Monthly Archives: July 2014

A Perfect Storm! Metaphors of Weather

Everyone pays attention to the weather.  It is important to know how hot or cold it will be, calm or stormy, rainy or dry every day before we leave the house so that the weather does not interfere with our jobs or time with family of friends.  This summer, the weather has been in the news a great deal as people across the country experience heat waves, droughts, rainstorms, tornadoes and hurricanes.  Our collective experiences with weather allow us to create conceptual metaphors about weather.  In politics, we can find metaphors about weather to describe how politicians survive adverse conditions in their political careers.


The term weather describes all the types of sun, wind, rain, snow, etc., that we experience on earth.  Metaphorically, the term weather can also be used as a verb indicating one’s ability to tolerate a bad situation.

Example:  George W. Bush had to weather many controversies during his presidency including the 9/11 attack, the first terrorist attack on American soil since the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941.


The word climate describes the general weather conditions in a certain geographic area. We may also speak of the climate of a certain situation in terms of danger, difficulty or possible success.

Example:  After the 2008 economic crisis, many Americans faced a climate of high unemployment and high foreclosure rates on homes.

blog - weather - Rain_on_ocean_beachrain money

Rain is a very common weather phenomenon all around the world as water falls from the sky in millions of droplets.  The word rain is also a verb and can be used metaphorically to indicate something that occurs very fast and in great quantities.  When a government distributes a great deal of money to an organization, we may say that is it raining money.

Example:  Critics of U.S. defense spending in the billions of dollars claim that the government should stop raining money on defense contractors when we already have the biggest armies and navies in the world.

rain check

Often when it rains, outdoor activities must be cancelled.  In the early days of baseball, spectators could get a ticket to use another time if the game they had paid for was rained out.  This was called a rain check.  In common terms, any time we decide to do something at a later date, we may say that we are taking a rain check.

Example:  U.S. presidents are often invited to economic and political meetings with other world leaders in other countries.  In some cases, if the president is busy, he or she will have to take a rain check and meet with them some other time.

rain on the parade

A parade is a popular summer activity in many cities and towns for different holidays or special occasions.  However, it is difficult to conduct and enjoy a parade if there is heavy rain.  In a popular expression, a something that happens to disrupt or ruin another activity may be described as raining on the parade.

Example:  Although Hillary Clinton wanted to become the first female president in 2008, Barack Obama rained on her parade and won the Democratic nomination instead.

get wind of

Wind is also another common weather phenomenon.  Although the concept of wind can be used to describe a destructive force in a bad storm, the term wind can also be used metaphorically to indicate something that comes on its own to bring news.  In one expression, learning of new information can be described as getting wind of something. 

Example:  In the early 1970s, Americans slowly got wind of the trouble in the Nixon White House as reports came out about the Watergate scandal.

blog - weather - windfallwindfall

Sometimes in a storm, strong winds break off branches of trees and knock them to the ground.  These downed branches are called a windfall.  In metaphorical terms, a windfall is a great quantity of something that happens unexpectedly.

Example:  Politicians in Washington D.C. often argue about whether or not there should be a windfall profits tax on people and businesses.

swirling rumors

In most cases, wind causes the air currents to swirl around in many different directions.  In some situations, we may also talk about rumors or gossip swirling around a certain person or situation.

Example:  In the 2012 presidential election, there were many rumors swirling around that Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden would switch roles of Secretary of State and Vice President if Barack Obama was reelected.

cloudy skies

In contrast to the metaphor of sunny skies indicating a successful or positive situation, a situation described as having cloudy skies would be unsuccessful or in danger of failure.

Example:  There were cloudy skies over Wisconsin in 2012 as the voters there tried but failed to recall Governor Scott Walker.

blog - weather - Mammatus-storm-clouds_San-Antonioblack cloud hanging over

Rain and violent rainstorms often fall from dark or black clouds.  A black cloud hanging over an area usually indicates rain and bad weather is on the way.  Black clouds therefore indicate a bad or dangerous situation.

Example:  In 2011, presidential candidate Rick Perry claimed that the national debt was a black cloud hanging over America.

clouded judgment

One cannot see the sky clearly when there are many clouds.  Similarly, we say that when a person cannot think clearly or make good decisions, he or she is suffering from clouded judgment, usually because of bias towards one opinion or another.

Example:  Some critics of John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin for vice president in 2007 claim that his desire to be a maverick clouded his judgment of how to choose the best person for the job.

stormy weather

Rain, wind, or snow may come in the form of storms that can be dangerous or cause property damage.  Therefore, people are wary of stormy weather.  In politics, stormy weather indicates arguments or controversy in a specific situation.

Example:  There is always stormy weather in Congress when controversial bills come up for a vote.


The concept of a wind and rain or snow in a storm is used to describe when a person tries to come up with many ideas at the same time.  This is known as brainstorming.

Example:  In 2010, President Obama met with many corporate leaders in New York to brainstorm on how to get more people back to work.

blog - weather - Storm_over_Miami_Beachperfect storm

In the study of weather, the worst possible storm occurs when different weather patterns come together at the same time resulting in terrific wind speeds and precipitation.  These storms are called perfect storms.  In politics, a perfect storm occurs when different bad situations happen at the same time to produce a disaster.

Example:  Incumbent candidates sometimes lose elections when there is a perfect storm of economic, legislative and administrative problems working against them.

storm back

The concept of a storm is also used to describe the energy in a person in a great effort to do something.  The idea of storming back indicates a person aggressively returns to accomplish a goal left unfinished at a previous time.

Example:  After losing the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, Mitt Romney stormed back and won it in 2012.

storm out

When a person is angry and leaves a meeting with great annoyance, we might say that he or she stormed out of the meeting.

Example:  Reportedly President Obama stormed out of a meeting on debt ceiling negotiations in 2011 frustrated at the lack of progress that was being made to solve the problems.

blog - weather - lightninglightning round

Lightning is a discharge of energy from the clouds to the ground at super fast speeds.  The concept of lightning is used to describe anything that happens very fast.  In game shows, a series of questions that must be answered very quickly is called a lightning round.  In politics, a set of fast questions in a debate may also be called a lightning round.

Example:  Presidential candidates must have quick answers ready for all sorts of controversial issues if they come up in lightning rounds in debates.

distant thunder

Thunder creates loud noises that can be heard from miles away.  Normally when we hear thunder we know that a storm is on its way.  The concept of distant thunder metaphorically indicates that some sort of trouble is on its way.

Example:  The economic collapse of 2007 caught many people by surprise, even though some said they could hear the distant thunder for several years.

Next time: I Didn’t See That Coming!  Metaphors of Time

Low, Short, Under and at the Bottom

To finish off my series on metaphors of height, here is a final set of examples derived from the concept of being at the bottom of a container, being under something, or being lower or shorter than something else.  In all cases, these metaphors carry a negative connotation in comparison to objects that are higher or taller than others. In politics, these “lower-class” metaphors are used to describe bad economic trends, disappointing political events or other negative aspects of governance.

blog - height - rock bottom


rock bottom

As with the concepts of top, we have metaphors of being at the bottom of something.  One way to describe being at the lowest point is to say we have hit rock bottom, as if we have sunk to the bottom of a lake.

Example:  President Obama’s popularity seemed to hit rock bottom when the Democrats lost so many elections during the 2010 midterm elections.


blog - height - low on the scalelow on the scale/lower down the scale

The word low describes the position of being towards the bottom of a place.  A scale is a tool for measuring the weight or height of something.  Metaphorically, being on the low end of a scale means that the person or thing has a lower value, such as lower income, or does not have much importance relative to other items measured on the same scale.


Example:  Tax cuts often help wealthy Americans, but they do not always help those people lower down the scale.

low profile

As explained earlier, a profile is a side view of a person. Contrary to a high profile, a low profile indicates lack of visibility or importance in a certain situation.

Example:  After stepping down as president in 2009, George W. Bush kept a low profile until he released his book Decision Points in late 2010.

low moment

A low moment is a time when someone or group of people is unsuccessful, defeated or emotionally depressed.

Example:  The low moment for George W. Bush’s presidency was when we were attacked by terrorists on September 11, 2001.


blog - height - shortfall archeryshortfalls

In contrast to the positive connotations of someone being tall, someone or something that is short indicates a lack or deficiency in something.  A shortfall is a quantity of something that is lower than expected. This term originally derives from the sport of archery when an archer shoots an arrow but it falls to the ground short of the target.

Example:  After the economic collapse of 2008, many local governments experienced budget shortfalls and had to make serious budget cuts.

short selling

Short selling is a rather complex financial transaction.  In real estate, a homeowner may need to sell a house even though the price paid for the house is less than the amount that the homeowner owes to the bank.  If the bank buys the house back from the homeowner in this case, this is called short-selling because the value of the house has fallen short of the mortgage value.  With investments, a person may borrow a stock from an investment firm with the expectation that the value will go down but the person can make a profit if the stock price rises.   This is also called short selling by the brokerage firm.

Example:  Some economists claim that the short selling of mortgages and investments and Wall Street partially led to the collapse of the economy in 2008.


When a person applies for a job, the company puts his or her name on a list of the top people to be considered.  To be near the top of the list is sometimes called being shortlisted.

Example:  Whenever there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court, the president makes a shortlist of possible judges to fill the seat, and then chooses one to be confirmed by the Senate.



As with the word low, the concept of under implies something negative or lacking in importance.  The people who work at the lower levels of a company or government are sometimes called the underlings.

Example:  In an election campaign, the candidate makes all the speeches, but the underlings do a lot of work behind the scenes organizing each event.

blog - height - undercoverundercover

In military and police departments around the world, most officers wear uniforms and are well known to the local people.  However, some officers work in secret and do not want their identities known so that they can catch criminals more easily.  These agents are called undercover officers.  More broadly, any person or action that is hidden from public view is considered undercover.

Example:  As Commander-in-Chief, a U.S. president must sometimes authorize undercover military operations to ensure national security.


Literally to undercut something means to make a low cut into an object such as a piece of wood so that the higher portion remains above the lower portion.  Metaphorically, undercutting refers to such things as offering lower prices than a competitor, or more abstractly, to reduce the effectiveness of another person’s actions or reputation.

Example:  High unemployment ratings undercut President Obama’s plan for economic recovery in 2009 and 2010.


The term underwrite is a word dating back to the 15th century describing signing one’s name to a legal insurance document promising to pay losses if any occur on the policy.  In modern terms, to underwrite something means to take on financial responsibility for a large project.

Example:  With the stimulus plan of 2009, President Obama decided to underwrite the recovery of many banks and large corporations that were close to bankruptcy.

Next time: A Perfect Storm!  Metaphors of Weather

Movement From Bottom to Top

In contrast to my last post with examples of metaphors describing movement from top to bottom, today I offer examples of metaphors derived from actions going from the bottom to the top.  These indicate more positive actions or trends in politics. It is quite amazing at the tremendous variety of words and phrased describing upward movements.  How many have you heard on your local news?

bottom up

When someone of something has reached the bottom, it is always possible to reverse the action and go back up to the top.  English has many metaphors using words to describe these actions.  As with going from the top down, we can also say we are going from the bottom up. 

Example:  Barack Obama developed many grassroots organizations to help him get elected.  This bottom-up approach involved many young people and proved very successful.

blog - height - up eiffel tower

go up

Another basic phrase is describe upward movement is to say something is going up.  While physical objects such as balloons may go up, other emotional states or abstract concepts with numerical values can also go up.

Example:  John McCain’s popularity went up considerably among conservative voters in the 2008 presidential election when he picked Sarah Palin as his running mate.


Yet another way to describe this upwards movement is to simply use the preposition up as a verb.

Example:  Some critics of the War in Afghanistan were upset when President Obama upped the number of troops there in 2009.


Some balloons rise naturally because of hot air or helium contained within them.  Metaphorically, other abstract concepts with numerical values can be said to balloon as well.

Example:  In the early 2000s, housing prices ballooned, but they came crashing down after the economy collapsed in 2008.

lift to new heights

To lift something means to physically raise it higher. Metaphorically we can speak of our spirits or emotional states being lifted as well.  We may even say that we are lifted to new heights by the actions of other people.

Example:  When Hillary Clinton ran for president for the 2008 election, the spirits of many liberal women were lifted to new heights thinking that the United States may have the first female president.


Another way of saying lift is to combine the word with the preposition up, resulting in the common term of uplift.  Again, something physical can be uplifted such as a large geological area.  However, we can also talk of abstract concepts being uplifted as well.

Example:  After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, George W. Bush’s resolve to capture the terrorists uplifted a frustrated nation.

blog - height - elevatorelevate

Another word for lift is to elevate something.  Metaphorically we can elevate many abstract objects such as emotional states, intellectual development, or political discourse.

Example:  Some political candidates try to elevate their speeches by including quotations from the Bible or past world leaders.


blog - height - escalatorescalate

The word escalate is derived from the Latin word scala meaning “ladder.”  Thus escalate means to move something upwards.  The word escalate is commonly used metaphorically to describe an increase in the intensity of a negative process or problem such as tensions, crises or wars.

Example:  As the War in Afghanistan reached its tenth anniversary in 2010, many people hoped the war would be over soon, but in fact it seemed to escalate at that time.

raise questions

The meaning of the word raise is similar to that of lift, i.e., to move something upwards with physical force.  We commonly use raise to describe other abstract processes.  When we want to ask a question, we can also say we are raising a question.

Example:  The two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan raised many questions about the cost of U.S. involvement in international disputes.

raise money

Political candidates must have an incredible amount of money to run an effective campaign.  Getting this money through private donations is often referred to as raising money.

Example:  In recent elections, many candidates effectively raised money by asking people for donations on the Internet rather than in person.

blog - height - bubbles in champagnebubbles rising

The meaning of the word rise is similar to that of raise although while raise involves someone or something doing the action, the meaning of rise is that the object is moving upwards of its own energy.   As with balloons, bubbles can rise on air currents if they are light enough.  Metaphorically, a bubble is anything that grows extremely large on its own.

Example:  No one seemed to notice that the housing bubble was rising out of control until house prices plummeted in 2008.

on the rise

Another way to talk of something moving upwards is to say it is on the rise.  A word rise can be used to describe how much a hill increases in height as it goes up, as in the rise of a road.  Metaphorically, anything that increases may be referred to as being on the rise.

Example:  As drug war violence in Mexico and the American Southwest seemed to be on the rise, debates on immigration reform became more needed than ever.

rise to the occasion/rise above the occasion

Some cultural events can be very difficult such as political debates or diplomatic negotiations.  Someone who meets a challenge may be described as one rises to the occasion. Someone who can use all of their talents and abilities to solve a problem in unexpected ways may be described as rising above the occasion.

Example:  Although many Tea Party candidates were new to politics in 2010, they rose to the occasion and won many elections.

rise up against something

Unlike the passive meaning of rise, we can also speak of rising up which involves voluntary, deliberate action.  In politics and social justice, to say that one rises up means that the person is taking action against something he or she perceives is an injustice in society.

Example:  Tea Party candidates rose up against government spending and won many elections in 2010.

blog - height - laddermove up the ladder

There are several metaphorical phrases involving strong verbs of motion with the preposition up.  One such phrase is to move up or move up the ladder.  In this case, the ladder refers to a business or government hierarchy.


Example:  John McCain was a war hero in Vietnam and then moved up the ladder in politics to become a U.S. Senator in Arizona.

run up big numbers

Another phrase referring to the action of going from bottom to top is run up something.  In one phrase, a process in which a lot of money is raised or popularity is increased, for example, we may say this is running up big numbers.

Example:  In the 2012 presidential election, although Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan ran up big numbers in some conservative states, Barack Obama and Joe Biden were able to win the election.

drive up

A more forceful metaphor to describe upward motion is to drive up something, as if a person is using a powerful vehicle to push something up a hill.

Example:  In economics, the lack of a certain commodity such as oil will drive up prices for everyone.

blog - height - mountain climberclimb

One way that a person can move upwards is to climb, as in climbing a hill, a ladder or a tree.  Metaphorically, a person can climb a corporate ladder or up a governmental hierarchy.  Prices or other economic indicators can also climb on their own as they increase in value.

Example:  After Hurricane Katrina, consumers watched as oil prices climbed since oil supplies were cut off in the Gulf of Mexico.

political ascent

The verb ascend means to go up in the air or up a hill or mountain.  In metaphorical terms, ascend can mean going up the ladder in government.  Thus a political ascent refers to the rise of a person in local or federal politics.

Example:  Sarah Palin enjoyed an amazing political ascent after being chosen as John McCain’s running mate in the 2008 presidential election.

price hikes

The word hike has two meanings:  one meaning involves taking a vigorous walk outdoors, the other involves an upward movement, as in hiking a football.   Increases in prices are sometimes referred to as price hikes.

Example:  Most Americans object strongly when there are price hikes on their health or car insurance policies.


Literally a spike is a large nail used in construction as in those used to hold down railroad ties.  Spikes have very sharp points.  On a graph with a sharp increase in a price or sales data or any numerical value, we may also call these spikes.  We may talk about spikes in food prices, car and truck sales or violence in war.

Example:  During a hot summer, there will be spikes in energy usage as the temperature goes above 100.  Local utilities must make sure there is enough energy for everyone’s air conditioning on those days.

top someone

To reach the top of a mountain is a great achievement.  To achieve more than someone else in a similar situation can be called topping someone. 

Example:  In the 2012 election, Barack Obama topped Mitt Romney to win the presidency of the United States.

Next time:  Low, Short and Under

Movement From Top to Bottom

In previous posts, I have described a few metaphors of height.  These examples were mostly nouns, adjectives or prepositions describing a state of being high or low.  Today I will discuss a few examples of verbs describing how something is moving from high position to a lower position.


We commonly visualize levels, activities and processes from top to bottom.  For example, economic classes are often referred to by their relative amount of money the people earn.  A top-down approach to something indicates that it is working from general to specific, administration to employees or most important to least important.

Example:  When a government is not being successful, voters tend to criticize it with a top-down approach.  They blame the president first and look at less powerful people later.

Photo by Jesse Kruger
Photo by Jesse Kruger


We are all familiar with objects falling off of shelves or tables.  Metaphorically, we also describe many abstract events as falling.  We can talk about falling prices, falling poll numbers, or falling approval ratings.

Example:  After Barack Obama was elected, his approval ratings started to fall as people realized he was not making the big changes he promised when he campaigned.


As with the idea of falling, we are familiar with objects dropping.  Prices, poll numbers, and many other numerical values can drop if they decrease in value.

Example:  During a campaign, a candidate’s popularity may drop if he or she becomes involved in a scandal.

Beachy Head, Sussex, England
Beachy Head, Sussex, England

drop off

Mountain ledges or cliffs may drop off suddenly.  In common terms, something that drops very quickly may be described as a drop off. 



Example:   Although Democrats won many elections in 2008, there was a drop off in their popularity by the time of the midterm elections in 2010.


While the word up has many positive connotations, the word down has many negative meanings.  The word grade indicates the level of pitch of a mountain, whether a steep or gradual decline.  Thus, the term downgrade means change something from high quality or intensity to lower quality.

Example:  When the economy collapsed in 2008 and the United States had to borrow money from China to pay some of its bills, the credit rating of the U.S. was actually downgraded as foreign countries lost their confidence in the strength of our economy.


To downplay something means to give it less importance or credit than is expected.

Example:  American presidents can never downplay the threat of other countries or terrorist groups who might want to attack our cities once again.

blog - height - 100px-Smart_Fortwo_II_Cabriodownsize

To downsize something simply means to make something smaller.  In the 1980s, many large companies began to lay off its workers.  Instead of using the negative term of lay off, it became a common euphemism (new way of saying something) to say that the companies were downsizing.

Example:   Conservative Americans often want to build up military operations; liberals often want to downsize the defense budget.

economic downturn

A downturn is a visualization of numerical values falling or dropping in a chart.  An economic downturn occurs when there is a drop in jobs growth, sales of merchandise, housing construction and other economic indicators.

Example:  The economic downturn in 2008 led to a recession that lasted for several years.

come down

We can describe objects falling or dropping as things that come down.  Walls, statues, or buildings, for example, can literally come down.  Other abstract values such as prices or expectations can metaphorically come down.

Example:  Prices for oil and gas are much higher than they were just a few short years ago.  American consumers are always happy when the prices come down.

marble steps at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C.
Marble steps at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C.

step down

Walking up or down steps is another common human experience.  We may step down from a higher place such as an upper part of a building, a platform or stage.  Metaphorically, when someone quits an important job, we may say that this person is stepping down. 

Example:   President Obama’s Chief of Staff, Rahm Emmanuel, stepped down in late 2010 to run for the mayor of Chicago.


The word subside means to sink to a lower level.  This may apply to an object in space or water.  Metaphorically, we may describe a variety of events as subsiding including physical forces such as pain, wind, or floodwaters but also emotional forces such as fear, panic, anger or turmoil.

Example:  After the 9/11 attacks on New York City, it took many years for the fear of another terrorist attack to subside.


Another word for the action of sinking or drooping to a new lower level is sag.  It is usually used to describe something that has lost its firmness such as sagging clothes or material suspended in canopies.  However it can also be used metaphorically to describe emotional states such as in sagging spirits.

Example:  The economy started to sag in 2008 as the investment and housing markets began to fall apart.

The sinking of the tanker Pendleton of the coast of Massachussetts in 1952
The sinking of the tanker Pendleton off the coast of Massachusetts in 1952

sink to record lows

A more direct way of talking about something falling is to say it is sinking, as if it is a boat.  In talking about water levels, we may say that the water has dropped to a level never seen before.  This is called a record low level.  Metaphorically, we may also talk of other abstract actions as sinking to record lows especially if they have numerical values such as housing prices, confidence levels or approval ratings.

Example:  President Obama’s approval ratings sank to a record low of 22% prior to the 2010 midterm elections.


Plunge is another word meaning to move or drop rapidly.  Physical objects can plunge such as a rock plunging off of a cliff.  However, abstract concepts with numerical values may also be described as plunging if they drop rapidly.

Example:   The United States stock market plunged hundreds of points in 2008 leading to a worldwide recession.


Plummet is a word similar to plunge in meaning.  Both words have their origins in the Latin word plumb meaning the heavy metal lead.  Both refer to something dropping rapidly.

Example:   Public support for the War in Iraq plummeted when it turned out that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction as had been previously believed.

Wreckage of the Genesis space probe in Utah, 2004
Wreckage of the Genesis space probe in Utah, 2004

crashing back to earth

Since the early days of launching rockets and satellites into space, these space objects sometimes fall out of their orbit and literally come crashing back to earth.  Metaphorically, someone or something that is very popular or important may suddenly lose their popularity.  We may also say that they come crashing back to earth.

Example:  President Obama’s popularity came crashing back to earth when the Democrats lost so many seats in Congress in the 2010 midterm elections.

bottom out

The bottom is the lowest part of any object.  The word bottom can also be used as a verb to mean something going to the lowest part.  Commonly we say that something is bottoming out.  Literally, a ship, for example, could bottom out on the sand.  Metaphorically, anything with a numerical value can bottom out as it reaches its lowest level.

Example:  Even though the stock market bottomed out in 2008, it gradually recovered over the next two years as the economy grew once again.

Next time:  Movement from Bottom to Top

Metaphors of Up, Over and Above

To continue my study of metaphors or height, today I look at metaphors based on the spatial descriptions of up, over and above.  All three prepositions based on these spatial experiences have positive connotations.  However, the term over may also mean “finished.”  Here are a few examples from our common experiences with objects being up, over and above other objects or above our line of sight.


up for election/reelection

When a candidate is running for election or reelection, we may say that he or she is up for election.  This meaning of up simply indicates the person is visible above the others.

Example:  Barack Obama was up for reelection in 2012 and indeed won that election.

blog - height - hot air balloons

upper class

As we have seen, the notion of height can indicate something good.  The phrase upper class usually indicates the most wealthy individuals in a society.

Example:  Presidential candidates always need to appeal to upper class voters if they want to earn donations and the support of the wealthiest Americans.


Businesses, people and organizations that tend to deal with wealthy clients are considered to be upscale or upmarket. 

Example:  Since Barack Obama is a graduate of expensive Ivy League universities, some critics complain that he is too upscale to understand the problems of ordinary people.


Two-dimensional objects have two sides.  The side facing up is simply called the upside.  Since up generally means something positive, the upside of a problem indicates the positive outcome of a situation.

Example:  The War in Iraq cost the American government billions of dollars and thousands of soldiers’ lives.  The upside of the story is that the American forces eventually led to a stable Iraqi government.

Korean Archery Master Heon Kim
Korean Archery Master Heon Kim


The upshot of something is the final result of some process.  Although the origin of this term is unclear, apparently for hundreds of years the final arrow shot in an archery contest was called the upshot.  The word up also carried the connotation of being finished, as in the phrase the time is up.  Thus the term upshot also carries the sense of the final outcome of something.

Example:  The drop in popularity of the Democrats in 2009 and 2010 led to an increase in popularity of Republican candidates in the midterm elections.  The upshot is that the Republicans gained a majority of the House of Representatives after the elections.

blog - height - upbeat notesupbeat

In music the two dominant beats are the upbeat and the downbeat.  Although they are both equally important in a musical performance, the upbeat carries a positive connotation because of the meaning of the word up.  To be upbeat means that one is a very positive and optimistic person.

Example:  Even though John McCain lost the presidential election in 2008, he remained upbeat and continued to serve his country as a United States Senator.


Hundreds of years ago, the word upstart was used as a verb to mean rapidly going from a sitting position to a standing position.  Today an upstart is someone who is relatively unknown but who quickly becomes important, or at least feels that he or she is important.  Usually an upstart is someone who challenges the current situation and tries to change the system.

Example:  In 2010, many upstart Tea Party candidates surprised everyone and won many elections beating Republicans in the primaries and Democrats in the midterm elections.


When we set an object down, it has upside and a downside.  If we reverse this and have the bottom on the top, we say that it is turned over or upset.  Metaphorically, any time that something happens that is the opposite of what we were expecting, we may say that is an upset.  This is true of sports games as well as political elections.

Example:  In 2004, many people predicted that John Kerry would win the presidential election.  When George W. Bush instead was reelected, Democrats could not believe the upset.

ups and downs

In life, we have good luck sometimes and bad luck other times.  We may also say that we sometimes feel good and other times we feel bad.  Commonly we call this having ups and downs in life.

Example:  Although the Republicans have had their ups and downs over the past several decades, they had great control of the American government during the two terms of George W. Bush.


blog - height - overlook grand-canyon-3overlooked

The word over in English has many meanings.  The literal meaning describes the position of something being above something else.  The word over can also mean “finished” as in the game is over.  However, in another metaphorical sense, it can mean to go beyond normal expectations.  Thus, to overlook means to not pay attention to something.

Example:  In 2010, federal regulators seemed to overlook many of the safety regulations of off-shore drilling. The result was the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster in which 11 workers lost their lives.


Literally, to have oversight means to look over something.  Metaphorically it means to supervise or manage something.  In politics, many governmental agencies must have oversight by members of Congress.

Example:  There seemed to be very little oversight of Wall Street investment policies as the economy collapsed and the country sank into a recession in 2008.

blog - height - over - horse jumpover the top

To say something is over the top is to say that it is too extreme for a certain situation.

Example:  When Wall Street investment firms gave some of their employees million-dollar bonuses the same year that the economy was collapsing, many critics said their spending was over the top.


The original meaning of the word whelm is not clear, but it described something being covered.  The term overwhelm literally means to cover with water as in a wave overwhelming a boat.  Metaphorically, to overwhelm means to completely control by greater forces.  In a contrary, joking sense, we may also say that something is underwhelming when it is not very impressive.

Example:  In the 2010 midterm elections, the Democrats were overwhelmed by Republican ads against them, and they lost dozens of seats in the House of Representatives.

win over

To win over someone or a group of people means to persuade them to agree to something by a forceful presentation.

Example:  In 2010, some tea party candidates won over many voters with conservative views and promises to cut federal spending.


above the law

To do something above the law means that the action was illegal but the person was not caught or charged.

Example:  The economic collapse of 2008 was caused by the actions of many reckless Wall Street investment bankers.  When none of them were ever prosecuted, most Americans concluded they must be above the law.

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above board

In Middle English, the word board meant a piece of wood or an entire table.  Thus, we have the phrase room and board that means room and meals in a home or at a college.  We also have the phrase above board that indicates that a business transaction is openly visible and legal.  Conversely, we may say that an illegal business transaction is under the table.

Example:  Candidates for public office must make sure all of their campaign activities are above board, so that they cannot be accused later of breaking any local laws.

above the fray

A fray is another word for a fight or a large problem.  To be above the fray means that the person is not involved in any argument or confrontation.

Example:  Despite some controversial policies and decisions during the War in Iraq, Vice-President Dick Cheney always seemed to be able to stay above the fray.


Next time: Up and Down Movement