The fine folks at RapidVisa have contacted me to ask if I could share some of their original research. Since I have written several blog posts about immigration, they suggested I share their compilation of U.S. Immigration Laws in a nice, easy-to-read chart format. I will include a link to the chart here.
Please note that I have no affiliation with this organization and I have not been paid to offer their research here. RapidVisa helps people obtain visas for their loved ones visiting or moving to the U.S. from other countries. You can check out their services here. I offer their research only as additional information for my blog readers.
I have checked other sources on the Internet and no one else has compiled these laws in such a compact format. They list all of the immigration laws between 1790 and 2006 including interesting maps, photos and political cartoons. They explain that they do not include more recent executive orders such as DACA or other immigration policies because they are not laws that were enacted by the U.S. Congress. Nonetheless, their chart is still a very useful summary of U.S. immigration laws. Enjoy!
Hello! I feel obliged to write a post today concerning the recent statements in the news that “Words Matter.”Following the two horrific mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, many people blamed President Trump for inciting the shooter in Texas since his screed published online shortly before the attacks used language quite similar to Trump’s recent rhetoric about a so-called invasion of Mexicans into the United States.Trump also recently argued that Baltimore, Maryland was a “rodent-infested” city, and seemed to target Elijah Cummings, an African-American Congressman who lives in Baltimore.Moreover, he also told four female minority members of Congress to “go back where you came from,” a well-known racist trope.Trump’s apologists claim that the El Paso shooter was mentally ill and acted alone.
As a linguist, I must remain neutral in these political arguments.I will leave the assignation of blame to pundits and politicians.Today I would like to talk about how and why these metaphors are so powerful in shaping the beliefs and actions of certain Americans.Linguists have been talking for decades about the importance of language in influencing people’s beliefs.I have discussed this many times in the past few years in this blog space.Back in 2013 I wrote a post called “Do Metaphors Matter?” examining this very topic.I would like to revisit the topic with an expanded analysis including three increasingly large social circles of 1) the body, 2) the family, and 3) the home.I will argue that defending these three areas of our lives can be traced back to our early Homo sapiens ancestors, and can explain the power of many of our current political metaphors.
Readers of this blog are well aware that my approach to understanding metaphors has been inspired by the ground-breaking work of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson.They were the first to describe how metaphors usage is part of our everyday thinking.Johnson’s book The Body in the Mind describes how many of our metaphors are derived from our experiences of using our own bodies.In my research, I discovered more than 100 separate metaphors based on our body position, using our heads, arms, legs, hands and feet.Thus, we have examples such as facing the problem, standing up for one’s rights, backing a candidates, reaching across the aisle, or getting a stronghold in another country.
Sadly, many of these body metaphors are based on ideas of defending oneself against attackers.We don’t even think about this, but most of the ways we talk about arguments use metaphors such as taking a stand on the issue, confronting your opponent or arguing from a position of strength.In evolutionary terms, this makes sense. We are all familiar with the stories of our ancient ancestors fighting off cave bears or saber-tooth cats to survive.We would not have survived as a species if we were not good at defending our bodies.
At a higher level of awareness and social grouping, we can also talk about the importance of our families in our lives.The idea of belonging to a family is another rich source of metaphor creation on several different generational levels.We talk about the founding fathers of our country, our soldiers in World War I and World War II as brothers in arms, or your latest pet project at work as your baby.We also have the metaphorical expressions of “necessity is the mother of invention” and Uncle Sam referring to the U.S. government.While there are not any metaphorical expressions referring directly to defending one’s family, we can understand that there is a natural instinct among all parents and grandparents to protect their loved ones in case of attack.This is common in the natural world as well.I am not a hunter but I have heard the saying that the only thing more dangerous than a grizzly bear is a momma grizzly bear defending her cubs. It is not surprising that two of our most powerful civil rights groups founded by women have the word mother in the name of the organization, e.g., Mothers Against Drunk Driving which not coincidentally spells out the acronym MADD indicating their anger at all the lives lost to drunk drivers.There is also a group fighting for more gun regulations called Moms Demand Action.
At the next higher level of social group is the sense of home.The notion of home has several meanings.Literally it means the house that people live in with their families.But metaphorically it has other more powerful meanings.A home is much more that a building, it represents the sense of love, family and belonging to a place.In my much younger days I served two years in the Peace Corps in West Africa.The other volunteers and I spoke often of going back home after our service was complete, as do thousands of military service men and women today.Of course, we were not simply speaking of returning back to the houses that we grew up in, but to our family, friends, community and country.We have many metaphors derived from our experience of living in a home, e.g., we call the founding fathers the framers of the constitution as if they were building a house, we talk about opportunity knocking (on the door) and the window of opportunity closing, and some politicians want to make a clean sweep of corruption in Washington D.C.In terms of defending our homes, we also talk about having gatekeepers who maintain order in society, avoiding backdoor activities of corrupt politicians, and more to the point, having our national defense system literally called Homeland Security.The Stand Your Ground laws in some states allow a homeowner to shoot someone who invades their property.It is loosely based on the old British idea that “a man’s home is his castle.” This phrase is loaded with metaphorical power.It involves the sense of standing to protect oneself (the body), or your loved ones (the family) on your ground or property (the home).It’s a triple play for 2nd Amendment proponents who instinctively desire to defend themselves.
In a larger sense, we also extend the meaning of home to include our streets, neighborhoods and communities.And we protect our communities against outside interference.Thus we have the acronym NIMBY, meaning Not In My Backyard, a phrase used by homeowners threatened by the possibility of a landfill, nuclear waste disposal site, a new airport or any other dangerous or noisy development.
What does this have to do with mass shootings?It is pretty clear that it is part of human nature to defend one’s body, family and home for danger.When someone refers to a city being infested by rodents, most of us would shudder in disgust.Anyone who has gone camping has most likely experienced insects crawling over our bodies during the middle of the night.Harmless insects such as ants are annoying, but animals such as spiders or rodents that carry diseases is definitely a dangerous situation.No one would like to think of their homes being infested by creepy, dangerous animals.Also, it is normally the poor urban areas that are infected by rats, poor urban areas which are usually populated by poor people and minorities who have been forgotten by society.Saying that a certain area is infested by rodents is clearly sending a message that the area is in bad condition because of the fault of the minorities to keep the area clean, even though it is almost always the case because the government has not provided the resources to maintain that area.It is rarely the fault of the local people.
When politicians talk about an invasion of immigrants, they too are sending a clear message that immigrants coming into this country is a dangerous thing.The term invasion reminds people of military takeovers, such as Viking attacks in Europe during the Middle Ages, or German invasions of parts of Europe during World War II.What could be more dangerous than an invasion?People are well aware that their homes may be taken or destroyed or their family members could be killed during an invasion.(We also talk about a flood of immigrants as if a tidal wave is coming to wipe out everyone and everything in its path.)
This discussion begs the question of why white people in America are so afraid of African-American, Hispanic, Asian or other minority people in the first place. To most Americans this fear is absurd.Anyone who has lived or worked with people of color knows that they are just like anyone else in the world.They are hardworking, law-abiding, family-loving people.But to bigoted or racist people, minorities represent “the other” — people not like themselves, and thus they cannot be respected or trusted. Where does this idea come from?Sadly it seems to have been part of human evolution for thousands of years.No one knows exactly why Neanderthal Man disappeared.Neanderthals lived in Europe for 400,000 years before disappearing shortly after the arrival of the rival species, Homo sapiens.It is possible that the Neanderthals died off from disease, food shortages or climate change, but they may have also been killed by tribes of Homo sapiens.In human prehistory, most hunter gatherer tribes coexisted peacefully for thousands of years.However, when agriculture was discovered about 4000 BC, towns and cities quickly developed since people could, for the first time, stay in one place to live.Sadly, the development of agriculture led to imbalances of food, money and power.It is not long after that the first records of slavery occurred.It seems to be part of human nature that a group in power will try to subjugate another, less powerful, group of people.
Americans tend to think of slavery as a problem of American history, but of course, anyone who has seen the movie Gladiator, will remember that slavery existed in Ancient Greece and Rome.Also, anyone who has seen the mini series Roots, based on the book by Alex Haley, will remember that the African slave trade, although promoted by Europeans and Americans, was also facilitated by some African tribes capturing and selling members of other African tribes.I happened to live in the West African country of Benin during my Peace Corps service.I have been to the museums in the coastal cities such as Ouidah, where the African slaves were sold off to the American traders. I saw the actual shackles and chains used by some African tribes to capture other Africans.To most people, the idea of selling a person is appalling, as if they were simply property.However, even our revered founding fathers counted slaves as only 3/5 of a person.
This idea of subjugating people also has its origins in something called the Great Chain of Being.This notion also goes back to the Ancient Greeks.The idea was that people lived in the middle of a specific ranked order of beings, animals and plants.In its most famous iteration Medieval Christians assigned the basic order, from highest to lowest, God, angels, humans, animals, plants and minerals, depicted in this drawing from 1579.European kings used this idea to establish that they were closer to God thus higher in rank than ordinary people.Colonial European powers used this idea to justify the horrible treatment they gave to African, Asian and Pacific Island nations as they plundered their natural resources for their own benefits.And of course, 17th century Europeans and colonial American states used this idea to justify slavery as a means of obtaining a free source of labor.Needless to say, our own treatment of Native Americans for the past several centuries has been just as bad.
Although these ideas sound horribly outdated, we find similar ideas in the Bible:
Genesis 1:26: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”
While this passage is only speaking of humans having dominion over animals, it too has provided justification for hunters to kill animals for no reason.While most modern hunters kill animals only for the meat, or to protect themselves from animals from attacking their families or their livestock, there are still so-called trophy hunters who kill only for the pleasure of killing a rare or dangerous animal.You may remember the public outrage when a beloved lion named Cecil was killed by a trophy hunter in Zimbabwe in 2015.
Sadly, people in many cultures around the world have treated other people as animals, lower in value than humans.You may have read the remarkable book, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, in which he describes the men who hunted escaped slaves as if they were wild animals. Scientists used African-American men as guinea pigs in studies of syphilis at the Tuskegee University in Alabama between 1932 and 1972.Even sadder still is the fact that human trafficking and other forms of slavery still exist in almost every corner of the world. It is perhaps no surprise then that in the United States and other parts of the world, immigrants are seen as less than human, somehow a lower form of life that must be stopped from coming into the home country.These immigrants are a threat to the status quo of the privileged white social class who want to maintain their superiority over less powerful groups.The ultimate irony, of course, is that in the United States, everyone except Native Americans are immigrants.Our ancestors came from other parts of the world at different times in American history.However, immigrants with darker skin, people of color, are judged to be the other, and thus become targets of discrimination and bigotry.The reasons for this bigotry are complex.In addition to the personal reasons of defending oneself or one’s family, there are also economic reasons — the fear of immigrants taking the jobs of Americans, political reasons — the fear that our government will be controlled by minorities, or social reasons — the fear of miscegenation, i.e., that the “pure” white race will be diluted by intermarriage with people of color.
Now, to come full circle to the question of the importance of metaphors, I remind my readers of the work of George Lakoff on the idea of understanding governments in terms of what he calls the metaphorical “Nurturant Parent family” or the “Strict Father family.”
In Lakoff’s model, liberals tend to think of government as nurturing parents who take care of their children.Therefore they expect Congress to ensure a healthy economy, provide health care to the sick, food stamps to the poor and other safety nets to help those in need.In contrast, conservatives tend to think of government as a strict father.In a blog post a few years ago, Lakoff explains this idea further.
“The basic idea is that authority is justified by morality (the strict father version), and that, in a well-ordered world, there should be (and traditionally has been) a moral hierarchy in which those who have traditionally dominated should dominate. The hierarchy is: God above Man, Man above Nature, The Disciplined (Strong) above the Undisciplined (Weak), The Rich above the Poor, Employers above Employees, Adults above Children, Western culture above other cultures, Our Country above other countries. The hierarchy extends to: Men above women, Whites above Nonwhites, Christians above nonChristians, Straights above Gays.”
Needless to say, this metaphorical family structure follows the same logic as the Great Chain of Being dating back to the days of the Ancient Greeks.There are two important points to be made here.First, some conservatives may believe in this sort of hierarchy and act on it thinking they are justified in doing so based on their belief in maintaining the “well-ordered world.”Secondly, people who blindly believe in this moral hierarchy may not think on their own; instead they will just believe what someone else tells them, if that person is in a position of higher authority.For example, years ago a colleague of mine confessed that he did not know who to vote for in the upcoming presidential election, but he wasn’t worried because the pastor at this church was going to tell him who to vote for.
Of course, I am in no way justifying this type of behavior.I am only trying to explain how language and metaphors fit into the schema or world views of some people who try to justify their racist behavior.Words do indeed matter, especially when they incite people to turn their beliefs into actions of killing innocent people for the tragically misguided purposes of maintaining their power in society.
This week we learned in the news that Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly, may be leaving by the end of the year. His departure would be one in a long series of Trump advisors resigning or being forced out of office in the past two years, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, EPA director Scott Pruitt, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and many more. I have noticed that there is a wide variety of metaphors used to describe the process of removing advisors from a presidential cabinet.
Before we get to the metaphors, first a word about the word cabinet itself. At first glance it may appear to be a metaphor as well. However, it is an example of polysemy (puh-LISS-uh-me), i.e., a word having different meanings that change over time. The original meaning of cabinet was what we normally think of as a kitchen cabinet, a small box for containing valuables. Later the meaning changed to a small private room. Then the people who met in that room became known as a cabinet council. Later the phrase was shortened to simply cabinet. Thus we now refer to the president’s trusted group of advisors as the cabinet.
Sound strange? A more familiar example of this is the room board. We know the word as referring to a plank of wood. We all know the expression as living in a house and paying room and board. The board refers to the table on which the renters ate their meals. This is an example of synecdoche (sih-NECK-duh-key) in which a part of something refers to the whole. Moreover, the word board was stretched even further to refer to a group of experts in a company, university or non-profit organization, as in a board of trustees. The table where the experts met came to refer to the group of people who met there.
Back to the metaphors, we find that the process of people being hired and then fired in Donald Trump’s cabinet are described in terms a colorful variety of metaphors. Of course, changes in a president’s cabinet are not unusual. All presidents have had advisors come and go. However, President Trump has had an unusually large number of cabinet members resign or be fired. The metaphors listed below are all “ripped from the headlines.” The source of each quotation is provided, linked to the word “example” at the beginning of each quotation. Italics are mine.
First of all, there are several metaphors used to describe the confusion that occurs when cabinet members are fired. One way to describe the confusion is the say that is in flux, a word originally from Latin indicating the flow of water, as in an influx of tourists in a seaside community during the summer. More commonly, the word flux refers to the rapid changes in a process. The abstract concept of movement in a process is often compared to the physical movement of objects. The confusing process may also be described as if it is a deck of cards being shuffled, or mixed back and forth. Similarly, we may describe the process as being a shakeup, as if we are shaking small objects in a container, or a drink in a cocktail shaker. This hiring and firing process is also commonly described as a turnover, as if people are turning objects upside down and then right side up again, or baking an apple turnover. Finally, we may also find examples of this process referred to as a revolving door, as if people are going in and out of a doorway into a large building.
Example: “President Donald Trump’s Cabinet is in flux again.”
Example: “On March 13, Trump fired his first secretary of state Rex Tillerson, shuffling the Cabinet again.”
Example: “The president has been discussing multiple Cabinet shakeup options with his advisers.”
Example: “In the president’s first two years in office, his Cabinet has seen far greater turnover than those of presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama over the same time period, according to a Cabinet tracker by the Brookings Institution.”
Example: “The Trump Administration’s Revolving Door”
We also find many examples of metaphors being used for the actual process of leaving. In some instances, we see neutral metaphors such as stepping down or exiting, as if a person is simply stepping down off a platform or exiting from a room. However, we also find other more active metaphors being used, suggesting the use of physical force to move the person. For example, perhaps the most common metaphor to describe a person leaving a position is that he or she is out. The word out is a common container metaphor, as if a person had been inside a box, and then he or she was forced to move out of the container. More forceful metaphors include examples such as being pushed out or ousted, the latter being derived from an old French word meaning to forcibly remove someone from a location. Less politely, we find that a cabinet member can be dumped, as if he or she is an unwanted item going into the trash. In another sense of removal, we also find the word purge, which is also derived from a French word meaning to “clean” or “purify.” Finally, we find an interesting box metaphor of someone being on the ropes before being fired, as if the person is a boxer about to lose an important fight in the ring. In the example of mixed metaphors listed below, a person is being pushed out after being on the ropes while the administration is going through a shuffle of cabinet members.
Example: “CNN reported Friday morning that Kelly could be stepping down in a matter of days, but Trump did not pause long enough to take questions from reporters, though he teased he would make another big personnel announcement Saturday at the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia.”
Example: “Behind the scenes: Trump announces John Kelly’s exit”
Example: “John Kelly, hired to restore order for President Donald Trump, is out as chief of staff.”
Example: “After two years of already high turnover, the president is expected to push out or accept the resignations of several more department chiefs by January.”
Example: “The larger GOP margin in the Senate is especially important because Trump might now have the votes to confirm a new attorney general. Before the election, Republicans had warned Trump not to replace Sessions when they did not have the votes—a deficit that was due to the political blowback that would come if the president tried to oust Sessions in a transparent bid to curtail the Mueller investigation.”
Example: “After Sessions, who will Trump dump next?”
Example: “Attorney General Jeff Sessions may have been the first Trump Cabinet-level member purged in the wake of the midterm elections — but he is unlikely to be the last.”
Example: “Several Trump Cabinet officials and senior aides are on the ropes and could be pushed out by the end of the year in a dramatic shuffle that could reshape the character of his administration — but create new political headaches for the president.”
As readers of this blog already know, almost any political process can be described in terms of metaphors. The examples listed here offer more evidence that we think in metaphors and that we commonly describe abstract process in terms of metaphors based on ordinary physical actions such as shaking, turning or moving something in and out of containers. I am always amazed how many examples of these types of metaphors I can find. Let me know if you have any comments or questions. Thanks for reading!
The contentious topic of immigration has been in the news the past few weeks. The Trump administration allegedly directed two government agencies – DSH, the Department of Homeland Security, and ICE – Immigration and Customs Enforcement – to separate children from their parents at several different border checkpoints in Texas. Public outcry has led to policy changes and the reunification of most of these families. However, the crisis highlighted years of discrimination against immigrants going back to the founding of this country. This sort of discrimination against immigrants has been alive and well in Europe for hundreds of years as well.
Clues of this type of discrimination can be found in the metaphors used to describe immigrants. While many are neutral terms, others are clearly negative in their connotations. A few years ago, the blogger David Shariatmadari wrote a nice article entitled “Swarms, floods and marauders: the toxic metaphors of the migration debate” on how negative metaphors in England are used against immigrants using such terms as swarms or floods of migrants or describing them as marauders. Also, a recent article in the Atlantic by Franklin Foer describes “How ICE Went Rogue,” detailing how ICE agents have become increasingly aggressive in arresting and deporting immigrants regardless of their legal or illegal immigration status. Formerly, ICE agents were restricted by government policies as to whom they could arrest. After Donald Trump became president, ICE officials claimed that their handcuffs were removed.
I have discussed metaphors of immigration in past blog posts but I thought it was time to take a fresh look. I originally thought that most immigration metaphors were negative, such as those listed above, but recently I have found examples of neutral metaphors, i.e., those that simply describe immigrants or immigration issues without negative connotations. What follows is a short list of metaphors from several different concepts including war, insects, animals, nature, rivers and oceans. For clarity, I indicate whether each type of metaphor is neutral or negative. I include examples from recent news articles with links to each source. Some examples are excerpts from articles; others are merely headlines. Italics are mine.
War/Military Operations – Negative
I found a few examples of metaphors from wars or military operations to describe immigrants. In addition to the marauder example mentioned earlier, I found evidence of politicians describing their countries as being under siege, under attack or being on the front lines of the battle with immigrants.
Example: “British towns are being ‘swamped’ by immigrants, and their residents are ‘under siege’, Michael Fallon, the UK defence secretary, said on Sunday.” (source: The Financial Times)
Sadly, large groups of immigrants coming into a country are often compared to bothersome insects or animals. Donald Trump recently compared immigrants to animals that were infestingour country. I include his tweet below along with a stunning criticism of this language usage by blogger Josh Marshall. I also include examples of swarminginsects and stampeding cattle as suggested by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Finally, I include the controversial example of Donald Trump calling some immigrants animals. In his defense, he was referring to the violent MS-13 gang members, not all immigrants.
Example: “Democrats are the problem. They don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13. They can’t win on their terrible policies, so they view them as potential voters!” (source: New Yorker Magazine)
“Josh Marshall makes the unavoidable historical connection:
‘The use of the word ‘infest’ to talk about people is literally out of the Nazi/anti-Semites’ playbook for talking about the Jewish threat. It was also a standard for talking about Chinese in the western United States and it remains part of the vocabulary for talking about Romani (Gypsies) in parts of Europe. This is the most hard-boiled kind of racist demagogic language, the kind that in other parts of the world has often preceded and signaled the onset of exterminationist violence. The verb ‘to infest’ is one generally used to describe insects or vermin (rats), creatures which are literally exterminated when they become present in a house or building or neighborhood.'”
Example: “David Cameron criticised over migrant ‘swarm’ language” (source: BBC)
Example: “We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — and we’re stopping a lot of them — but we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals.” (source: New York Times)
Example: “We are not going to let this country be overwhelmed,” Sessions told the press at a Wednesday news conference. “People are not going [to] caravan or otherwise stampede our border. We need legality and integrity in the system. People should wait their turn, ask to apply lawfully before they enter our country. So we’re sending a message worldwide.” (Source: Newsweek)
Nature – Neutral
It is very common to use our experiences with nature to describe abstract processes. With immigration issues, I found many examples of metaphors based on trees and erosion of hills to describe these issues, including problems that have a root cause or are deep rooted, grassroots opposition to the Trump administration’s immigration policies, the erosion of national security or the danger of going down a slippery slope to beginning to take away civil rights of Americans.
Example: “There are an estimated 11m-12m immigrants living in the United States illegally, most of them Latino. Many have families, jobs and property, and far deeper roots in America than in their countries of origin.” (source: The Economist)
Example: “From ‘angry grandmas’ to lemonade stands: How grass-roots groups stepped in to help separated families” (source: CNN)
Example: “Letter: To curb illegal immigration, find the root cause” (source: The Chicago Tribune)
Example: “President Donald Trump’s recent tweets against open borders come as no surprise. Indeed, even fervent immigration advocates worry that open borders would lower the wages of low-skilled natives, erode national security, and overburden the social safety net.” (source: USA Today)
Example: “The slippery slope of the Trump administration’s political embrace of calling MS-13 ‘animals’” (source: The Washington Post)
Nature – Negative
There are also a few examples of metaphors of nature with negative connotations. Since some immigrants come into countries illegally, they often hide from authorities and can be described as living in the shadows. The difficult social and economic problems of immigration are sometimes called thorny issues while these immigration issues can be compared to a swamp or quagmire. Sadly, movements of immigrants into a country may be compared to a natural disaster such as an avalanche.
Example: “Illustrations tell story of family ‘living in the shadows’ because of illegal immigration” (source: West Palm Beach TV)
Example: “Spain set for ‘avalanche’ of African immigrants” (source: The Local)
Rivers and Oceans – Neutral
Movement of people is often compared to the movement of water in rivers or oceans. These metaphors can be both neutral or negative in their connotations. A few neutral metaphors include having a wave, tide or steady stream of immigrants. The word influx is of Latin origin meaning “flowing in.” Thus we also find an influx of immigrants in news articles. We can also see a ripple effect of one event influencing another. In this case, we see the ripple effect of immigration policies on the lives of immigrants.
Example: “The United States experienced major waves of immigration during the colonial era, the first part of the 19th century and from the 1880s to 1920.” (source: history.com)
Example: “The Deadly Cost of Turning Back the Immigration Tide” (source: the Daily Beast)
Example: “Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas economists estimate that immigrants and their children comprised more than half of the US workforce growth in the last 20 years and expect this group to make up an even larger percentage over the next 20 years. And, according to Pew Research Center, without a steady stream of a total of 18 million immigrants between now and 2035, the share of the US working-age population could decrease to 166 million.” (source: CNN)
Example: “Illegal Immigration Influx Continues — 50,000 Attempt Border Crossing for Second Straight Month” (source: townhall.com)
Example: “The deadly ripple effect of harsh immigration policies” (source: open democracy.net)
Rivers and Oceans – Negative
We can also find examples of water movement metaphors with a negative connotation. As we saw with an avalanche of immigrants, some metaphors compare immigrant movements to natural disasters, this time caused by rivers or oceans. Thus, we can find examples of politicians trying to stem the flow of immigrants, being swamped or flooded by immigrants. In an extreme example, we can also talk about a tsunami of immigrants as if they are causing great damage and destruction.
stem the flow
Example: “TRUMP’S WALL ISN’T GOING TO STEM THE FLOW OF UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS” (source: Newsweek)
Example: “British towns are being “swamped” by immigrants, and their residents are “under siege”, Michael Fallon, the UK defence secretary, said on Sunday.” (source: The Financial Times)
Example: “Myth No. 1: Undocumented immigrants are flooding into the United States” (source: The Washington Post)
Example: “Immigration crisis: Official: ‘A tsunami of people crossing the border’” (source: Fox News)
The obvious question is why people have such negative attitudes towards immigrants. In the United States, everyone except Native Americans is an immigrant. And yet some politicians, themselves with immigrant backgrounds, set policies restricting movement of immigrants into the country. The usual explanation is that these immigrants are coming into the country illegally whereas their ancestors came legally. However, most immigrants would come legally if the laws were not so restrictive. Almost all migrants go to another country to escape persecution, economic crisis or to create a better life for themselves and their children. My own Irish ancestors came to the United States after the potato famine in Ireland during which thousands of people died from starvation. Many modern immigrants coming into the United States are escaping wars in Central America while those going into Europe and the United Kingdom are escaping brutal conflicts in the Middle East. Who can blame them for trying to survive? I would hope that modern governments accept immigrants into their countries with the same compassion and understanding that was extended to our ancestors.
In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this year, I would like to note a couple milestones. For the blog, I recently passed the mark of writing this blog for five years. Gulp! Seems like only yesterday that I started writing these blog posts. There have been more than 550,000 views from 198 countries. Not too shabby for an academic blog, eh? I have to thank Martin Luther King, Jr. for a great deal of interest in the blog. Apparently, every high school and college student in the world must do research on the metaphors of MLK’s speeches, especially his “I Have a Dream Speech” which remains, by far, my most popular post.
More importantly, last year marked an incredible resurgence in popular uprisings by ordinary people. And this year will mark the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr. being assassinated in April 1968. Anyone who has studied the life and work of MLK knows that he always hoped that ordinary people would rise up and fight for justice. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said that “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” Although there were a few protests by ultra conservatives such as the alt-right protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, most of the protests were for liberal causes including women’s rights, racial equality, better treatment of minorities by police, gender equality, income equality, the right to affordable health insurance, and fair immigration policies just to name a few.
Although we remember Martin Luther King, Jr. for his historic speeches and his work for the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, let us not forget that he was leading nonviolent protests for all sorts of discrimination and injustice. The night before he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, he had been helping sanitation workers organize a strike for safer working conditions and higher wages. At that time he said, “We’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through.” A few weeks earlier, he was quoted as saying, “You are demonstrating that we can stick together. You are demonstrating that we are all tied in a single garment of destiny, and that if one black person suffers, if one black person is down, we are all down.” (See the excellent encyclopedia on Dr. King at Stanford for more information.)
Here again we have another beautiful example of an MLK metaphor – “tied in a single garment of destiny.” I believe Martin Luther King, Jr. would be proud of all the protesters around the world fighting for justice for everyone.
So, what does all of this have to do with metaphors? I have noticed that many of the terms and phrases used to describe these protests are indeed metaphors. In fact, most of these metaphors are from the category of what I call body position or physical forces such as stand, stand up, resist, push, pull, strike back, etc.
For example, an online article by CNN reported that people in St. Louis last September protesting police brutality shouted that they were going to “stand up” and “fight back.”
Last January, the USA today reported that a man supporting his wife and daughters at the Women’s March in Washington D.C. stated the following:
Example: “It feels really important to stand up for civil society when powerful voices are lined up against it.”
The Washington Post published a headline last January on how the Democrats were going to push back against President Trump’s ban on Muslims:
Example: Democrats launch a full-scale opposition push against Trump’s executive order
Many papers reported on how corporations were going to pull ads from NFL games after many players were taking a knee to protests police treatment of African Americans. The Business Insiderpublished the following headline this past November:
Example: Brands are threatening to pull ads from NFL coverage if NBC keeps covering players’ national-anthem protests
Another common metaphor used to describe the protests is to resist or create resistance. Some protest organizations label themselves as “the Resistance.” The Washington Post again had the headline:
Example: Women’s marches: More than one million protesters vow to resist President Trump
On occasion, protesters are described as striking back against those who are oppressing them. Last August, fast food workers, airport employees and others fighting for higher wages planned protests in Chicago on Labor Day:
Example: Massive Protests Planned for Labor Day as ‘Workers Strike Back’
Not surprisingly, the people perceived as the oppressors were also described as using physical forces to gain back their power.Breitbart Newsreported in September:
Example: NFL Sponsors Starting to Push Back Over Anthem Protests
The news was filled with such metaphors last year as protests erupted over Donald Trump winning the presidency and his subsequent policy decisions. Here are a few more examples of the metaphors of body position and physical forces are used to describe politics in recent years.
Body Position – Standing
When people stand up, they have their maximum height and are in the best position for taking action or doing something. Thus, we have many metaphors about standing.
When we stand up, metaphorically we indicate strength for or against a certain position.
Example: During World War II, England, France and the United States stood up against the armies of Hitler.
take a stand
To take a stand means that one is firm in one’s beliefs.
Example: Martin Luther King, Jr. took a stand against the discrimination of African-Americans in the 1960s.
where one stands
To have an opinion or position on an important issue may be called where one stands on that issue.
Example: During a presidential campaign, a candidate must make clear where he or she stands on the important issues such as the economy and national defense.
In a standoff, two people, groups or countries do not fight but silently oppose each other hoping for a resolution of their problems.
Example: During the Cold War, there was a standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union.
When one takes a stand for or against something, one is also taking a stance.
Example: The Bush administration took the stance that the War in Iraq was necessary to remove the dictator Saddam Hussein.
If something is longstanding, it is something that has been happening for a long time.
Example: Martin Luther King, Jr. was a powerful leader who took a stand against the longstanding civil rights abuses in the South and elsewhere in the United States.
To have a posture is similar to taking a stance for or against something.
Example: The United Nations has always had the posture of protecting civil rights around the world.
The motion of pushing an object away from a person’s body is the source of many metaphors in politics, war and economics.
Example: Critics of the War in Iraq accused President Bush of pushing America into war without valid reasons for national security.
When someone pushes against another person, the second person may push back to avoid being knocked down. Metaphorically, pushing back means to resist being pushed over by an outside force.
Example: To his credit, when Iraqi forces challenged American troops, President Bush pushed back and helped win the war.
push the issue
Focusing on a particular issue in government may be referred to as pushing it.
Example: President Obama pushed for health care reform in the first few years of his presidency.
A specific use of the push motion is in the phrase push poll. Normally in election years polling is done with neutral questions to determine opinions about issues or candidates. If the questions are misleading or designed to favor one candidate over another, we call these push polls, since the pollsters are pushing their opinions on to the those they are interviewing.
Example: Although no one approves of push polls, sometimes they can be used to persuade voters to change their minds about a candidate in a presidential election.
Another word for push is propel. People or machines can propel objects or individuals with physical force. In politics, scandals, economic problems, military events or voters groups can propel a politician to win an election. Usually there is a positive upward connotation to the meaning of propel.
Example: Latino voters helped propel Barack Obama to victory in both 2008 and 2012.
The opposite of push is to pull, to move an object closer to the person instead of farther away. In metaphors, the pulling motion is used to describe many abstract activities.
One of the most common pull metaphors is the phrase to pull out, used to describe when people remove something or someone from a certain geographical area or situation.
Example: Barack Obama successfully pulled American troops out of Iraq by 2012.
Similar to pull out, pull back indicates retreating from a situation or lessening focus on a certain issue.
Example: Many American voters wanted the U.S. government to pull back their troops from Afghanistan instead of adding more troops.
yank their support
The word yank means to pull with great force or speed. In politics, donors or voters may yank their support for a candidate if he or she disappoints them with words or actions.
Example: Some conservative voters yanked their support for Rick Perry after disappointing debate performances in the 2011 Republican primaries.
Another word with a similar meaning of pull is to draw. A politician can draw support or draw crowds because of his or her speaking abilities.
Example: Martin Luther King, Jr. was always able to draw huge crowds because of his amazing rhetorical skills.
Hitting an object with one’s fist or with a weapon is a very common physical motion. Metaphors based on this motion are covered in the chapters on Boxing and Military. Here are a few more examples.
Example: In 2012, Barack Obama’s reelection campaign was hit hard by low job growth.
Another word for hit is to strike. Metaphorically we often hear this term used in the phrase to strike back when someone is verbally arguing with someone.
Example: Mitt Romney struck back against charges that he does not pay his fair share of taxes.
To strike down means to revoke a law or current policy.
Example: Everyone expected the Supreme Court to strike down Obama’s health care program in 2012. Surprisingly they supported it.
To crack means to break something with a violent force. To crack down means to hit something with a downward motion. In terms of governments, to crack down means to severely limit the actions of a group of people.
Example: In 2012, President Obama tried to crack down on oil speculators, investors who were trying to make a profit from rising gas prices.
Press and Tighten
To press something means to push downwards or outwards on an object. Metaphorically, to press can also mean to verbally push a group of people towards a certain action.
Example: American presidents may have to press Congress to pass laws that his or her party has submitted.
The noun form of press is pressure, meaning an amount of force pushing down on an object. In common terms pressure can mean any type of force applied to a person or group by circumstance or another group of people. The most common phrases used are to be under pressure or keep pressure on something. Pressure may also be used as a verb with a similar meaning to press.
Example: During a recession, a U.S. president is constantly under pressure from the American people to create more jobs and revive the economy.
To tamp or tamp down means to put slight pressure on something to make it more compact, as in tamping down dirt in a hole or coffee grounds in a coffee maker. Metaphorically, to tamp down means to reduce the quantity of something as in tamping down a controversy, rising fuel prices or negative campaigning.
Example: During a presidential election, candidates often try to tamp down criticisms that might make them look like they are not the best person for the job.
As I have said many times in this space, it is surprising how many metaphors of violence are used to describe our politics. Reading these examples, it reminds me of how confrontational we are as a people, both figuratively in the halls of Congress and in the media, as well as literally in the streets when protestors face off against the police. It happens not just in America, but all over the world. Ironically, Martin Luther King, Jr. insisted on nonviolent protests but the very words we use to describe peaceful protests are derived from physical actions. We can only hope that Dr. King’s desire of equality for all people in the United States and around the world – tied in single garment of destiny – is some day realized without further protest or bloodshed.
With the change back to normal time from daylights savings time today, I thought it might be “time” to look back at a few metaphors about the changing of seasons and the amount of sunlight we enjoy in the summer and miss in the fall and winter. I was also remiss in not noting metaphors of the word eclipse as we experienced the amazing solar eclipse this past summer. Here are a few metaphors of seasons, sunlight, moonlight and eclipses.
Most temperate climates have four seasons: spring, summer, fall and winter. Each of these seasons has its own set of metaphorical qualities. Spring is associated with life and new growth; summer is related to nice weather and easy living; fall or autumn is associated with life becoming more difficult or the end of one’s life; winter is connected to death and decay. Someone who is described as being seasoned is someone who has lived for many years and has gained a great deal of knowledge in his or her lifetime.
Example: In the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump was fairly new to politics, but Hillary Clinton was a seasoned political veteran.
Example: In 2011, many countries in North Africa and the Middle East experienced revolutions. These changes in government are known as the Arab Spring.
Example: During the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union, a nuclear war would have killed everyone at the site of the war. This would have created a nuclear winter.
Example: President Ronald Reagan spent his autumn years on his ranch in California before passing away in 2004.
Example: In many countries, elections only take a few weeks or months. In the United States, the electionseason for presidential elections lasts almost two years.
The concept of the light provided by the sun is involved in many English metaphors. Literally, a day is sunny if the sun is shining brightly. Metaphorically, a person or a situation can be sunny if the person is happy or the situation seems to be going well.
Example: After the 2008 financial crisis, most Americans hoped for sunny predictions for a quick economic recovery but the recession lasted for years after that.
The ideas of sunlight or sunshine can be used metaphorically to indicate that a situation is good or that a dark situation is made more clear. It is well known that bright sunlight can kill germs or disinfect a surface that might have germs. Thus we have an unusual phrase that sunlight is the best disinfectant which carries a metaphorical meaning that uncovering and discussing a problem is the best way to solve it.
Example: When it came to the Watergate scandal of the early 1970s, sunlight was the best disinfectant on President Nixon’s questionable practices at the Watergate Hotel.
The word shine as an intransitive verb indicates the action of an object that gives off light such as the sun, moon or stars. However, people can also shine metaphorically if they do something to the best of their abilities.
Example: Although not many people knew Sarah Palin before 2007, John McCain choosing her as his running mate allowed her to shine on a national stage.
dawn of a new day
Dawn is the time that the sun first rises in the morning and shines light on a person’s part of the world. The phrase dawn of a new day indicates that a new time period is beginning usually with a positive connotation.
Example: When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, many Americans thought it was the dawn of a new day for progressive reforms in government. However, the lack of progress in Congress in his first term left the country with many of the same problems as the previous decades.
Metaphorically, the phrase to dawn on means to realize something as if it is the first time that an idea comes into a person’s head.
Example: For most Americans, the idea that the United States could be attacked by terrorists seemed impossible until September 11, 2001 when it dawned on them that it was indeed possible.
on the horizon
The horizon is the line between the sky and the land from the perspective of wherever one is looking at a distance. Metaphorically, a horizon indicates anything that is possible in the future.
Example: During the start of an economic downturn, most Americans realize that are probably going to be many budget cuts and job losses on the horizon.
A rainbow is a pattern of all colors of light in an arc across the sky after a rainstorm. The concept of many colors together is used metaphorically to indicate many different races of people working together. A coalition is a group of people who work together for a common cause. Many countries have such groups called rainbow coalitions.
Example: The Reverend Jesse Jackson’s social activism group of many races working together is called the Rainbow Coalition.
In contrast to the positive connotations of sunlight, darkness has many negative connotations such as evil, illegal activity or unethical behavior.
Example: During the Great Depression of the 1930s, there were many dark days for Americans who could not find work or afford to feed their families.
When sunlight hits an object, a dark shadow is cast behind it. Metaphorically, a shadow indicates the dark part of a person or situation, often meaning secretive or illegal activities.
Example: Americans do not like it when their elected officials make deals in the shadows. Government work should be done in the light of day when everyone can see what is going on.
People whose identities or behavior is unknown may be called shadowy figures especially if they are suspected of illegal or unethical behavior.
Example: Osama bin Laden was known for years as a shadowy figure before he began his terrorist attacks on the United States.
The moon is the subject of many stories and myths in every culture around the world. Doing something in the moonlight indicates that it is not completely clear what is happening. However, moonlight is used most often as a verbal metaphor indicating that someone is working at night, usually doing a second or third job in addition to one’s day job.
Example: People who have jobs with low wages often moonlight in other occupations in order to earn enough money to pay their bills.
An eclipse is a rare phenomenon when the earth passes directly between the sun and the moon (a lunar eclipse) or when the moon passes directly between the sun and the earth (a solar eclipse) temporarily blocking out the light of the sun. In metaphorical terms, a person, group or action that becomes more important that the previous one may be called an eclipse.
Example: Voter turnout by minorities in the 2008 presidential election eclipsed all other elections up to that point.
Stay tuned for more metaphors of the fall! Thanks for reading!
Today I continue Part 2 of my analysis of metaphors in a brilliant new article about facts and opinions in the latest issue of The Atlantic magazine by Kurt Andersen. (Mr. Andersen, by the way, will be a guest on the Bill Maher show this coming Friday.) This time I will analyze the conceptual metaphors of vision, objects, clothing, balance and gravity, science, buildings, movement and literary references.
Since we experience the world through our five senses, it is not surprising that we find metaphors of vision in many articles on politics. Andersen claims that being sane or insane is not a binary choice; rather we are on a spectrum somewhere between the two extremes, as if we are on a light spectrum representing all colors. Seeing reality clearly is very important. Metaphorically, not seeing clearly is referred to as blurring the lines, as if our vision is failing. In an unusual metaphor, Andersen also refers to these unclear lines as if they are obscured by smog on a city skyline.
Example: “Each of us is on a spectrum somewhere between the poles of rational and irrational.”
blur the lines
Example: “Today, each of us is freer than ever to custom-make reality, to believe whatever and pretend to be whoever we wish. Which makes all the lines between actual and fictional blur and disappear more easily. Truth in general becomes flexible, personal, subjective.”
Example: “The intellectuals’ new outlook was as much a product as a cause of the smog of subjectivity that now hung thick over the whole American mindscape. After the ’60s, truth was relative, criticizing was equal to victimizing, individual liberty became absolute, and everyone was permitted to believe or disbelieve whatever they wished.”
One of the most confusing types of metaphors to explain is the type in which an abstract concept is treated as if it is a physical object. In yet another way to describe people with crazy behavior is to say that they are untethered from reality. The word tether originally meant a rope to secure an animal on a farm. Later it was also used to describe a line used to secure a blimp to its mooring. In any case, someone who is untethered from reality is clearly disconnected from a position of safety or control. We also describe unusual or illegal behavior as if it is an object that can be hidden from view. Thus we have the metaphorical phrase of a cover up. Social events or services can also be described as having an upside or a downside as if we are looking at an object from a certain point of view. In an unusual metaphor, Andersen describes the contours of reality as if it is a round object with a particular shape to be studied. Finally, another strange but common way to describe crazy behavior is to say that people are loopy, as if their body is in the form of metal loops that never quite line up to a complete circle.
Example: “When did America become untethered from reality?”
Example: “The infiltration by the FBI and intelligence agencies of left-wing groups was then being revealed, and the Watergate break-in and its cover-up were an actual criminal conspiracy.”
Example: “Particularly for a people with our history and propensities, the downside of the Internet seems at least as profound as the upside.”
contours of reality
Example: “Today I disagree about political issues with friends and relatives to my right, but we agree on the essential contours of reality.”
Example: “Another way the GOP got loopy was by overdoing libertarianism.”
It is always interesting to see metaphors of clothing in popular English writing. One common way of describing people whose behavior is well outside social norms is to say they are on the fringe of society. There is even a common phrase of the lunatic fringe to describe these people. The term fringe originally meant the decorative hem or border of a piece of clothing. Spatially, normal people are in the middle of the article of clothing, while people with unusual behavior are on the fringe. Similarly, intact clothing is considered normal while clothing with fraying or unraveling threads is considered abnormal. Thus, people can be described as unraveling as if they are threads on an old shirt.
Example: “The old fringes have been folded into the new center. The irrational has become respectable and often unstoppable.”
Example: “I wonder whether it’s only America’s destiny, exceptional as ever, to unravel in this way.”
Balance and Gravity
As humans, we are well aware of our sense of balance. Otherwise we would not be able to walk or even stand up straight. Thus, it is not surprising that we have conceptual metaphors based on the idea of balance. In Andersen’s article we find the concept applied to both mental and political stability in the United States. He speaks of the balance, seesawing, tipping and the center of gravity.
Example: “For most of our history, the impulses existed in a rough balance, a dynamic equilibrium between fantasy and reality, mania and moderation, credulity and skepticism.”
Example: “We still seemed to be in the midst of the normal cyclical seesawing of American politics. In the ’90s, the right achieved two of its wildest dreams: The Soviet Union and international communism collapsed; and, as violent crime radically declined, law and order was restored.”
center of gravity
Example: “The party’s ideological center of gravity swerved way to the right of Rove and all the Bushes, finally knocking them and their clubmates aside. What had been the party’s fantastical fringe became its middle.”
Example: “I really can imagine, for the first time in my life, that America has permanently tipped into irreversible decline, heading deeper into Fantasyland.”
Although less common than other metaphors seen here, our experience with science lessons in high school or college allows us to use metaphors of scientific tools or phenomenon. For example, a crucible is a small porcelain pot used for melting materials in a lab. Metaphorically, a crucible is a social situation in which great changes are happening. In biology, cell walls are not totally closed; rather they are permeable, meaning fluids can pass through the cell membranes. Metaphorically, borders between opposing ideas can also be permeable instead of fixed. In science, substances that are poisonous to plants, animals or humans are considered toxic. We use this same term to describe any event or situation that is harmful to the people involved. Scientists are sometimes engineers who create new inventions or design new projects. Metaphorically, we can speak of people engineering political situations to their advantage. Finally, Andersen includes a wonderful scientific metaphor (grammatically a simile) that compares the Christian dominance of right-wing politicians as the chemical change of phase from liquid to gas!
Example: “Treating real life as fantasy and vice versa, and taking preposterous ideas seriously, is not unique to Americans. But we are the global crucible and epicenter.”
Example: “The borders between fiction and nonfiction are permeable, maybe nonexistent. The delusions of the insane, superstitions, and magical thinking? Any of those may be as legitimate as the supposed truths contrived by Western reason and science.”
Example: “Those earnest beliefs planted more seeds for the extravagant American conspiracy thinking that by the turn of the century would be rampant and seriously toxic.”
Example: “I doubt the GOP elite deliberately engineered the synergies between the economic and religious sides of their contemporary coalition. But as the incomes of middle- and working-class people flatlined, Republicans pooh-poohed rising economic inequality and insecurity.”
a phase from liquid to gas
Example: “The Christian takeover happened gradually, but then quickly in the end, like a phase change from liquid to gas. In 2008, three-quarters of the major GOP presidential candidates said they believed in evolution, but in 2012 it was down to a third, and then in 2016, just one did.”
As I have demonstrated many times in this blog, the concept of buildings is used to create very common metaphors in politics. In a very specific metaphor concerning door hinges, a door cannot swing open or closed properly unless it is correctly hinged to the doorframe. Metaphorically, someone who is unhinged is considered crazy as if they are not properly attached to reality. More commonly, the idea of old buildings that are crumbling or need to be torn down is used metaphorically to describe the changing of social ideas or political institutions.
Example: “Left-wingers weren’t the only ones who became unhinged. Officials at the FBI, the CIA, and military intelligence agencies, as well as in urban police departments, convinced themselves that peaceful antiwar protesters and campus lefties in general were dangerous militants.”
Example: “The distinction between opinion and fact was crumbling on many fronts.”
Example: “The problem is that Republicans have purposefully torn down the validating institutions,” the political journalist Josh Barro, a Republican until 2016, wrote last year. “They have convinced voters that the media cannot be trusted; they have gotten them used to ignoring inconvenient facts about policy; and they have abolished standards of discourse.”
We also have experience traveling in or driving vehicles such as cars or boats. A boat without power or a rudder will be out of control and drift with the current of a river or ocean. Metaphorically, any gradual movement that does not seem to be controlled may be described as a drift. A car or truck out of control may go off course or careen off the road. Metaphorically, any process that seems to be out of control may be described as careening instead of going in a straight line. A vehicle with a lot of power and zoom along at a high speed, while one that runs out of gas may sputter out and stop moving. Processes observed over a long time may also be described as zooming or sputtering out. Other vehicles with a great deal of mass, such as freight trains, may have trouble stopping after traveling at a high rate of speed because of its momentum. Metaphorically, a process that seems to have a great deal of success may be described as having unstoppable momentum.
Example: “But our drift toward credulity, toward doing our own thing, toward denying facts and having an altogether uncertain grip on reality, has overwhelmed our other exceptional national traits and turned us into a less developed country.”
Example: “As the Vietnam War escalated and careened, antirationalism flowered.”
zoom, sputter out
Example: “As the pioneer vehicle, the John Birch Society zoomed along and then sputtered out, but its fantastical paradigm and belligerent temperament has endured in other forms and under other brand names.”
Example: “The idea that progress has some kind of unstoppable momentum, as if powered by a Newtonian law, was always a very American belief.”
In rare cases, we can find metaphors based on famous books or movies. Once in a while, we find people comparing strange behavior to the antics of the characters in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. In that story, Alice transforms herself by looking in a mirror and gets lost by chasing a rabbit down a hole. Metaphorically, passing through the looking glass or going down the rabbit hole are indicative of going into a fantasy instead of staying in reality. In a second example from the book and movie, The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy puts her faith in a magical wizard behind a curtain. However, she accidentally finds out that the wizard is simply an ordinary man. Metaphorically, a person who is not who people think he or she is may be described as the Wizard of Oz coming out from behind the curtain.
through the looking glass, down the rabbit hole
Example: “We have passed through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole. America has mutated into Fantasyland.”
Wizard of Oz
Example: “Karl Rove was stone-cold cynical, the Wizard of Oz’s evil twin coming out from behind the curtain for a candid chat shortly before he won a second term for George W. Bush, about how ‘judicious study of discernible reality [is] … not the way the world really works anymore.’”
As one can see, there is a great variety of metaphors we can use to describe the changing belief systems in people, and how those belief systems influence voting decisions. Kurt Andersen’s excellent article reveals the complexity of our English language usage of both common and unique metaphors. Thanks for reading!
Back in 2005, the comedian Stephen Colbert coined a new word, truthiness, meaning the truth of something that people feel in their gut instead of their mind. At the time, he was in the character of his alter ego, a conservative politician, who was parodying some of the comments of the Bush administration. However, the word has caught on, and now it has been used in a wide variety of situations in which people seem to have their own versions of the truth, much to the consternation of politicians and journalists. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the late senator from New York, famously said, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.”
In a brilliant article in the latest issue of The Atlantic magazine entitled “How American Lost its Mind” (September, 2017, pp. 76-91), Kurt Andersen details the growth of what he calls Fantasyland, the phenomenon of people all across America believing in statements and events that have very little basis in reality. Not surprisingly, he points to many half-truths spoken by Donald Trump (he cites one study which claims that Trump’s statements were found to be lies 50% of the time), or the “alternative facts” of his spokesperson Kellyanne Conway. However, it is not only those on the right who are guilty of living in Fantasyland. He notes people on the far left also believe in 9/11 conspiracy theories, that extraterrestrials have visited the earth, and that vaccines cause autism, despite a lack of evidence that any of these claims are true. In fact, Andersen provides a lengthy history of this phenomenon that includes Americans from all walks of life, tracing it all the way back to the Esalen Institute and counterculture movements of the 1960s, the Watergate conspiracy theories of the 1970s, the Reagan era, Clinton foibles, and the latest Trump political machinations.
As a linguist, I am fascinated by this phenomenon for two reasons. For one, linguists are normally concerned with the rhetoric or metaphors of political speeches designed to persuade an audience to agree with or vote for that speaker. However, in the case of Andersen’s Fantasyland, it is interesting to think of what the listeners are understanding rather than what the speaker is saying. Normally, we do not have the privilege of knowing what is truly going on in the minds of voters. The details that Andersen provides in his article shed light on the mind-sets of many Americans. Secondly, I am also fascinated by the metaphors used to describe this phenomenon. It is well known that we use a wide variety of metaphors to describe people who are allegedly crazy such as being batty, loopy, a few cards short of a deck, etc. However, I was amazed to see how many different metaphors Andersen used to describe other aspects of this truthiness phenomenon including conceptual metaphors from animals, nature, humans, family, farming, cooking, science, balance, vision, clothing, objects, movement, buildings, and literary references.
Today I include several examples from each type of metaphor. However, since I found such an incredible variety of metaphors, I will have to split this blog post into two parts. I will provide the second part of the post in about a week. As usual, the quotations are taken directly from the article. Some quotes are repeated in different categories if they have two or more types of metaphors. Italics are mine.
Animals and Arachnids
It is very common to create metaphors based on our common experience with animals, insects and arachnids. Andersen uses some colorful metaphors to describe various aspects of the phenomenon of people holding unusual beliefs. In one case, he describes some of these people as being batty, a metaphor perhaps based on the erratic flying motion of bats or the correlated metaphor of having bats in your belfry. He also describes certain groups working together as being a spider web of people or other groups of people as rabble, a Middle English word meaning a pack of wild animals. Anderson quotes Donald Trump reviving an old myth that Bill and Hillary Clinton had something to do with the apparent suicide of their colleague Vince Foster, calling it fishy. Finally, he describes the situation of Americans experiencing this Fantasyland phenomenon as being canaries in a coal mine since canaries were used in coalmines to detect poisonous gases. If they suddenly died, it was a warning to the mineworkers to get out of the mine as fast as possible.
Example: “The Reagan presidency was famously a triumph of truthiness and entertainment, and in the 1990s, as problematically batty beliefs kept going mainstream, presidential politics continued merging with the fantasy-industrial complex.”
Example: “Within a few decades, the belief that a web of villainous elites was covertly seeking to impose a malevolent global regime made its way from the lunatic right to the mainstream.”
Example: “But over the past few decades, a lot of the rabble they roused came to believe all the untruths.”
Example: “He revived the 1993 fantasy about the Clintons’ friend Vince Foster—his death, Trump said, was ‘very fishy,’…”
canary in a coal mine
Example: “I wonder whether it’s only America’s destiny, exceptional as ever, to unravel in this way. Or maybe we’re just early adopters, the canaries in the global mine, and Canada and Denmark and Japan and China and all the rest will eventually follow us down our tunnel.”
Other aspects of nature are also commonly used to create conceptual metaphors. Andersen’s article contains quite a few of these as well. A common metaphor from nature is to call a new social trend as a grassroots movement, as if the people are growing like grass in one’s yard. Roots of trees are also used metaphorically to indicate the origins of certain phenomena. In this case, Andersen talks about the taproots of certain kinds of prejudice in America. Another common nature metaphor is to talk about a trend as if it is a person sliding down a hill or a slippery slope. There are also quite a few examples of river metaphors: popular media is referred to as mainstream, as if it is flowing in the middle of a river; social trends may flow out from a source; there might be tidal surges of new social constructs knocking down the flood walls, while there may be efforts to slow the flood or repair the levees to stop the damage, and there may be a cascade of false beliefs creating a pool in which people surf and swim. Finally, there is a nice contrastive pair of metaphors, comparing the darkness of winter to the light of spring and hope for a better future.
Example: “We must call out the dangerously untrue and unreal. A grassroots movement against one kind of cultural squishiness has taken off and lately reshaped our national politics—the opposition to political correctness. I envision a comparable struggle that insists on distinguishing between the factually true and the blatantly false.”
Example: “Trump launched his political career by embracing a brand-new conspiracy theory twisted around two American taproots—fear and loathing of foreigners and of nonwhites.”
Example: “There are many slipperyslopes, leading in various directions to other exciting nonsense. During the past several decades, those naturally slippery slopes have been turned into a colossal and permanent complex of interconnected, crisscrossing bobsled tracks, which Donald Trump slid down right into the White House.”
Example: “The word mainstream has recently become a pejorative, shorthand for bias, lies, oppression by the elites.”
Example: “Conservatives are correct that the anything-goes relativism of college campuses wasn’t sequestered there, but when it flowed out across America it helped enable extreme Christianities and lunacies on the right—gun-rights hysteria, black-helicopter conspiracism, climate-change denial, and more.”
tidal surge, flood walls
In this case, Andersen is describing the work of Charles Reich, a 1970 book on counterculture called The Greening of America.
Example: “His wishful error was believing that once the tidal surge of new sensibility brought down the flood walls, the waters would flow in only one direction, carving out a peaceful, cooperative, groovy new continental utopia, hearts and minds changed like his, all of America Berkeleyized and Vermontified.”
slow the flood, repair the levees
Example: “But I think we can slow the flood, repair the levees, and maybe stop things from getting any worse.”
cascade, surf, swim
Example: “False beliefs were rendered both more real-seeming and more contagious, creating a kind of fantasy cascade in which millions of bedoozled Americans surfed and swam.”
Example: “Even as we’ve entered this long winter of foolishness and darkness, when too many Americans are losing their grip on reason and reality, it has been an epoch of astonishing hope and light as well.”
I found it fascinating that Andersen often describes the growth of different belief systems as if they were crops growing on a farm. He claims that the beliefs were like seeds that flowered or sprouted into new social movements. He describes a case for the Esalen Institute, a pioneering New Age center in California in the 1960s, as a hotbed of ideas, as if they were plants growing in a greenhouse. In a common fruit metaphor, he describes some conservatives as cherry-picking libertarian policies to suit their needs, as if these policies were ripe cherries. Finally, Andersen claims that some of Donald Trump’s ideas are hogwash, named for the leftover food scraps given to hogs on the farm.
Example: “Those earnest beliefs planted more seeds for the extravagant American conspiracy thinking that by the turn of the century would be rampant and seriously toxic.”
Example: “As the Vietnam War escalated and careened, antirationalism flowered.”
Example: “Conspiracy theories were more of a modern right-wing habit before people on the left signed on. However, the belief that the federal government had secret plans to open detention camps for dissidents sprouted in the ’70s on the paranoid left before it became a fixture on the right.”
Example: “Esalen’s founders were big Laing fans, and the institute became a hotbed for the idea that insanity was just an alternative way of perceiving reality.”
Example: “Republicans are very selective, cherry-picking libertarians: Let business do whatever it wants and don’t spoil poor people with government handouts; let individuals have gun arsenals but not abortions or recreational drugs or marriage with whomever they wish; and don’t mention Ayn Rand’s atheism.”
Example: “During the campaign, Trump repeated the falsehood that vaccines cause autism. And instead of undergoing a normal medical exam from a normal doctor and making the results public, like nominees had before, Trump went on The Dr. Oz Show and handed the host test results from his wacky doctor. Did his voters know that his hogwash was hogwash?”
Perhaps correlating with the farm metaphors are a few examples of cooking metaphors. In a common way to describe an unreasonable idea or person, Andersen describes them as being half-baked, as if it is a loaf of bread not quite ready to come out of the oven. He also provides a wonderful metaphor based on a cup of tea – steeping the tea bag in water, letting the smells and vapors permeate the room.
Example: “That is, they inspired half-baked and perverse followers in the academy, whose arguments filtered out into the world at large: All approximations of truth, science as much as any fable or religion, are mere stories devised to serve people’s needs or interests.”
Example: “The right has had three generations to steep in this, its taboo vapors wafting more and more into the main chambers of conservatism, becoming familiar, seeming less outlandish.”
Not surprisingly, we commonly create metaphors based on our own human experiences. In one unusual metaphor, we talk of a crazy person as a crackpot, referring back to an old slang term for the head as a pot. Another common way to describe crazy behavior as someone who is losing grip on reality as if it is an object that can be grasped with the hands. Andersen also compares Trump’s need for attention to a person who is ravenous and insatiable for food. I also noticed two metaphors of illness and cancer. Andersen quotes Rick Perry claiming that Donald Trump was a “cancer on conservatism” while he also notes that the American acceptance of Fantasyland has metastasized as if it is a cancer that will spread to other countries.
Example: “Belief in gigantic conspiracies has moved from the crackpot periphery to the mainstream.”
grip on reality
Example: “Even as we’ve entered this long winter of foolishness and darkness, when too many Americans are losing their gripon reason and reality, it has been an epoch of astonishing hope and light as well.”
ravenous and insatiable
Example: “But Trump’s need for any and all public attention always seemed to me more ravenous and insatiable than any other public figure’s, akin to an addict’s for drugs.”
cancer on conservatism
Example: “Before Trump won their nomination and the presidency, when he was still ‘a cancer on conservatism’ that must be “discarded” (former Governor Rick Perry) and an ‘utterly amoral’ ‘narcissist at a level I don’t think this country’s ever seen’ (Senator Ted Cruz), Republicans hated Trump’s ideological incoherence—they didn’t yet understand that his campaign logic was a new kind, blending exciting tales with a showmanship that transcends ideology.”
Example: “The American experiment has metastasized out of control. Being American now means we can believe anything we want.”
I also found examples of metaphors based on family relations. Andersen describes Esalen as a mother church in the United States as if it had given birth to a new type of religion. He also provides another brilliant contrastive pair of metaphors, describes incredulity and skepticism as fraternal twins.
Example: “Esalen is a mother church of a new American religion for people who think they don’t like churches or religions but who still want to believe in the supernatural.”
Example: “Trump’s genius was to exploit the skeptical disillusion with politics—there’s too much equivocating; democracy’s a charade—but also to pander to Americans’ magical thinking about national greatness. Extreme credulity is a fraternal twin of extreme skepticism.”
That’s all for Part 1. Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for Part 2 coming soon!
Hello! Anyone watching TV or reading the newspapers lately has no doubt seen the huge battle going on in Washington D.C. over healthcare. Barack Obama and the Democrats managed to pass the Affordable Care Act during his tenure as president. The Republicans promised for seven years to “repeal and replace” the so-called Obamacare as soon as they were in the office. Now, however, even though the Republicans control the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives, they have not been able to pass any new legislation to replace Obamacare. Several different versions of a new health care bill have been presented but they have all been defeated by either the House or the Senate. This past week, the latest version was voted down, in part because of three Republicans who voted against it, including a dramatic “thumbs down” vote by John McCain at the last minute.
Readers of this blog may have also noticed that there has been a bewildering variety of metaphors used to describe this process. Here are a few that I have been watching in the past few weeks. I list them here by conceptual metaphor with one or two examples of each. The sources for each quotation are included in the descriptions and explanations as a hyperlink. Italics are mine.
Body Shape: skinny
One of the most unusual metaphors to describe the latest health care bill was calling it the skinny repeal version, implying that it was a thin version of an earlier more comprehensive bill. We tend to describe people (or animals) as being skinny, normal or fat (more politely heavy) thus we can metaphorically use descriptions of body shapes to describe the thickness of a legislative document. Here is a headline from the New York Post.
Example: Trump fumes over health care reform after ‘skinny repeal’ defeat
Food: vinegar and honey
We often use our experiences with food to describe abstract processes, such as something being bitter or sweet. Some writers at the Daily Beast have described the Republican healthcare bill as being all vinegar, no honey since it seemed to be taking health care away from millions of people while increasing premiums on those who do have insurance – nothing sweet about it, only a sour taste.
Example: How Donald Trump’s “All Vinegar, No Honey” Approach To Health Care Reform Ended Up Backfiring
Journey: rocky start, bridge
Journey metaphors are very common in political speeches, and they also appear in headlines and articles about political processes. In one case, a headline in the Washington Examiner describes health care reform as being off to a rocky start, as if it is a person walking on an uneven rocky path instead of a smooth walkway. In another example from Fox Business News, Senator Ted Cruz argued that he could bridge the gap between warring factions of the Republican Party as if he could making a connecting bridge between two distant parts of a road.
Example: Bipartisan healthcare reform off to a rocky start in the Senate
Example: Ted Cruz: Amendment can bridge gap between split Republican Party
Building: collapse, fall apart
We often describe creating processes as if they are buildings we are constructing. Conversely, when processes do not work, we can describe them as if these buildings are collapsing or falling apart. Recent headlines at politico.com and cnn.com refer to these two processes.
Example: House Republicans despair after health care collapse
Example: How the Republican health care bill fell apart
Machines and Engines: fix, overhaul, backfire
When a machine is not working properly, we must make efforts to fix it. Metaphorically, we can also fix any process that is not working out well. Political writers and pundits commonly refer to legislative processes as fixing health care. Here is one example from the Atlantic magazine. Also, if a machine or engine is broken beyond a simple repair, we may need to totally overhaul it, taking it all apart and putting it back together again. An article at cnn.com refers to the Republican efforts to replace Obamacare as overhauling it. Finally, when the gas mixture in an engine is not regulated correctly, it may backfire or produce a loud bang from the exhaust system. Metaphorically, when an effort to do something completely fails, we may say that it backfires. An article in the Daily Beast describes Donald Trump’s efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare as having backfired.
Example: How Republicans Can Fix American Health Care
Example: “We should not put our stamp of approval on bad policy,” Moran said in a bold statement that derailed Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s bid to overhaul the Affordable Care Act.
Example: How Donald Trump’s “All Vinegar, No Honey” Approach To Health Care Reform Ended Up Backfiring
Chemistry and Physics: litmus test, pressure
In chemistry, one way to test whether an element is an acid or a base is to put a small solution on a piece of special paper called litmus paper. This procedure is called a litmus test. Metaphorically, any process that determines if something will be successful may be called a litmus test. A recent NBC News story describes the efforts of the Democrats to retain Obamacare as federal law as a litmus test. In physics, the amount of force exerted upon an object is called pressure. We can talk of air pressure, barometric pressure, etc. Metaphorically, the power for a group of people to influence other people can also be called pressure. The Press Herald newspaper in Maine describes how the Maine senator, Susan Collins, withstood the pressure of her fellow Republicans to vote against the health care bill.
Example: Government-Run Health Care: Democrats’ New Litmus Test
Example: Susan Collins withstood intense pressure, ultimately voted against health care repeal
Boxing: round one, slam
Sadly, we also describe many aspects of the political process as if the politicians are fighting each other in a boxing ring. Most boxing matches last a total of 15 rounds. The preliminary battles between two opponents are often called round one. An article at cnn.com describes the defeat of the health care bill as a loss for Donald Trump in round one. Several weeks ago, an article in USA Today even described the diplomatic Bernie Sanders as slamming the Republican version of the health care bill.
Example: Health care defeat confirmed it: Trump has lost round one
Example: Bernie Sanders slams GOP health care bill, calls Trump CNN tweet ‘an outrage’
Military: kill, dead, blast, implode, torpedo
Even more violent metaphors can be found in military descriptions of political processes. An article at msnbc.com described how the health care bill was killed, while in an article in the New York Post, the authors describe the health care repeal process as a dead issue. Other writers describe the process in terms of explosions or cannon fire. CNNdescribes President Trump as blasting the Senate rules that contributed to the defeat of the Republican bill, while a story at politico.com reports that Trump himself claims he wanted Obamacare to implode. Finally, another CNN story claims that the Senate has torpedoed the heath care bill.
Example: The stunning drama of killing the GOP health care bill
Example: President Trump hasn’t given up on health care reform — even though the Senate’s GOP leader say [sic] it’s a dead issue for now.
Example: Trump blasts Senate rules in Saturday morning tweets
Example: After health care loss, Trump tweets ‘let ObamaCare implode’
Example: House Republicans rail on Senate GOP for torpedoing health care
Science Fiction: the twilight zone
Last but not least, we find a metaphor derived from the name of a popular 1960s TV show called the Twilight Zone. In the TV show, the title referred to the time between day and night when normal rules of science are twisted into bizarre or unexpected occurrences. The term was originally was used as early as 1909 to describe the time between lightness and darkness when nothing could be seen clearly. Metaphorically the twilight zone refers to a situation in which normal social rules do no apply. Several articles reported that Missouri senator Claire McCaskill referred to the healthcare reform process as being in the twilight zone.
Example: “We’re in the twilight zone of legislating,” Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri said Thursday of the GOP’s strategy.
As you can see, one political process may be described with a wide variety of conceptual metaphors. These examples offer more proof that the use of metaphors is a normal part of human cognition, not a specialized type of language. As always, comments, questions or additional examples are welcome. Thanks for reading!
There is a particular metaphorical phrase that has been mentioned in the news the past few weeks, that of a person or group of people showing their true colors. This metaphor has a colorful origin:
In the 1700s, ships were required to fly the flag or colors of the country of their origin so ship captains could see at a glance who was a friend and who might be an enemy on the high seas. Some dishonest captains, however, would fly the flags of other countries in order to trick some ships into coming closer so they could attack. These attacking pirate ships would then show their correct flags or their true colors. So metaphorically, if people show their true colors, this means that they are showing what they really think or believe.
After the recent health care bill passed by the House of Representatives, allegedly cutting many people off from health care, and giving more power to insurance companies, while giving tax breaks to other wealthy corporation, some liberal critics complained that the Republicans were showing their true colors. See one such blog post entitled “GOP shows true colors: Profits before people, always” here.
Some of my friends and colleagues have also wondered if President Trump is showing his true colors by firing anyone who seems to challenge his authority. To be fair, conservative commentators have used to same phrase to criticize Democrats such as in the article “Obama Shows His True Colors as He Leaves Office” here.
With many colors of flowers and trees popping out in this spring weather, I thought it was time to review a few metaphors of colors. Here is a sampling of some of the more striking metaphors of color.
Red and Blue
red states and blue states
The United States has two dominant political parties, the Democrats and the Republicans. During presidential elections, each state will be won by either party. In the 1990s, television stations and newspapers struggled to show which party had won each state. Eventually the media began using two contrasting colors for the two parties, red for Republican-won states, and blue for Democrat-won states. In time, people began to shorten the names to simply red states and blue states. Technically, these terms are not metaphors. There is nothing intrinsically red or blue about any political party. In this case, the color-based origin of these political metaphors is completely arbitrary. I include them here for the sake of clarifying these examples.
Example: The west coast of the United States has mostly blue states such as California, Oregon and Washington. However, the Midwest and South have many red states.
Since purple is a mixture of the colors red and blue, some media analysts say that states with an even mixture of Democratic and Republican voters are called purple states.
Example: Virginia was formerly known as a red state, but it has been purple during the 2008, 2012 and 2016 elections.
The color red has many metaphorical meanings. In addition to the political meaning explained above, the color red is commonly used to mean anger.
Example: In the year 2000, many Democrats were seeing red when the Supreme Court voted to uphold George W. Bush’s election win although Al Gore had won the popular vote.
Pens with red ink were formerly used to write down the amount of money that was lost in a business. When a business or government is losing more money than it is earning, we say that it is in red ink.
Example: When the economy is in recession, many state governments get into red ink. They must begin to make budget cuts.
Many years ago, a kind of red-colored tape was used to hold together official government documents. Nowadays, the phrase red tape indicates the problems and delays one encounters when trying to get something done in a bureaucracy.
Example: Many Americans are frustrated by all the red tape they must endure every time they deal with the government for taxes, licenses, passports, etc.
As with the phrase red ink, the term redline originally meant to use red ink to highlight a problem. In some cases, the names of people who applied for a loan from a bank but did not qualify were crossed off a list with red line. Thus, to redline someone means to disqualify him or her from doing something.
Example: In part, the banking crisis of 2008 was caused by banks giving loans to people who should have been redlined since they could not afford to pay the high mortgages.
The rose flower has petals in beautiful shades of red. If we say something is rosy, this means that the situation is very good.
Example: When a new president is elected, most people have rosy expectations of making positive changes for the country.
In addition to meaning explained above that blue states are Democratic, the color blue is also used to indicate situations that are sad or depressing. Also, as mentioned in the chapter on Clothing, blue-collar workers are those who work in factories and make middle class wages.
Example: In 2008, Barack Obama was able to turn some red states blue.
Example: Many Republicans were feeling blue when Barack Obama won the election.
Example: During the 2016 election, Donald Trump won many votes from blue-collar Democrats in the Midwest.
out of the blue
If something is unexpected, it seems to fall from the blue sky. Thus we have an expression that something we were not expecting is out of the blue.
Example: The rise of Hitler in World War II was not out of the blue; many Europeans knew he was gaining power in the 1930s.
Many years ago in Spain, the term translated as blueblood meant someone who was very rich or from a high social class. This term may have started from the idea that blood looks blue in people with very fair skin especially when compared to people with darker skin.
Example: After the American Revolution in the 1770s and 1780s, citizens did not want any more royal British bluebloods controlling their government; they wanted to elect their own presidents.
Green and Yellow
The color green has many metaphorical meanings. Since most plants are very green when they start to grow, the color green is used to indicate people who are not yet mature or experienced. Since the color green is associated with plant growth, it has been used to describe programs, organizations and governments that take good care of the environment. Subsequently, one who works in a business promoting environmental concerns can be called a green-collar worker. Finally, since American money is colored green, the term green can also be used to indicate financial gain.
Example: Some critics said that Barack Obama was too green to be elected president since he did not have much executive experience.
Example: Traditionally American-made cars have not been good at saving gas or reducing pollution. However, now the companies are stating to make greener cars with better gas mileage and less carbon dioxide emissions.
Example: After the high oil and gas prices in 2008, many companies started making alternative energy, creating many green collar jobs.
A person who is inexperienced can also be called a greenhorn, perhaps derived from animals with new horns when they are young.
Example: Ronald Reagan was no greenhorn when it came to making public speeches. He was a famous Hollywood actor before becoming the governor of California and the president of the United States.
A greenback is another word meaning American money, due to its color.
Example: Americans seem to need more and more greenbacks to buy simple things like food and gasoline.
In popular terms, to be yellow means to be afraid or cowardly, as in a soldier who is afraid to fight in a war. In politics, a leader may be called yellow if he or she is afraid to use military force against an enemy.
Example: After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, President Roosevelt was not yellow; he declared war on Japan the next day and immediately began plans to attack.
In the 1890’s, a New York newspaper had a comic strip character who always wore yellow clothes. The Yellow Kid, as he was known, was so popular another newspaper created their own yellow characters to get more people to buy their newspaper. This competition became known as yellowjournalism, later meaning the type of reporting relying on headlines, exaggerations and sensational stories to sell newspapers instead of trying to find all the facts.
Example: American citizens should be careful about yellow journalism when it comes to learning the truth about the news. They should only read newspapers that tell the real truth about events.
Silver and Gold
Silver and gold are both names for colors and names for precious metals. Thus they are used to describe things that are very valuable. There is an old expression that every cloud has a silver lining. This phrase is thought to come from the fact that even dark clouds may have sunlight coming through along the edge giving a silver look to it. This in turn means that even though the sky is dark, the sun is still there and will shine again. Metaphorically, a silver lining means that even when life is bad, good things can still happen so we need to stay hopeful.
Example: When the economy is bad and many people lose their jobs, one silver lining is that prices for many items such as houses, cars and gasoline actually go down.
If someone is described as being silver tongued, this means that the person is very good at speaking.
Example: Barack Obama proved himself to be a silver-tongued politician during the 2008 presidential election.
Gold is one of the most expensive metals and if something is called golden, this means that it is very valuable.
Example: During Ronald Reagan’s presidency, Republicans thought he was the best president ever; he was absolutely golden.
A young man with potential for doing great things is sometimes called a golden boy.
Example: John F. Kennedy, Jr., the son of the late 35th U.S. president, was considered America’s golden boy until his tragic death in 1999 at the age of 38.
When a business executive retires, he or she is often given a sum of money as a retirement gift. In some cases, these gifts amount to millions of dollars. These gifts are sometimes called golden parachutes because they allow the person to retire as if they are jumping from an airplane and landing safely in retirement.
Example: American citizens become angry when they learn that some business executives get million-dollar goldenparachutes even though their companies went bankrupt and investors lost a great deal of money.
In many American elementary schools, children are given a gold star sticker on their schoolwork meaning that the work was very good. In popular terms, anything that has high quality can also be described as being gold star.
Example: The Kennedy family has a gold-star reputation in the United States because of the many contributions their family members have made to American politics.
gold star families
When a soldier is killed in a war, his or her family receives a gold star made from paper that they can put in the front window of their home indicating their loss. Thus gold star families are those who have lost a family member in military service.
Example: Some gold star families support political candidates who try to end wars; other gold star families support those who continue America’s military strength around the world.
Other Color Metaphors
If someone cannot physically see colors, this is called being colorblind. Metaphorically, being colorblind means that one does not form opinions or make decisions based on a person’s race.
Example: Did America become more colorblind after Barack Obama was elected the first black president? Or will race still an important issue in society for many years to come?
If a person is looking off-color, this means he or shoe does not have the usual color of healthy skin. In jewelry, a jewel that is off-color is less valuable because it is not as pure as other examples of that type of gem. In popular terms, a joke or story is considered off color if it is not accepted by normal society, usually because it has some sexual content.
Example: Good politicians are careful not to tell any off-color stories since many people will be offended.
If you hear of any unusual color metaphors in the news, please let me know. Questions and comments are always welcome!