many promises to get votes, especially at campaign rallies.  Voters must decide if the candidate is serious or only throwing candy to the crowd. 

Types of Drinks

cup of tea

Most Americans enjoy a cup of coffee or tea with their meals.  In modern English, there is a saying that something one likes or is very interested in is one’s cup of tea.  The origin of this phrase is not clear, perhaps a borrowing from British English related to the fact that the British are very serious about drinking their tea.

Example:  Some political candidates do not like to discuss economics.  It’s not their cup of tea.

weak cup of tea

Tea must be brewed or steeped for several minutes before it reaches its full flavor.  If not, we say it is a weak cup of tea.  Metaphorically, this phrase can describe something that is not as strong or powerful as one thinks it should be.  In politics, it may describe a statement or a policy.

Example:  Congress was expected to pass a strict law for gun control, but the actual bill was a weak cup of tea.

blog - food - Mint_tea_-_Petr_Kratochvil


Coffee and tea must be boiled or brewed before it can be consumed.  The brewing process is often complex and may take a long time. In politics, something may be brewing if it also involved many factors and takes some time to be completed.

Example:  The war in Afghanistan had been brewing for many years before the United States sent troops there.

juice from the grid

Juice is derived from many fruits such as apples and oranges.  Juice is also a slang term for electricity from either a battery or an electric power plant.  A grid is a group of electric systems. In some states, electrical power is a big concern because of its price or availability.  Some public officials may speak of the juice from the electrical grid.

Example:  The governor of warm weather states often worry if they will have enough juice from the grid to supply air conditioners in the hot summer months.

the cream of the crop

Milk from dairy cows is used to make a wide variety of dairy products including different types of milk, cream and cheese.  Cream is the top level of milk containing more fat and thus more thick.  Commonly, the cream of something is considered to be the best part.  The cream of the crop indicates the best of the best.

Example:  Americans hope that the candidates for president are the cream of the crop so they can elect the best possible person for the job.

blog - food - Crème_Chantillyget creamed

Another meaning of cream is to defeat someone thoroughly.  To get creamed in a sporting event or election means to lose by wide margin.

Example:  In the 1984 presidential election, Democratic candidate Walter Mondale got creamed by Republic candidate Ronald Reagan.  Mondale received 41% of the votes while Reagan received 59%.

Bush-Cheney Lite

Beer is one of the most popular beverages in America.  Some Americans who are watching their weight drink so-called light beer that is lower in calories.  Many beer companies use an alternate spelling of Lite.  In common terms, something that is referred to as Lite is not as good or serious as a full version.

Example:  In the 2007 Democratic presidential primary, Barack Obama claimed that he feared his opponent Hillary Clinton would be Bush-Cheney Lite, if she were elected to president.

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