In honor of Labor Day this year, I thought I would share a few metaphors from business, commerce, buying, selling and working. Some of these examples I have shared in previous posts, but they are worth mentioning again here. As I have explained many times in this space, we derive conceptual metaphors from an incredible variety of human experiences. Not surprisingly, since everyone has to have a job to pay his or her bills, we can all relate to metaphors of work. Here a few key examples.
Products are anything produced by a company in a factory such as cars, brooms, computers, etc. People can also be products of the educational or political systems in which they were trained.
Example: In 2008, critics of Barack Obama complained that he was a product of corrupt Chicago politics.
A novelty is a product that is made and sold as something new and unusual that hopefully everyone will want to buy. These are usually toys such as hula-hoops or pet rocks. In real terms, the word novelty usually implies that the product is not very serious or useful. In politics, a novelty candidate is someone new to politics, has new ideas, but is not taken seriously by mainstream media or politicians.
Example: As the first woman candidate for president in many years, Hillary Clinton tried to avoid the label of the novelty candidate.
Another word for making something is to manufacture it, as in a product from a factory. In metaphorical terms, someone can manufacture an idea, a problem or a reaction to something.
Example: Sometimes politicians manufacture fear about some social problem so that the public will support them to spend money on solving the problem.
In business, a trademark is a legal licensing of a certain name or picture that no one else can use. In politics, a trademark is something that it associated with a specific person.
Example: John McCain showed his trademark honesty and straightforward talk in the 2008 presidential election.
In business, the goal is to sell as many products as possible so that the company can make the most money. In politics, people can also sell ideas, policies or programs.
Example: In 2009, Barack Obama had to sell the idea of using taxpayer money to rescue the banks from financial collapse.
In business, to sell out of something means to sell the entire amount of products that the company had. This is a good thing for the company since they will make more money. However, there is another meaning of selling out that means giving up all of your ideas or values for another cause, usually money. In entertainment or politics, selling out is a bad thing to do, and the person will lose a great deal of respect.
Example: If the governor of a state promises to lower taxes for small businesses then raises them instead, he will be accused of selling out.
A product that is difficult to sell is called a tough sell. An expensive house or car, for example, would be tough sell for most people. In politics, a tough sell is an idea or program that not many people will like but a politician will try to sell it anyway.
Example: During the Great Depression in the 1930s it was a tough sell for President Roosevelt to convince Congress to borrow money to create more jobs.
Peddling is another word for selling something, usually meaning that someone is going door-to-door or traveling to see the products. In politics, people can peddle ideas, programs, policies, or influence to do something for someone else.
Example: Washington D.C. lobbyists who try to get members of Congress to spend money for their companies are often called influence peddlers.
Example: In is first term, George W. Bush was peddling the idea of privatizing social security but the members of Congress were not buying. His ideas were not accepted.
In the 1800s, before there were many doctors in small towns or federal regulations on medicine, anyone could sell anything and call it medicine. In China, people use to sell a type of snake oil as a pain reliever, although some people claim it did not help. Later, people called any type of fake medicine snake oil because they had no medicinal value. In popular terms, a snake oil salesman is someone who is trying to sell something that will not work or has no value.
Example: People will not vote for a political candidate with wild new ideas if they think he is just a snake oil salesman.
with bells on
In the eastern United States in the 1800s, some peddlers traveled by horseback to sell their products. In some cases, they put bells on their horses so that the local people would know that they were coming. In modern terms, to do something with bells on means to do it with enthusiasm and complete support.
Example: In the 2008 presidential election, people came out to vote for Barack Obama with bells on. He won with 53% of the vote while John McCain earned 46% of the vote.
Monger is an old word for a peddler or salesman. For example, a fishmonger is a fish salesman. The word monger used as a verb means to sell something. In politics, someone who supports wars or tries to sell the idea of going to war with another country is a warmonger.
Example: During World War II, Adolf Hitler was the ultimate warmonger since he tried to take over the world with wars of aggression.
A person who tries to scare the American public without evidence of real danger is sometimes called a fearmonger.
Example: After the 9/11 attacks, everyone became afraid of terrorists. There was no need for fearmongering politicians. It was a real attack.
cost /cost votes
We say that everything costs money to buy. In metaphorical terms, things can have more than a monetary cost, e.g., we can say that “the car accident cost him his life.” In political terms, an action by a politician or political party can have a cost in terms of votes in an election.
Example: Some say that John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as vice president nominee was the best idea he ever had; others say that it cost him the election.
To be able to afford something means that one has enough money to buy something. As with the word cost, the word afford can have other meanings besides money. Usually used in a negative sense, the phrase cannot afford something means that the person or group will be worse off with a negative result if some action is not taken.
Example: Teachers say that we cannot afford to cut funding for education even if it costs a lot of money.
Example: A president cannot afford to look weak when dealing with terrorists. He or she must be firm and use military action if necessary.
In many factories, workers must mark the time that they arrive for work by sticking a card into a machine that punches or stamps the time directly on the card. This process is usually called punching the clock. In metaphorical terms, punching the clock means one is ready to begin or end something.
Example: Critics of the War in Iraq claimed that the Bush administration already had the clock punched for invading Iraq when the terrorists attacked New York in 2001.
During government or business transactions, the final decision is often printed on the documents with a rubber stamp filled with ink. The stamp may be used to officially record the date, or status of a transaction. In popular terms, to stamp something means to label it with the views of a particular person, group or political party.
Example: Ronald Reagan put his stamp on economic policies by cutting taxes on businesses.
In popular terms, to rubber stamp something means to officially approve something without thinking of or fighting for alternatives.
Example: A good president does not rubber stamp every spending bill that comes in the oval office. He or she must consider the results of each bill carefully and consider every alternative.
by all accounts
Every business must keep track of the money they spend and the money they earn. These records of money transaction are called accounts. One can tell how a business is doing by looking at all of their accounts. We also use the phrase by all accounts to indicate that the situation has been well researched.
Example: By all accounts, Herbert Hoover was a very nice man, but he was not a good president.
After all transactions are complete in business or government, the people involved must sign their names on the document to make it official. Each person’s signature is unique and very important to their identity. In politics, business and entertainment, famous people are said to have signature moves, i.e., something that they often do that is unique to them.
Example: During his presidency, Ronald Reagan’s signature move was to cut taxes on corporations so that they could get more profits and hire more workers.
Many large business and government office buildings in big cities have revolving doors at the front entrance. A revolving door is never completely open or closed but constantly alternates between the two so that people can go in and out at the same time. In politics, a revolving door policy occurs when staff members are hired from a certain pool of people, especially when leaders of companies are hired to work for the government, or when former government officials work as lobbyists for the departments they used to regulate.
Example: During his tenure as president, George W. Bush was criticized for having a revolving door in his administration especially when industry leaders were hired as government regulators.
water cooler topic
Most offices have a water cooler from which the employees can get a drink of cold water. Normally, the water cooler is a popular place for people to meet and have conversations about what is going on in their office or in the world. A water cooler topic is something exciting that happened recently and everyone is talking about.
Example: In 2015, when Hillary Clinton had a second chance of becoming the first female president, her candidacy was the water cooler topic for many months.
By the way, without getting too political myself, allow me to add the following comment: if you have part or all of this Labor Day weekend off from work, you can probably thank a union. Despite the rantings and ravings of some presidential candidates against unions, historically unions have made our workplaces much more safe, secure, and well paid. I am a proud member of the teachers’ union at our college. Here is a list I have seen recently to remind us of our debt of gratitude to our union brothers and sisters across the United States.
36 Reasons Why You Should Thank a Union
- All Breaks at Work, including your Lunch Breaks
- Paid Vacation
- FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act)
- Sick Leave
- Social Security
- Minimum Wage
- Civil Rights Act/Title VII (Prohibits Employer Discrimination)
- 8-Hour Work Day
- Overtime Pay
- Child Labor Laws
- Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSHA)
- 40 Hour Work Week
- Worker’s Compensation (Worker’s Comp)
- Unemployment Insurance
- Workplace Safety Standards and Regulations
- Employer Health Care Insurance
- Collective Bargaining Rights for Employees
- Wrongful Termination Laws
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967
- Whistleblower Protection Laws
- Employee Polygraph Protect Act (Prohibits Employer from using a lie detector test on an employee)
- Veteran’s Employment and Training Services (VETS)
- Compensation increases and Evaluations (Raises)
- Sexual Harassment Laws
- Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Holiday Pay
- Employer Dental, Life, and Vision Insurance
- Privacy Rights
- Pregnancy and Parental Leave
- Military Leave
- The Right to Strike
- Public Education for Children
- Equal Pay Acts of 1963 & 2011 (Requires employers pay men and women equally for the same amount of work)
- Laws Ending Sweatshops in the United States
Have a great weekend!
4 thoughts on “Labor Day Metaphors”
George Bush did not try to privatize Social Security.
Hi Dick! Thanks for your comment. As a banker, you probably understand these financial matters better than I, but it is pretty commonly acknowledged that GWB indeed try to privatize social security or at least to move it into “private accounts” as he said in the State of the Union Address in January of 2005. His own brother Jeb admitted it just a few months ago:
“Speaking in Derry, New Hampshire, Tuesday, Bush acknowledged that when his brother President George W. Bush attempted to privatize Social Security in 2005, he met great bipartisan resistance.
‘My brother tried, got totally wiped out,’ Bush said. ‘Republicans and Democrats wanted nothing to do with it. The next president is going to have to try again.'”
It was commonly reported that way at the time as well. Here are a couple more links from CNN, the Washington Post and the Brookings Institution if any of my readers want to read more about it.
Thanks for reading the blog! — Andy
Another great installment, Andy! A book can not be far behind.
Thanks Dave! I am sending out two more book proposals tomorrow. Wish me luck! — Andy
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