Tag Archives: metaphors

Bernie Sanders’ Uphill Battle

Many newspaper and television reports have recently described Bernie Sanders’ quest for the Democratic nominee as an uphill battle. It seems that Hillary Clinton has an insurmountable lead in the votes and delegates to win the nomination. The phrase uphill battle is an interesting metaphor in this usage for several reasons. At first glance, it seems that it is a mixed metaphor, mixing journeys and military concepts. Technically, there is such a thing as an uphill battle, one in which an army must fight an enemy while moving up a hill or mountain. However, it is more likely that we think of this as a sort of compound metaphor combining the physical struggle of walking uphill with the danger of fighting a battle in a war. This compound metaphor makes us think of obstacles to journeys and military campaigns. I have described some of these metaphors in past blogs, but it is interesting to see how they are combined into one conceptual metaphor. Here is a review of metaphors of obstacles on a journey and military battles.

blog - military - uphill battle

Obstacles on a Journey

obstacles

On some journeys, there may be obstacles or things that prevent continuous progress, such as animals crossing the road, snow or rocks falling on the road, or bad weather conditions. Metaphorically, there may also be obstacles to continuous progress for the success of a program or any process.

Example: Barack Obama had to overcome many obstacles in his path to becoming the first African-American president including growing up poor, not having a father, and succeeding in an environment dominated by white politicians.

block

A block is a large log, brick or any compacted mass. A block can literally prevent the passage along a journey or prevent progress in an endeavor.

Example: Unfortunately, when a Republican president is in office, the Democrats often block the passage of the Republican bills, while Republicans often block the passage of Democratic bills when a Democrat is in office.

blog - journey - barrierroadblocks

Similar to the idea of obstacles, roadblocks can literally block the continuous progress on a journey or metaphorically block the progress of a program.

Example: In the first two years of Barack Obama’s presidency, the Republicans seemed determined to prevent any success of the Democrats so they put up many roadblocks in Congress.

stumble, stumbling block

A person can also trip or stumble on a branch or a brick in the path along a journey. Metaphorically, one can also stumble or have to overcome a stumbling block in the middle of a process.

Example: President Obama encountered many stumbling blocks from the Republicans and insurance companies when trying to pass health care reform in 2010.

blog - journey - Rockslide_at_Oddicombeimpasse

When one cannot continue on a journey because of a road being completely blocked by a natural disaster, we say that we have met an impasse, literally something that blocks the passage of a person.

Example: When Bill Clinton tried to pass health care reform in 1994, he ran into an impasse with insurance companies and other politicians and failed to pass any new legislation.

break down barriers

Another word for a roadblock is a barrier. To continue on a journey, one may have to break down the barriers. Metaphorically, one may also need to break down barriers to make progress in a process.

Example: Barack Obama had to break down many race barriers on his way to become the first African-American president of the United States.

blog - width - Trinity_Bridge_-_span_of_a_bridgebridge, bridge builder, bridge the divide, bridge the gulf

If one needs to cross a river or a valley during a journey, one may need to build a bridge to be able to continue the journey. Literally, this is called bridging the divide or bridging the gulf.

Metaphorically, when two people or groups cannot agree on something, someone may offer a compromise to solve the problem. This may also be called bridging the divide. The person who does this may be called a bridge or a bridge builder.

Example: Sometimes a U.S. president may need to bridge the divide between the Republican and Democratic members of Congress.

clear the way

Sometimes, if a road is blocked, one must clear the branches, wood or rocks away before one can continue. This process is referred to as clearing the way. In common terms, we can also clear the way for a process to continue after it had been delayed.

Example: In the 1960s, the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. cleared the way for the civil rights laws that were passed later that decade.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERApotholes to fill

Paved roads in cities often develop holes after many years of traffic and bad weather. Some of these holes are so big people say that they are as big as a cooking pot. City crews must fill the so-called potholes so that people can continue to drive on these roads without hurting their vehicles. Metaphorically, any process that has many difficulties or delays may be described as having many potholes to fill especially when used with another road metaphor.

Example: After the economic crisis of 2008, President Obama had many potholes to fill on the road to recovery considering problems with the banks, corporations and high unemployment.

sidestep

Some obstacles in the road are very small and can simply be avoided by walking around them. We can call this action sidestepping the obstacle. In common terms, we also say that one can sidestep a problem or an issue by not dealing with it directly.

Example: Many candidates running for office sidestep controversial issues such as abortion and gay marriage.

recourse

A course is a route that one follows on a journey. The route to return to the starting point of a journey may be called a recourse. Metaphorically, a recourse is something that one must consider when the first plan does not work.

Example: After years of fighting a war in Afghanistan, the U.S. government had little recourse when their military could not defeat the Taliban there.

blog - journey - uphill elephantlong, uphill task/struggle/battle

Walking on a level road is easy; walking uphill is more difficult. Metaphorically, a difficult task may be called an uphill struggle or an uphill battle.

Example: When John McCain returned to the United States after being a prisoner of war in Vietnam for several years, he had an uphill struggle to regain his health and his military career.

look beyond/move beyond

On a long journey with many hills, one must try to look over or look beyond the hills to see the rest of the road. In common terms, one must look or move beyond an obstacle to solve a problem.

Example: After many lost seats in the 2014 midterm elections, Democrats had to look beyond their losses and plan for the 2016 presidential election.

 

Battles

The Battle of New Orleans - Andrew Jackson wins the final battle of the War of 1812 on January 8, 1815 (painting by Edward Percy Moran, 1910)
The Battle of New Orleans – Andrew Jackson wins the final battle of the War of 1812 on January 8, 1815 (painting by Edward Percy Moran, 1910)

primary battles

Battles are the names of the primary engagements between armies in a war. Metaphorically, battles can also be fought verbally between people or groups. The notion of battle is commonly used in politics.

Example: In every presidential primary, there are many battles among the candidates to gain the nomination of the party.

 

battle cry

At the start of every battle, there is a call or cry from the commanding officer to alert the troops to begin fighting. The phrase battle cry can also be used to indicate the beginning of a political process.

Example: In 2011, the Occupy Wall Street protestors used the slogan “We are the 99%! as their battle cry to gain support against the richest 1% of the nation controlling the government.

battleground states

The land where battles are fought are called battlegrounds. In politics, states in which voters may vote for either Democrats or Republicans are called battleground states when candidates fight for the votes for their party.

Example: Ohio and Florida are often considered battleground states in presidential elections.

The Battle of Cedar Mountain, Virginia, August 9, 1862 - Currier and Ives, 1862
The Battle of Cedar Mountain, Virginia, August 9, 1862 – Currier and Ives, 1862

battle lines are drawn

The exact line separating the land controlled by two fighting armies is called the battle line. Metaphorically, a battle line is the ideological separation between two people or groups. In a public political argument, we may say that battle lines are drawn based on a certain view of a controversial topic.

Example: In the 2016 election, Democrats drew many battles lines with Republicans over the tax breaks given to millionaires and billionaires.

combat

Combat is another word for battles fought between armies in a war. Metaphorically, any verbal argument can be described as combat as well. As a verb the word combat can be used to describe efforts to fight against something.

Example: George W. Bush worked hard to combat the spread of AIDS in Africa during his presidency.

Members of Co. C, 1st Bn, 8th Inf, 1st Bde, 4th Inf Div, descend the side of Hill 742, located five miles northwest of Dak To. 14–17 November 1967.
Members of Co. C, 1st Bn, 8th Inf, 1st Bde, 4th Inf Div, descend the side of Hill 742, located five miles northwest of Dak To. 14–17 November 1967.

firefight

A firefight is an intense battle between two armies in which a great deal of gunfire is exchanged. In politics, a heated argument may also be called a firefight.

Example: Sometimes a peaceful presidential debate turns into a firefight among the top candidates.

 

 

 

clash

The word clash is an onomatopoetic word meaning that it represents the sound made by two metallic objects hitting together. A physical confrontation between people or battle between armies may be called a clash. However, metaphorically, a disagreement in words or ideas between two people or groups may also be called a clash. Often we speak of a clash of personalities between two people.

Example: During the 2016 Democratic presidential primary, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders clashed over positions on the economy.

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As I have mentioned many times, political campaigns are thought of as military operations, judging by the amount of war metaphors we used to describe them. The process of winning a nomination or becoming elected is also thought of as a long journey filled with obstacles. When a candidate struggles to win a nomination for his or her party, it is logical that the process be called an uphill battle.

Playing the Woman’s Card

This past week, Donald Trump claimed that Hillary Clinton was “playing the woman’s card” and would not even get 5% of the vote if she were a man. Critics quickly pounced on this sexist comment. Hillary Clinton may have the last laugh, however, since her campaign claims to have raised $2.4 million dollars as a backlash to the comment. For me, the idea of “playing the woman’s card” reminds me of the popular use of the metaphors of games in American politics. I have mentioned some of these metaphors previously, but they are worth mentioning again.

Also, this past weekend on the television news show Meet the Press (May 1, 2016) the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin described the problems in the Middle East as follows: “This is like three-dimensional chess. And most of us are playing checkers at understanding foreign policy right now.” These types of metaphors are derived from our experiences with board games. Let’s have another look at some metaphors derived from games.

Card Games

follow suit

A normal deck of playing cards has 52 cards in four suits: clubs, spades, hearts and diamonds. In some games, a player must put down a card on his or her turn that matches the suit of the previous card. This is called following suit. Metaphorically, one can follow suit by doing the same thing that a previous person has done. In politics, a president may follow suit with a certain program or policy that was already in place when he or she became president.

Example: When Barack Obama became president in 2008, he followed suit with George Bush’s policy in Afghanistan, increasing the number of troops there and stepping up efforts to find Osama bin Laden.

blog - cards - Royal_Flushstrong suit

As with the idea of following suit, we would say that a person with many good cards in any suit would have a strong suit, e.g., an ace, king and queen in spades would mean a strong suit of spades. In metaphorical terms, a person’s strong suit is his or her special talent that is superior to the competitor’s abilities.

Example: When George W. Bush was president, he had a talent of appearing to be a regular guy, with rolled up shirtsleeves and speaking plainly. It was such a strong suit for him, he used it many times when giving speeches or press conferences to earn confidence from American citizens.

trump, trump card

In some card games, a certain card may have more value than all the others. This is often called the trump card. In politics, one can trump an opponent or play the trump card to beat an opponent in an election, debate or discussion.

Example: In the 2008, John McCain thought he had the trump card to win the presidential election when he asked Sarah Palin to be his running mate, but they were not able to win a trip to the White House.

blog - games - 2 cardwild card

Some card games also have a card that is designated as a wild card, i.e., one that can take on the value of a higher ranked card if it is to the advantage of the player who holds it. For example, in the game of deuces wild, a 2 card can have the value of an ace, king or queen if it helps the player win the hand. The difficult part of this type of game is that no one knows when the wild card will appear or how the player will use it, so it could be a surprise to everyone when it happens. In politics, a wild card is a person, program or policy that has unexpected power in a certain situation.

Example: In the 2010 midterm elections, the tea party candidates were often considered wild cards since they were not experienced politicians and no one was sure if they could win elections or not.

race card

In card games, one usually plays a card that will help him or her win the hand or the game. Thus to play a card means to do something to your advantage. In politics, the idea of playing a race card arose when people talked about African-American candidates winning elections because of their race, not their qualifications.

Example: In the 2008 election, some supporters of Barack Obama were accused of playing the race card when they urged people to help him become the first African-American president.

age card

In a similar sense, someone may be accused of playing the so-called age card if they urge people to vote for a candidate because of his or her age and experience and not the qualifications.

Example: Some supporters of John McCain who pointed out the young age and political inexperience of Barack Obama were thought to be playing the age card.

woman’s card

Also, female candidates may be accused of playing the woman’s card.

Example: In the 2016 primaries, Donald Trump accused Hillary Clinton of playing the woman’s card.

blog - games - Card_shufflereshuffle the cards

When people play cards, the deck must be shuffled before each new deal. This ensures that the same cards are not dealt out in the same way more than once. When we speak of politics of being a card game, we may say that we need to reshuffle the cards when there has been an unexpected turn of events. Reshuffling the cards means one of two things: 1) there has been a change in the policies or personnel of a certain government agency, or 2) someone must reorganize a current situation to bring a new balance and order to the problem.

Example: When a U.S. president is elected to two consecutive terms, he or she might reshuffle the cards of the cabinet or other key positions at the beginning of the second term.

overplay the hand

In some card games, it is sometimes better not to reveal if you have a very good hand of cards. One must be prudent and not try to win the game all at one time. One must be patient and use strategy to win the game in several steps. In politics, we might say that people overplay their hand if they try to push an issue too hard all at once instead of waiting for the diplomatic process to work.

Example: In 2009, some Middle East experts said that Iran might be overplaying its hand by claiming it was going to build a nuclear bomb. Many other countries began to take a stronger stance against Iran instead of trying to work with them on diplomatic issues.

Chess

gambit

In a chess game, a player may sacrifice a small-value piece such as a pawn in hopes of winning a large-value piece such as a knight or bishop. This strategy is called a gambit.

Example: President Obama’s gambit of working with Pakistan to end the war in Afghanistan may take years to see any results.

blog - games - chessstalemate

When two chess players are tied and neither player can win, this is called a stalemate. In politics, when two political parties, two candidates or any two persons cannot find a solution to a problem, this may also be called a stalemate.

Example: For the past several decades, many U.S. presidents have tried to end the stalemate between Israel and Palestine with limited success.

the endgame

When a game of chess is completed, this is simply called the end of the game or the endgame. In common terms, an endgame has come to mean the objective or primary goal of a policy or approach to solving a problem.

Example: When the war in Afghanistan dragged on for more than ten years, many Americans wondered what the endgame really was for our troops there.

Board Games and Puzzles

blog - games - jigsaw puzzlepuzzle/puzzling over

There are many types of board games and puzzles that people enjoy all over the world. Crossword and jigsaw puzzles are popular games that require a great deal of patience and intelligence to complete. The word puzzle formerly referred only to the game itself. Now it can also signify the action of being confused. In politics, many difficult situations can be puzzling to politicians and citizens alike.

Example: After the 9/11 terrorist acts in New York city, many Americans puzzled over why they were the target of such a vicious attack.

turn the tables

Board games are often played on tables. In some cases, the board can only be read in one direction. Thus a player may have to turn the board around to read all parts of the game when it is his or her turn. This is sometimes referred to as turning the tables. In common terms, when someone has changed a situation to his or her advantage, this is also called turning the tables.

Example: In the 2010 health reform bill, President Obama tried to turn the tables on the health insurance industry and give back some power and choice to consumers.

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It is interesting that our everyday experiences with games translates into many creative metaphors.  However, it is not merely the aspect of a fun game that we are thinking about when we create metaphors.  Rather it is more in the competitive nature of games that is easily compared to politics and elections.  Stay tuned for more interesting metaphors in the news! blog - games - cards and chips

 

Metaphors of Spring!

Although some parts of the United States are still thawing out from recent snowstorms, most of the country is enjoying warm, spring weather. Today I would like to share metaphors based on changes of seasons and spring growth. While spring may bring new flowers and green grass, spring rains may also bring flooding and erosion to areas near rivers. I have touched on these topics in previous posts on plants and trees or rivers.  Here are a few more examples of springtime metaphors.

blog - nature - ice meltingmelt away

Most people in northern climates have experienced ice and snow. When temperatures rise, the ice and snow melts. In common terms, problems can also melt away.

Example:   In 2011, the fall of the dictators Hosni Mubarek in Egypt and Moamer Kadhafi in Libya proved that their supporters will melt away once it seems they can no longer stay in power. 

blog - nature - sproutspring

The season of spring is often symbolic of natural changes and new growth.

Example:   In 2011, many countries in North Africa and the Middle East experienced revolutions. These changes in government are known as the Arab Spring.

family tree

Plants and trees are commonly used in English metaphors. One of the most common is the familiar term of the family tree, comparing the relatives in a family to the branches of a tree.

Example:   Michelle Obama’s family tree indicates that she is the first person descended from a slave to be a first lady of the United States.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

branch

Trees have branches that spread out far from the trunk of the tree. In a very common metaphor, the term branch is used to indicate a part of a larger organization.

Example:   The United States has three branches of government – the executive, the legislative and the judicial.

the root of the problem

Trees have roots that not only hold the tree into the ground but symbolize the beginnings of the tree’s growth. The concept of roots is commonly used metaphorically to mean the origin of something.

Example:    The root of the economic recession of 2008 can be found in the failures of Wall Street investment firms to manage their money properly.

deep-rooted

A tree with deep roots is one that is very old and solidly anchored into the ground. Metaphorically, a problem or attitude that is deep-rooted indicates that it is something that goes back many years and is not likely to change any time soon.

Example:   Due to the lack of positive changes for the average person made by Congress, many Americans have a deep-rooted cynicism of politicians.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAgrassroots

All plants have some sort of root structure. Grass is one of the most common plants in the world and its roots are spread evenly under the ground. In politics, a grassroots organization is one that originated by ordinary people, not developed by a larger political party or organization.

Example:    Although millions of Americans created support networks for Barack Obama in the 2008 election, many of those grassroots organizations were dying off and looking for new members for the 2012 election.

leaflets

Trees have thousands of leaves. The idea of a leaf is used commonly to describe pages in a book. Small pieces of paper are also called leaflets and are often used to distribute information in an election.

Example:    If you go to a candidate’s campaign rally in a presidential election, you may receive a leaflet describing the candidate’s best qualities and political experience.

blog - nature - stem of flowerstem from

Plants are attached to the ground through the roots. They grow and produce blossoms or fruit from the stem. Metaphorically, the origin of something may be described as stemming from an event, process or project.

Example:    In late 2011, the approval rating for Congress dropped to only 9%. The frustration with Congress stems from the fact that Republicans and Democrats can never seem to agree on anything and do not pass any laws to help the American people.

offshoot

Some plants have small branches or shoots that grow out of the main stem or trunk. These can also be called offshoots. In common terms, an offshoot is anything that develops out of something else.

Example:    In the war on terror, American presidents must monitor not only the main terrorist organizations but their offshoots around the world as well.

flood

When the water in a river overflows its banks, we call this a flood. Metaphorically, a flood is any extraordinary amount of objects, events, or information.

Example:   After the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York in 2001, there was a flood of reports of other possible terrorist activities.

Results of the flooding in Nashville, Tennessee in 2008
Results of the flooding in Nashville, Tennessee in 2008

flood the airwaves

Radio and television transmissions are sometimes called airwaves. In a special metaphorical phrase, to flood the airwaves means to produce a large quantity of a certain kind of report or political ad on radio and TV channels.

 

Example:   During a presidential campaign, most candidates flood the airwaves with negative attack ads against their opponents.

high water mark

When a river floods, the water rises high above the usual water level. In cities prone to flooding, the people there install a type of measurement system to see how high the water rises in each flood. The highest level the water reaches is called the high water mark. Metaphorically, the phrase high water mark can also mean the highest level of any recorded information.

Example:   During the Great Depression, unemployment hit a high water mark of 25%.

stem the flow

When a river is beginning to flood, the local residents may try to stop the water from rising too high. In other words, they may try to stem the flow of the water. In metaphorical terms, any effort to stop the movement of people, objects or a process may be called stemming the flow.

Example:   Many Americans would like to stem the flow of illegal immigration from Mexico into the United States.

blog - nature - slippery slopeslippery slope

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

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

erode

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

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

soil something

Soil is another word for the dirt that we use for farming, gardening and landscaping. The term soil, however, has a negative connotation in that it indicates something that is metaphorically dirty or unclean.

Example:   The impeachment of Bill Clinton soiled his reputation has a good president.

blog - nature - mud 2mudslinging

Mud is a mixture of dirt and water and is especially hard to clean up. In one of the oldest political metaphors, criticizing someone, often unfairly, is called mudslinging.

 

Example:   Abraham Lincoln had to endure a great deal of mudslinging from his opponents in his reelection campaign of 1864. 

wellspring

A spring is a channel of water coming up from the ground.   A spring that continuously provides fresh water may be called a wellspring. Metaphorically, a wellspring is something that continuously provides information, money, or other commodity.

Example:    Conservative organizations are usually a wellspring of money for Republican candidates in national elections.

blog - nature - natural springhope springs eternal

In a common use of the idea of a spring, the idea of hope providing inspiration to people in hard times is captured in the phrase hope springs eternal.

Example:   In the darkest days of the Great Depression in the 1930s, President Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps created jobs for Americans and gave people the notion that hope springs eternal.

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Metaphors from nature are very common in politics and everyday speech. These examples listed above illustrate how our experience with plants, trees, rivers and springs help create metaphors to explain growth and change in American politics.

Flashback: Obama’s Speech in Cairo, 2009

Following last week’s post, I continue today to add another analysis of the metaphors of Barack Obama’s speeches in response to requests from my readers. On June 4, 2009, President Obama gave a speech in Cairo, Egypt to discuss the challenges of controlling the unrest in the Middle East. The speech may seem a bit dated now, but still reveals many important views of the newly elected president with regard to the Middle East. It also contains a wide variety of metaphors. The examples included today range from metaphors from nature, farming and ranching, music and theater, buildings, personification, physical forces and journeys. The metaphors of physical forces are especially interesting in that Obama uses terms of physical stress and tension to describe the troubles in the Middle East.

All examples are taken directly from the transcript of the speech. Some quotations are repeated if they contain metaphors in several different categories. Italics are mine.

 

Nature

Many political speeches include metaphors from nature due to our close relationship with our environment. In this speech, President Obama uses the metaphors of political movements being born, political tension being rooted in historical forces, while describing separation between religious groups as being in flames, and learning as being a light carried through the centuries.

blog - nature - New_born_poodleExample: “We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words — within our borders, and around the world.”

Example: “We meet at a time of great tension between the United States and Muslims around the world — tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate.”

Example: “That is the world we seek. But we can only achieve it together.

blog - fire - fireExample: I know there are many — Muslim and non-Muslim — who question whether we can forge this new beginning. Some are eager to stoke the flames of division, and to stand in the way of progress.”

Example: “As a student of history, I also know civilization’s debt to Islam. It was Islam — at places like Al-Azhar — that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment.”

 

Farming and Ranching

Humans have long controlled their environments by raising crops and animals. President Obama describes hatred as something that can be sown like seeds on a farm, while extremist violence breeds fear and mistrust like ranchers breed animals, and tension is fed by colonialism like ranchers feed their animals.

Example: “So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, those who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity.”

Example: “The attacks of September 11, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. All this has bred more fear and more mistrust.”

blog - nature - feeding cowsExample: “More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations.”

 

Music and Theater

Comparisons are often made between politics and theater or music. In this case, politicians and countries can play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations while there is musical harmony between traditions and progress.

blog - music - harmony BeatlesExample: “I am honored to be in the timeless city of Cairo, and to be hosted by two remarkable institutions.   And together, you represent the harmony between tradition and progress.”

Example: “To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, recognize Israel’s right to exist.”

 

Buildings

Politicians often compare government programs to buildings. Thus we can take concrete actions and build new programs and countries.

blog - building - concrete blockExample: “We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.” (Applause.)

Example: “Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build.”

Example: “Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible.” (Applause.)

 

Personification

Countries are often seen as people in the type of metaphors known as personification. In this case, President Obama speaks of countries expanding their reach while Americans will not turn their backs on the Palestinians.

Example: “They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.”

Example: “And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.” (Applause.)

 

Physical Forces

It is quite striking that the most common type of metaphor used by President Obama to describe the problems in the Middle East are those metaphors of physical forces. He describes countries being shaped by culture, elevated by a good world order or bonded with other countries. The solidity of physical objects are described in various ways such as bonds which are unbreakable while freedoms are indivisible and beliefs that are unyielding as if they are all made of steel. Governments can also take hold of and maintain power as if they are physical objects. However, the most common metaphor in the entire speech is by far that of tension, used to describe the unrest in the Middle East, as if the countries are objects under tremendous pressure. President Obama used the metaphor of tension a total of nine times.

Example: “We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum — “’Out of many, one.’”

Example: “Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail.”

blog - physical forces - unbreakable glassExample: “America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.”

Example: “Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one’s religion.”

Example: “But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose.”

Example: “So no matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who would hold power: You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.”

blog - physical forces - tension bridgeExample: “We meet at a time of great tension between the United States and Muslims around the world — tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate.”

 

Journey

Not surprisingly, President Obama also uses a wide variety of journey metaphors to explain how the Middle East needs to progress from chaos to peace. Some long journeys require studying a road map, and then people need to take steps to start the journey or launch their vehicles as if they are rockets. People who take the journeys need to make sure they are not going down a dead end, or trapped in a certain place; rather they must move forward. They need to go down the correct path, although it may be dangerous. They may also need to understand what brought them to a certain point of the journey before they can continue forward, or find a bridge to a new route.   They may need to look for a beacon in the distance to achieve their goal as if they are on a ship in stormy seas looking for a lighthouse.

blog - journey - road mapExample: “The obligations — the obligations that the parties have agreed to under the road map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them — and all of us — to live up to our responsibilities.”

Example: “Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be a critical part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.”

Example: “On science and technology, we will launch a new fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries, and to help transfer ideas to the marketplace so they can create more jobs.”

blog - journey - dead end signExample: “This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It’s a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end.”

Example: “Rather than remain trapped in the past, I’ve made it clear to Iran’s leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward.”

Example: “This is not simply about America’s interests. It’s about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.”

Example: “It’s easier to start wars than to end them. It’s easier to blame others than to look inward. It’s easier to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path.”

Example: “I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight. I know there’s been a lot of publicity about this speech, but no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have this afternoon all the complex questions that brought us to this point. But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly to each other the things we hold in our hearts and that too often are said only behind closed doors.”

Golden Gate BridgeExample: “Around the world, we can turn dialogue into interfaith service, so bridges between peoples lead to action — whether it is combating malaria in Africa, or providing relief after a natural disaster.”

Example: “For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning; and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt’s advancement.”

*******

This speech is interesting for several reasons. Historically, it is the only speech I know of given by a sitting U.S. president from Cairo, Egypt. Metaphorically, it contains a wide variety of rich metaphors. While the journey metaphors were not surprising, it is telling that there were many metaphors of physical forces to describe the unrest in the Middle East while the most frequent metaphor of all was that of tension. Sadly, there has not been much progress in the Middle East since this speech in 2009. Even more tension has arisen since the growth of ISIS and the more recent terrorist attacks. I will continue to monitor how metaphors are used to describe the continued acts of terrorism around the world.

 

Next time:  Back to the campaign trail

Metaphors of the 2016 Iowa Caucuses

The 2016 Iowa caucuses were held this past week. Television news broadcasts, as well as newspaper, radio and online reports, were filled with reports of the results of the voting. I looked at a few randomly chosen articles from online websites. I was not surprised that many articles were filled with political metaphors. Two articles in particular, one from CNN and another from NPR, contained a few colorful examples of political metaphors. All of the examples below are taken directly from the texts of the articles. Italics are mine.  Each quotation is labeled as being from either the CNN or NPR article.

blog - primaries - Iowa map 

Nature

            Metaphors from nature are very common in politics. One of the most common ways to describe local political movements is to say that it is a grassroots movement, as if people are blades of grass growing in a local area. One way to describe a political group that is split into many parts is to say that it is fractured, as if it is a rock that is broken in two. We can also describe unusual political situations as if they are chemicals that might explode, saying that they are volatile combinations.

grassroots

Example: “And Marco Rubio’s stronger-than-expected showing could mark him as the establishment’s best hope against a grassroots revolt in next week’s New Hampshire primary and beyond.” CNN 

blog - nature - fractured rocksvolatile, fractured

Example: “One thing is clear after Monday night’s Iowa caucuses: there’s a long, volatile election season ahead before two deeply fractured parties can unite behind a nominee.” CNN

 

Body Position

            We also commonly use experiences with our sense of physical power in our bodies to describe personal or political viewpoints. We often describe asserting one’s rights as standing up for something, while a person representing the interests of a group of people might be described as standing for them.   One quotation from Ted Cruz uses both of these metaphors.

stand up, stand for

Example: “’It is breathtaking to see what happens when so many Americans stand up and decide they’re fed up with what happens in Washington and they want something different. They want a leader they can trust, they want a leader that stands for them against the corruption of Washington,’ Cruz told CNN’s Dana Bash in an interview aired Tuesday on ‘New Day.’” CNN 

Fighting and Hunting

Competition between candidates in an election is often referred to as a series of battles or fights. Candidates may be described as firing shots, beating or beating out opponents or fending off attacks. We also see people described as being in the hunt as if a group of people are tracking wild animals with weapons. At the same time, a campaign may be compared to the military crusades of the 11th – 13th centuries.

The Wolf and Fox Hunt, Peter Paul Rubens, 1616
The Wolf and Fox Hunt, Peter Paul Rubens, 1616

battles, in the hunt

Example: “So for all the predictions that it was a two-way battle for evangelical support, the Florida senator [Marco Rubio] — who was stressing his own faith in last week’s debate and on the trail in the final stretch — was just as much in the hunt and made it a three-way contest.” NPR

fire shots, wage a crusade

Example: “Claiming victory, Cruz fired immediate shots at both Trump and the party elites he has so infuriated by waging an anti-establishment crusade that has nevertheless endeared him to the GOP’s rank and file.” CNN

The South Korean Women's Fencing team won the Silver Medal at the 2012 London Olympic Games
The South Korean Women’s Fencing team won the Silver Medal at the 2012 London Olympic Games

fend off

Example: “Trump, meanwhile, kept trying to fend off questions about his ground operation and whether the huge crowds the reality-TV star drew would translate into enough votes for him to win.” NPR

beat out

Example: “Cruz beat out businessman Donald Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who finished just behind Trump.” CNN

 

Sports and Games

Elections are also compared to games, horse races and gambling activities. The work done by staff and volunteers to encourage local people in a certain state is called a ground game, while elections themselves are called races or horse races, and certain campaign strategies are called gambling with the election that may or may pay off in the casino.

ground games

Example: “Ground games and retail politics still matter.” NPR

blog - games - slot machinesgamble

Example: “Donald Trump thought he could upend Iowa caucus traditions. The gamble didn’t pay off.” NPR

race

Example: “On the GOP side, it was a three-way race for evangelical voters.” NPR 

 

Width: Middles and Edges

Political viewpoints are often compared to left and right sides of the political spectrum. However, politicians who are moderate in their views may be described as being in the middle of the road, as if all political views are spread across a roadway going forward in an election. In another set of metaphors, we describe the difference in election results as being measured across a gap or physical distance. Thus we have the differences described as an edge of a sharp blade or a small margin, elsewhere as being slim, narrow, or razor thin.

Middle of the Roadmiddle of the road

Example: “Her real strength was with middle-of-the-road Democrats — but unfortunately for her, that share had significantly dropped. This year, just 28 percent of voters identified themselves as moderates, down 12 points from 2008. She had a 23-point edge over Sanders with that bloc, though.” NPR

narrow

Example: “Trump was just narrowly their second choice with 22 percent. But it was Rubio who performed much better than expected to get 21 percent of the evangelical vote.” NPR

slimmer

Example: “’We lost (the nonwhite vote), but that gap is growing slimmer and slimmer between the secretary and myself. I think you’ll find as we get to South Carolina and other states, that when the African-American community, the Latino community, looks at our record, looks at our agenda, we’re going to get more and more support,’ Sanders told Cuomo on ‘New Day.’” CNN

margins

Example: “Instead, her margin of victory over Sanders was vanishingly small.” NPR

edges

Example: “But what Sanders did do was bring in more liberal voters to buoy him. Twenty-eight percent of voters described themselves as very liberal — a 10-point jump from 2008. Sanders won those voters by 19 points. Clinton had a 6-point edge with the 40 percent of voters who described themselves as somewhat liberal.” NPR

blog - width - RazorBladesrazor thin

Example: “Hillary Clinton declared victory early Tuesday morning in a razor-thin contest against Bernie Sanders in Iowa. But Democratic party officials have not yet declared a winner.” CNN

*******

It never ceases to amaze me how often we use metaphors when we talk about politics. These two articles describing the results of the Iowa caucuses demonstrate how common these metaphors are. I look forward to hearing what other metaphors are used as we go through the wild and crazy primary season leading up to the 2016 presidential elections.

Next time: More metaphors from the Republican and Democratic primaries.

 

State of the Union Address 2016, Part 2

As I mentioned last time, President Obama’s most recent State of the Union Address was not a typical SOTU speech. It looked backwards more than looking forwards. He also didn’t use a great number of metaphors. However, there were several examples of metaphors of sports, nature, machines and buildings that I covered in my last post. Today I would like to describe several more complex metaphors from physical forces, personification and journeys. As always, the examples are direct quotations from the transcript of the speech. Italics are mine.

Physical Forces

Ever since we were toddlers, we have learned to control our environment with our hands and our tools. We shape and tie and cut things thousands of times in our lives. We can bind something with string or be bound by a common creed. We can plant seeds in a trench, or have entrenched interests. We can also shape and reshape our lives, push and pull our way through lives, or lift, boost and elevate our lives. We also see more violent metaphors such as beat, break through, take out, and stamp out problems. Finally, there are numerous examples of cutting abstract processes as if they are vegetables on a cutting board. President Obama uses all of these metaphors of physical processes to describe his programs and goals for the future.

Example: “Voices that help us see ourselves not first and foremost as black or white or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born; not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed. Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word — voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love.”

Example: “None of this will happen overnight, and yes, there are plenty of entrenched interests who want to protect the status quo.”

blog - SOTU16 - shape potteryExample: “We’re every immigrant and entrepreneur from Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley racing to shape a better world.”

Example: “We live in a time of extraordinary change — change that’s reshaping the way we live, the way we work, our planet and our place in the world. It’s change that promises amazing medical breakthroughs, but also economic disruptions that strain working families.”

Example: “Right now, we are on track to end the scourge of HIV/AIDS, and we have the capacity to accomplish the same thing with malaria — something I’ll be pushing this Congress to fund this year.”

Example: “It’s made it harder for a hardworking family to pull itself out of poverty, harder for young people to start on their careers, and tougher for workers to retire when they want to.”

blog - forces - pullExample: “…but on issues of global concern, we will mobilize the world to work with us, and make sure other countries pull their own weight.”

Example: “The bipartisan reform of No Child Left Behind was an important start, and together, we’ve increased early childhood education, lifted high school graduation rates to new highs, and boosted graduates in fields like engineering.”

Example: “There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber who would like to see more cooperation, a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the demands of getting elected.”

Example: “Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there.”

Example: “Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell.”

blog - SOTU16 - stamp outExample: “That’s how we stopped the spread of Ebola in West Africa. Our military, our doctors, and our development workers set up the platform that allowed other countries to join us in stamping out that epidemic.”

Example: “More than 14 million new jobs; the strongest two years of job growth since the ’90s; an unemployment rate cut in half.”

Example: “Now, we’ve actually got to cut the cost of college.”

Example: “I think there are outdated regulations that need to be changed, and there’s red tape that needs to be cut.”

blog - SOTU16 - cutting vegetablesExample: “Meanwhile, we’ve cut our imports of foreign oil by nearly sixty percent, and cut carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth.”

 

Body Position and Personification

We deal with the world by seeing it with our eyes and facing it with our bodies. Thus, we have many metaphors based on our own body positions. We also commonly use personification in politics, acting as if the entire United States is one person. We face our adversaries, turn inward and turn against each other. We also have standing in the world, and reach our limits, and be clear-eyed and big-hearted. Countries and government programs can also have strengths and weaknesses.

President Barack Obama attends a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Jan. 28, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

Example: “But such progress is not inevitable. It is the result of choices we make together. And we face such choices right now. Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, and turning against each other as a people? Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, what we stand for, and the incredible things we can do together?”

blog - SOTU16 - reachExample: “Surveys show our standing around the world is higher than when I was elected to this office, and when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead — they call us.”

Example: “When you come after Americans, we go after you. It may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limit.”

Example: “That’s the America I know. That’s the country we love. Clear-eyed. Big-hearted.”

blog - SOTU16 - strong America womenExample: “That’s why Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever; we shouldn’t weaken them, we should strengthen them.”

Example: “As someone who begins every day with an intelligence briefing, I know this is a dangerous time. But that’s not because of diminished American strength or some looming superpower.”

Example: “Because of you. I believe in you. That’s why I stand here confident that the State of our Union is strong.”

 

Journeys

Finally, as I mentioned last time, there are not as many journey metaphors as one might expect in a State of the Union address. However, there are a few examples worth mentioning. President Obama describes people not moving forward in their lives as being trapped or stuck in the red of debt. He also describes people who want to slam the brakes on change or something that grinds to a halt as if it were a vehicle in motion. Starting a new journey requires opening the door and leaving one’s house. And then one must get on track to continue the journey and keep pace with one’s competitors. Finally, if one is on the right path of their journey, they can get through tough times and reach their destinations and goals.

blog - immigration - Lobster_trapExample: “There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber who would like to see more cooperation, a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the demands of getting elected.”

Example: “And we have to make college affordable for every American. Because no hardworking student should be stuck in the red.”

Example: “Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change, promising to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control.”

blog - SOTU16 - brakesExample: “Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise; or when even basic facts are contested, and we listen only to those who agree with us.”

Example: “That’s why we restored diplomatic relations, opened the door to travel and commerce, and positioned ourselves to improve the lives of the Cuban people.”

Example: “Right now, we are on track to end the scourge of HIV/AIDS, and we have the capacity to accomplish the same thing with malaria — something I’ll be pushing this Congress to fund this year.”

Example: “And the international system we built after World War II is now struggling to keep pace with this new reality.”

blog - SOTU16 - pathExample: “No nation dares to attack us or our allies because they know that’s the path to ruin.”

Example: “We can’t afford to go down that path.”

Example: “America has been through big changes before — wars and depression, the influx of immigrants, workers fighting for a fair deal, and movements to expand civil rights.”

*******

Cleary, this final State of the Union Address is not a typical forward-looking speech. Instead, we find numerous examples of metaphors describing his frustrations with lack of progress in certain areas of the government while celebrating his successes in his two terms in office. I have certainly enjoyed analyzing President Obama’s speeches the past few years. Please let me know if you have any comments or questions.

Next time: Metaphors of the Iowa Caucuses

State of the Union Address 2016, Part 1

President Obama’s State of the Union Speech last week was interesting for several reasons. Most SOTU speeches are filled with metaphors looking forward to better days ahead. Thus there are many journey metaphors such as taking steps, on the right path, going around roadblocks, etc. However, since this was Obama’s final SOTU speech at the end of his two terms, he was talking more about looking back instead of looking forward. Although he does use a few journey metaphors, they are not a primary rhetorical strategy in his speech. He mostly describes the progress he has made in his two terms with metaphors of sports, nature, machines, buildings, physical forces, personification, and journeys. Today I will analyze his use of metaphors in the first four categories listed here. As always, the examples are direct quotations from the transcript of the speech. Italics are mine.

Sports

It is very common to talk about group efforts in terms of sports teams. President Obama uses two sports metaphors to indicate how people are working together to solve problems as in team up, or using a wrestling metaphor to describe making a brave effort to defeat an enemy as in gone to the mat.

Example: “Tonight, I’m announcing a new national effort to get it done. And because he’s gone to the mat for all of us, on so many issues over the past forty years, I’m putting Joe in charge of Mission Control. For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the family we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.”

blog - SOTU16 - teamExample: “We’re taking steps to give homeowners the freedom to generate and store their own energy — something environmentalists and Tea Partiers have teamed up to support.”

Nature

It is also very common to describe complex problems in terms of natural phenomenon. The origins of a problem are often described as roots of a tree, while the same word root can be used to mean a process similar to a person or animal digging up food from the ground. Intractable problems can also be described as a marsh or quagmire whose muddy ground makes it almost impossible to cross over. Finally a process that is not succeeding may be described as withering, as if it is a dying flower. President Obama uses nature metaphors to describe problems of terrorism and extreme right-wing politics.

Example: “The Middle East is going through a transformation that will play out for a generation, rooted in conflicts that date back millennia.”

blog - SOTU16 - rootsExample: “We just need to call them what they are — killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed.”

Example: “We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis. That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately weakens us. It’s the lesson of Vietnam, of Iraq — and we should have learned it by now.”

Example: “Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get attention.”

Buildings

Talking about abstract processes often involved comparing them to buildings. We can talk about building lives or nations, building up terrorist organizations, or rebuilding society. We can also talk about supporting or propping up organizations as if they are buildings that are about to fall down.

Example: “Americans understand that at some point in their careers, they may have to retool and retrain. But they shouldn’t lose what they’ve already worked so hard to build.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Example: “And that’s why the third big question we have to answer is how to keep America safe and strong without either isolating ourselves or trying to nation-build everywhere there’s a problem.”

Example: “That’s the story ISIL wants to tell; that’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit. We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, nor do we need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is representative of one of the world’s largest religions.”

Example: “We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis.”

Example: “American leadership in the 21st century is not a choice between ignoring the rest of the world — except when we kill terrorists; or occupying and rebuilding whatever society is unraveling.”

Example: “Even as their economy contracts, Russia is pouring resources to prop up Ukraine and Syria — states they see slipping away from their orbit.” 

Machines and Tools

We are all familiar with various types of machines – everything from household appliances to lawnmowers, cars and trucks. We commonly compare abstract processes to everyday machines. We talk about societies breaking down, or the need to shut down a prison. Sometimes we need to get a machine going again, so we can talk about reinventing a part of society, or reigniting our spirit. To get a machine working again we needs tools to fix it, so we may talk about tools to enforce an agreement, laid off workers retooling for a new job, or the government working to fix problems.

Example: “That’s our approach to conflicts like Syria, where we’re partnering with local forces and leading international efforts to help that broken society pursue a lasting peace.” 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Example: “Most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some narrow interest.”

Example: “That is why I will keep working to shut down the prison at Guantanamo: it’s expensive, it’s unnecessary, and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies.”

Example: “It’s how we reformed our health care system, and reinvented our energy sector;”

Example: “This brings me to the second big question we have to answer as a country: how do we reignite that spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges?”

Example: “Americans understand that at some point in their careers, they may have to retool and retrain. But they shouldn’t lose what they’ve already worked so hard to build.”

Example: “Approve this agreement. Give us the tools to enforce it.”

Example: “It will only happen if we fix our politics.”

blog - SOTU16 - Hand_tools

Next Time: SOTU 2016, Part 2

Martin Luther King’s “Dream” Speech, Part 2

Hello and Happy New Year! This is my first post of 2016. You may have noticed that I changed the theme of the blog with updated photos and formatting. I hope it is a bit easier to read. The menus and social media buttons are now on the bottom of the page instead of on the side. Please let me know if you have any trouble reading any part of the blog. More updates will be coming in the next few months.

As for today, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day next week, I offer a few additional metaphors in his “I Have a Dream” speech from 1963. I first wrote about this famous speech a couple of years ago in a separate post. This article is by far the most often viewed post on my blog. It is clearly a popular research subject for high school and college students around the world.

In addition to the metaphors I discussed earlier, there are several others of note. I discussed the most obvious examples previously but I would like to add a few metaphors of chains, heat, buildings, banking, machines, medicine, family and journeys. I would argue that there is an overarching metaphor of a journey within the speech, with three stages of social position for African-Americans from slavery to freedom to achieving civil rights.  Along the way, the success of the journey was thwarted by societal pressures represented metaphorically by chains, heat, buildings and banking. As always, the examples presented below are taken directly from the transcript of the speech. Some examples are repeated if they contain two different types of metaphors. Italics are mine.

 

Slavery:

blog - MLK - chainsChains – Dr. King simultaneously describes the literal conditions of slavery in the past and the metaphorical oppression of African-Americans in the 1960s with the concepts of chains and manacles. He notes that even after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, they were still not free from discrimination.

Example: “But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.”

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com
www.public-domain-image.com (public domain image)

Heat – He also metaphorically and painfully describes the treatments of slaves as having been burned in flames.

Example: “This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice.”

Freedom:

Buildings – Martin Luther King uses a common metaphor about governments to say that the republic was built by architects in 1776 as if the country were a large building. However, by designing the republic, he argues that they were also promising a good life for all Americans, implicitly disregarding the practice of slavery that was occurring at the same time they were writing that everyone was “created equal.” Once the slaves had been freed after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, they were still not treated fairly in the United States. He describes the marginalization of and discrimination against African-Americans as them being in the corners of a house. However, the revolts against oppression would shake the foundations of that building as if it were an earthquake.

Example: “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.”

Example: “One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.”

blog - MLK - foundation earthquake

Example: “The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.”

Banking – As mentioned in my previous post on this speech, Dr. King uses many metaphors of banking to describe discrimination against African-Americans. Here are a few more examples that I did not include last time, implying that the U.S. government owes civil rights to African-Americans as a bank must pay back money owed to its customers.

Example: “In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

blog - MLK - bank vaultExample: “But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”

 

 

Machines – At the same time he describes the oppression against minorities in the United States, he also describes their reaction and advises them on appropriate behavior. He uses two metaphors describing African-Americans as machines that have been running so long that they are overheating. Thus, one might suggest that the machines need to cool off or blow off steam to protect them from breaking. However, he advises that that the people/machines should instead keep on running at full speed to achieve their goals.

Example: “This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.”

blog - MLK - blow off steamExample: “Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.”

Medication – Similar to the idea of people as machines overheating, Dr. King also suggests a metaphor of a hospital patient who is so out of control that he needs to be tranquilized. Once again, he advises instead that no drug is necessary.

Example: “This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.”

 

Civil Rights:

Family – Another common metaphor used by Dr. King to indicate solidarity and fairness in the United States is the idea of all Americans as one family. In one case, he hopes that everyone can sit down together at a table of brotherhood. In another case, he dreams of a day when black and white children can walk together as brothers and sisters.

Example: “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.”

Example: “I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor’s lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.”

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www.public-domain-image.com (public domain image)

Journey – One of the most common metaphors in Dr. King’s speeches is the idea of the quest toward civil rights for African-Americans as a journey. As he described a metaphorical journey from slavery to freedom, he also describes a literal march in the streets of America without turning back on their goals. His speech analyzed here, of course, was two years before the famous march for voting rights in Selma, Alabama in 1965.

Example: “And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back.”

*******

Even though the speech is only about 1500 words long, it contains some of the richest metaphor usage in the English language. Martin Luther King, Jr. brilliantly described the plight of African-Americans going through the three-step process from slavery to freedom to achieving civil rights in the United States. I hope this second analysis of this amazing speech helps students and teachers gain a better understanding of the oratory skills of Martin Luther King, Jr. As always, feel free to send along further comments or questions.

 

Next time: President Obama’s Final State of the Union Speech

Happy Holidays! Metaphors of Eating!

Happy Holidays!

First of all I would like to thank all of my loyal readers and visitors to this blog. This week marks my 3rd anniversary. I am happy to report that I have now had over 200,000 views to date, and I am averaging about 500 views per day during the academic year, some weeks 700 – 800 views per day. I have more than doubled my viewership each of the three years and hope the blog keeps growing. My viewers are high school and college students from all over the world. I am very proud to be helping so many students understand metaphors. Please let me know if you have any questions about the blog or special requests on certain metaphors that you are studying.

Today, as we go into the holidays and begin overeating during Christmas and New Year’s Eve parties, I thought I would share a few metaphors of eating. I have discussed food in several prior posts including spotlights on meat and potatoes,  desserts and drinks, and types of cooking. Today I would like to share metaphors of the simple process of eating.

Eating 

hungry for something

When we have not eaten in several hours we will become hungry for food. In popular terms, one can also be hungry for other things he or she wants in life.

Example: Many Americans are hungry for a new kind of government in which members of Congress work hard to help working class people.

blog - food - Family_eating_mealconsume/consumer

Consume is another word for eat. While we commonly consume food, metaphorically people and machines consume other things such as natural resources and products. A consumer is anyone who buys products in American stores and marketplaces.

Example: American presidents must consider the fact that Americans consume incredible amounts of oil in their cars and buildings.

Example: American consumers greatly influence the state of the economy with their every day purchases.

chew the fat

A piece of meat with fat requires a longer time to chew. The phrase to chew the fat means to talk about something for a long time, usually with the sense that nothing important is said.

Example: During elections, sometimes candidates will go on popular TV talk shows to chew the fat with celebrities and get more exposure to voters.

eating savings

As with the idea of consuming, eating can be used metaphorically to use up a certain resource. For example, high costs of food and gasoline can eat into people’s savings accounts.

Example: Americans spend less money on vacations when everyday expenses eat into their savings and they cannot afford to travel.

eating higher costs

Businesses may also need to pay for rising expenses out of their own budget. This is sometimes referred to as eating higher costs.

Example: Shipping companies may decide to raise their prices instead of eating the higher costs of gasoline for their cars and trucks.

feast on

If people have a great deal of food at a meal, they may feast on all the food. Metaphorically, journalists can feast on scandals and other big news items generated by politicians.

Example: When John McCain surprised everyone by nominating Sarah Palin as his running mate for the 2008 presidential election, the TV news shows feasted on the big news and spent days talking about Governor Palin’s background.

blog - food - Digestive-systemdigest

When we eat food, our bodies digest it with our internal organs. Metaphorically, we can also digest or understand information that we learn from books and TV.

Example: Many Americans do not vote in major elections because they cannot digest all the complex information about the candidates and the issues.

spoon feed

Babies cannot eat food on their own so their parents must feed them. This is sometimes called spoon-feeding babies. In common terms, people can also be spoon-fed information if they do not understand something.

Example: Well-educated voters do not like to be spoon-fed information on important issues; they want to learn the whole story.blog - food - spoon feed

piecemeal

The term piecemeal is an Old English expression meaning the fixed time to eat a meal. However, the term now indicates doing something in small measured steps instead of in one large effort.

Example: President George Bush added troops in Iraq piecemeal instead of sending them there all at once.

piece of the pie

When a large group of people eat a pie for dessert, they must cut the pie into pieces to make sure everyone gets their share. Metaphorically, the pieces of the pie can represent the opportunities available to someone in a social or financial situation.

Example: Every American works hard to get their piece of the pie: a nice car, a nice house and a good family.

blog - food - slice of piesmall slice

Similarly, one part of something can be called a small slice as if it is a pie or a pizza.

Example: Local grocery stores may only be a small slice of the food market, but their lower prices can be very helpful to people on a budget.

 

blog - food - Assorted_forksfork over

Forks are common utensils for eating and serving food. A host at a party may serve a piece of meat by spearing it with a fork and passing it to a person. One might say the person is forking over the food to the person. In metaphorical terms, one can fork over something that he or she is obligated to give to another person, such as a payment for goods or services. In politics, politicians or taxpayers may have to fork over money to pay a certain obligation.

Example: During the 2008 bailout of the failing banks on Wall Street, American taxpayers had to fork over billions of dollars to keep the banks from closing.

fed up with something

When one has had a big meal, we can say that one is well fed. In slang terms, one can be fed up with some problem, meaning the person is no longer tolerant of something.

Example: Many taxpayers say they are fed up with having to pay higher taxes to pay for government’s mistakes.

IMG_1320pick up the tab

When one goes to a restaurant or bar, the amount one has to pay for the food and drink at the end of the evening is called the tab. In popular terms, picking up the tab means to pay the entire bill for a group of people. In politics, people and groups can pick up the tab to pay for government programs or events.

Example: During an election campaign, the political party may pick up the tab for a candidate’s travel expenses.

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It is always amazing to me that we create political metaphors simply based on everyday activities. It is perhaps no surprise that we have metaphors based on eating – one of the favorite activities of Americans. I hope you have enjoyed these posts this past year and have learned something along the way. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! See you in 2016!

 

 

 

Signature Issues – Synecdoche Part 2

Hello! Sorry for the delay with today’s post. This has been crunch time for my teaching schedule at the end of the quarter. I have been swamped with testing, grades and endless paperwork. I am trying to catch up with my blog posts.

Today I would like to provide the second part of my analysis of synecdoche. The last time I discussed examples from the human body, land, furniture and buildings. This time I explain examples from writing, money, tool, weapons and machines.

Writing

the fine print

In many legal documents, the details of the agreement are very long and complex so they are often printed in small letters. This is usually referred to as the fine print. Thus the small print represents the details of a process or agreement. There is also usually a negative sense to the phrase since people are sometimes fooled by not reading the fine print in a document before they sign it.

Example: Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act was a document of 2700 pages. Members of Congress had to read a lot of fine print before they could vote on it to be passed into law.

blog - business - JohnHancocksignature issues

A signature is a handwritten name. It represents the person’s identity and approval of the document that is signed.   For politicians, the issues that they are most passionate about are sometimes called their signature issues. Their signature represents their interest in those issues.

 

Example: For many Republicans, the signature issues are taxes and government spending.

blog - synecdoche - penthe pen is mightier than the sword

One of the oldest examples of synecdoche in English dates to a British play written in 1839. In this case the pen refers to the power of written documents to cause or end wars, while the sword refers to the power of military weapons to fight a war. Thus, saying that the pen is mightier than the sword indicates that diplomacy is more powerful than military solutions in times of war.

Example: For most American presidents, trouble in the Middle East is a difficult situation to handle. Some prefer military options while others say that the pen is mightier than the sword.

 

Money

hit the pocketbook

A pocketbook is a type of wallet for holding money. When politicians talk about a bad economy affecting the finances of average Americans, they may say that it will hit the pocketbook, meaning their wallet will have less money than usual. In this case, the container represents the important contents inside the container.

Example: The economic crisis of 2008 hit the pocketbook of millions of Americans.

Model of an ancient Roman coin purse
Model of an ancient Roman coin purse

purse strings

Purses for holding money used to be simple leather bags tied with a string. In an old phrase from the Middle Ages, holding the purse strings meant to control the money in the household. As an example of synecdoche, the purse strings represent the money contained in the purse.

Example:  Congress likes to hold the purse strings for funding entitlement programs such as Social Security.

 

Tools and Weapons

blog - synecdoche - forkfield to fork

We use forks to eat our food. In these days of trying to reduce transportation and energy costs of moving food from farms to our groceries stores, politicians have created the phrase of reducing the costs of field to fork. The field represents the farms; the fork represents our eating of the food in our homes.

Example:  Whenever gas prices go up, some politicians support the development of local farmers’ markets to reduce the costs of field to fork.

blog - saber 2rattle sabers

A saber is a type of sword. When some members of Congress begin speaking of going to war against other countries, we may say that they are beginning to rattle their sabers. The sabers represent war or the willingness to go to war.

Example:  After the War in Iraq ended in 2010, some conservative politicians began to rattle their sabers against Iran.

 

Machines

blog - synecdoche - voting_booth voters pull the lever

In some cases, when people go to vote in their communities, they must pull a lever on a small machine that records their votes. In a common phrase, we refer to the process of voting as pulling the lever. The lever represents the entire voting process.

Example: In a presidential campaign, each political party tries to persuade voters to pull the lever for their candidates.

blog - synecdoche - radio dialacross the dial

Before the digital age, radios had a dial that showed the frequencies of each radio station. To go across the dial meant to listen to a wide range of music and news stations. In a modern figurative phrase, to go across the dial means to survey many types of political views on a certain topic. The dial thus represents differing political opinions.

Example:  In the 2008 presidential election, people from all across the dial voted for Barack Obama.

blog - synecdoche - wirewired campaign

Wires have long been used in the construction of radio, television and computer equipment. To say that an office is wired, for example, means that it has the latest technology, especially the best Internet connections and website access. If a campaign is wired, this means that the campaign staff are connecting to voters through websites and social media outlets.

Example: In 2008, some pundits believed that Barack Obama’s wired 2008 campaign helped him win the election.

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I think most American English speakers would not even realize that these examples I have described in the last two posts are types of figurative language since they are so commonly used. Once again, I believe these uses of synecdoche illustrate how easily our minds can understand non-literal language and how common synecdoche is in the English language. I often wonder how speakers of English as a second language know what the heck we are talking about most of the time. As always, questions and comments are welcome!

Next time: A Holiday Smorgasbord of Metaphors!