Metaphors of Plains, Mountains, and Valleys

In this post I continue with a few examples of metaphors from the world around us.  We all have experience with flat plains, high mountains and low valleys.  We use these experiences to create metaphors used to describe political situations.


We all have experience with the earth below us whether it be a field or farm or a backyard lawn.  We commonly call the land ground.  Metaphorically, the term ground has come to mean the base or basis for many actions in life, as in the expression grounds for a lawsuit or grounds for investigation.


Example:  Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky gave Congress grounds for launching impeachment proceedings.

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ground level

A tall building may have many top floors and several basement levels.  The part of the building at the level of the street is often called ground level.  Furthermore, in any organization, there are managers and supervisors at the top levels, while there are also middle managers and ordinary workers at the bottom of the hierarchy.  These lower-level workers are sometimes ground-level workers.

Example:  A successful presidential election requires skilled strategists at the top levels and many ground-level workers to get the votes out.

top of the field

A large piece of open land is called a field.  Metaphorically, a field is any large group of people.  Someone who is a well-respected expert may be described as being at the top of the field.  In politics, a candidate in a primary is earning the most votes may be described as the top of the field.

Example:  In 2012, Mitt Romney rose to the top of the Republican field of candidates.

blog - nature - Corn_fieldfield questions

In a press conference, many journalists gather together to ask questions of political candidates or elected officials.  The speaker must answer these questions one at a time.  This process is called fielding questions from the journalists.

Example:  While in power, President George Bush liked to give speeches, but he was not comfortable at fielding tough questions from journalists.


A large area of land in a certain part of the country can be called a landscape.  Metaphorically, conditions for religion, economics or politics may also be described as a particular kind of landscape.

Example:  Due to a bad economy and powerful Republican opponents, Barack Obama faced a different political landscape in the 2012 elections than he had in the 2008 elections.


Another word for land or landscape is terrain.  Metaphorically, the word terrain can be used similar to landscape in describing a specific environment for something to happen.

Example:  Barack Obama faced a tougher political terrain in 2012 than he did in 2008.

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The flat lands in the middle of the United States are called the plains.  Metaphorically, the concept of the flat, simple land is used to describe simple, clear language or anything else that is easy to see or understand. This type of speech is known as being plain spoken.

Example:  President Ronald Reagan was famous for being a plainspoken politician.


A geographical area where no plants can grow due to either pollution or lack of water may be called a wasteland.   In common terms, any economic, political or artistic environment that does not promote success may be called a wasteland.

Example:  Critics of Barack Obama claimed that his economic policies created a wasteland of high unemployment in the United States.

Mountains and Valleys

move mountains

Mountains are the largest and most solid objects in any environment.  Metaphorically, doing something that most people would think is impossible may be called moving mountains.

Example:  Barack Obama hoped to move mountains when he was elected but he made little progress in his first term in office.

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slippery slope

Mountains and hills have steep inclines that are difficult to climb up or down.  When it rains, these slopes can become impossible to ascend or descend.  In fact, a person trying to climb up a wet hill will most likely lose his or her footing and slide all the way down to the bottom.  In common terms, a slippery slope is any situation in which a specific action or decision may result in the failure of the entire process or project.

Example:  Critics of the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision to allow corporations to contribute money to election campaigns complain that it was the beginning of a slippery slope to corporations taking over our entire democracy.

rocky ground

Flat areas are easy to walk on.  Areas filled with rocks make walking difficult.  Metaphorically, a difficult situation or process may be described as walking on rocky ground.

Example:  With constant criticism, presidential candidates find running for office is a rocky ground to walk on.


A monolith is a large rock in a single formation sometimes found in mountainous areas. In common terms, an organization that is large and unchanging may be described as being monolithic.

Example:  The mainstream media in the United States is often criticized for being monolithic and not being open to third party candidates in presidential elections.


A split in the surface of the earth due to an earthquake or continental drift is called a rift, such as the Great Rift Valley in East Africa.  Metaphorically, a rift is a separation between people or groups in terms of their opinions or ideas.

Example:  The rise of the Tea Party in 2008 created a rift between these economically conservative Republicans and traditional Republicans.

blog - nature - chasmchasm

Another word for rift or divide is a chasm, used similarly metaphorically.

Example:  When Barack Obama failed to deliver on some of his campaign promises, a huge chasm was created between himself and many progressives who supported him.

fiscal cliff

I previously discussed the metaphor of a fiscal cliff in a previous post.  However, I repeat some of the explanation here as it belongs in this category of nature metaphors.  A cliff is a steep drop off in a rock formation, usually along a riverbank.  Standing at a cliff is very dangerous since one can fall off and be injured or killed.  Metaphorically, a cliff is a dangerous situation.  A fiscal cliff is a situation in which severe fiscal measures will be taken under certain circumstances such as an increase in taxes or a decrease in funding for certain programs.

Example:  In 2012, the Republicans and Democrats argued over the danger of the fiscal cliff when tax cuts were due to expire at the end of the year.

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A cave is a hollow cavity in the earth, usually formed with the erosion of limestone by rivers.  The word cave also exists as a verb meaning the action of a cave ceiling collapsing.  Metaphorically to cave means to give into pressure from another person or group to do what they want to do.

Example:  A president will lose his support of his constituents if he or she caves in to pressures from the opposing political party.


Landforms can be worn down because of wind or water pressures over many years.  This process is called erosion.  In common terms, support for a person or process can also be eroded by pressures from other people or groups.

Example:  American support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan eroded after many soldiers were killed and there seemed to be no end in sight.

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Next time:  Metaphors of natural disasters