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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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