Metaphor of the Month! Cold War

Berlin WallThis old veteran, who served from the late 1940s through the early 90s, recently returned to active duty in news reports about Russia, the US, and China. So I got curious about who first drafted him as a metaphor.

One can find uses of the term from as early as the 19th Century, but in the modern sense, it refers to the mostly nonviolent arms race and nuclear standoff between the Warsaw Pact and NATO. Politico has Bernard Baruch stating it in 1947, but I think that George Orwell beat him to the punch. Though Baruch may have popularized the term, Wikipedia has the matter correct here. In a 1945 first-cited reference given by the OED, Orwell wrote in “You and the Atomic Bomb,” of a “permanent state of ‘cold war’ with its neighbours.” And it seemed permanent to us in the 60s and 70s. We could not recall a time of friendship with the USSR or the nation we called “Red China.”

I grew up under the shadow of the Berlin Wall and the mushroom cloud, as I recently told a student anxious about a possible nuclear exchange over the war in Ukraine. Sometimes memories of the fall of the Berlin Wall seem distant, in this new era of major-power tensions.

Then our President at the G20 summit, in a move utterly at odds with his showboating, clownish predecessor, met China’s leader for serious talks. Xi and Biden discussed very sensitive issues, including Taiwan, and our President declared that no new Cold War has begun.

That may be cold comfort to my student, but having lived 30 years with the standoff between the US and Soviet superpowers, I wanted to give some reassurance that sanity prevailed then. May it again. I end with two images: a 1960s interception of a Soviet nuclear bomber by an Air Force F-102, then one that just occurred with a modern US F-22 jet tagging along, a mere 8 miles from US airspace.

bomber intercepted 2

bomber intercepted 1

Some things change more slowly than our language. Students, if you are reading this, I recommend that you take a few classes about that fraught era.

As things do change, if you have words that have changed, words that have not, or interesting metaphors, send to them in by e-mailing me (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

Images courtesy of Wikipedia.

 

Metaphor of the Month! Pollyanna

Pollyanna DollToday I told my class that while I’ve been called “bumptious” (irritating and conceited, and a former word of the week) I’ve never been called a Pollyanna.

Who was this person? The OED has her as the brainchild of American children’s author Eleanor Hodgman Porter (1868–1920). Pollyanna was a relentlessly and often naively cheerful character. I’d call that sort of person “perky,” and they irritate me to no end, being a bit of a grump (I was chosen to be Scrooge in our 6th Grade Christmas play).

The OED has our word not appearing very often in modern speech, and that’s a pity. Students may encounter our metaphor in the contexts of Political Science, Leadership, History, Journalism, or Literature on our campus.  I don’t know anyone who reads Porter’s works these days, but we have Pollyannas aplenty. From the OED, a 2003 example: “Although the authors conclude that ecological sustainability is slowly gaining ground, they are no pollyannas.”

Read a fine piece from Atlantic Monthly, “How We All Become Pollyannas (and Why We Should Be Glad About It)” for a nuanced look at the fictional character. She turns out not as irritating as we might believe, though Ruth Graham does note how “When she gasps in rapture upon being sent to her room to read a pamphlet about houseflies and hygiene, it’s impossible not to roll your eyes.” Despite that moment, Pollyanna fought off gloom by working to be happy.

That’s a good lesson for everyone. Now all you Pollyannas, Negative Nellies (and Neds), Bumptious Bobs, and other malcontents or perky folk, I need your words and metaphors for this blog.

Send them to me by e-mail (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

“Large Vinyl Pollyanna Doll” courtesy of Wikipedia.

Word of the Week! Scrofulous

Some background here, ye corky-armed poltroons: I be playin’ a game with some academic friends that involves pirate ships and sailing. It’s great fun: one can design a ship, navy or pirate, and learn to tack, raise and lower sails, fire cannon with several types of shot, and (of course) be sunk down to Davy Jones’ locker.

Sea-faring has a rich vocabulary, some of which in time entered academic parlance and common use (“against the wind” comes to mind).

Likewise, nicknames with adjectives yield some excellent (cannon) fodder for this blog.

Recently several of us, between battles on the virtual sea, devised alliterative pirate names.

“Pestilential Pete” proved a fine one. “Scurvy” gets overused and can be easily solved by citrus on a ship (hence, the clever English who figured this out got called Limeys).

But what about “Scrofulous Sam”?  That was my pick. It’s not because our pirate suffers from the lymphatic disease called Scrofula, though that is the origin of our word this week, as the OED shows us. Nay, Matey, belay that thought!

Sam would more likely (he is a pirate) to suffer from a moral depravity. As the OED entry notes, Sam would be “morally corrupt.” Never confuse the word with “scruffy,” of similar antiquity but denoting physical shabbiness.

While first usage of this week’s term dates back to the 17th Century, it was only in the Victorian era that we see a first-use metaphorically, in relation to morals. An 1889 example shows how the term appears in print, and readers today are likely to encounter it in Victorian literature like this:

“Holywell-street was re-named ‘Booksellers’-row’ because of its scrofulous reputation.”

A nasty word, but formal-sounding at this distance in time, as is “pestilential” or even “barbarous.” Drawing-room dialogue in Downton Abbey, the characters never fearing the eruption of pirates, plague-victims, or Visigoths during tea hour.

At least until the next sequel. Avast!

Be thou lubber or old salt, a tar or a pantaloon, scrofulous or saintly, this blog be keepin’ a weather-eye out for new words and metaphors! Sam will take your messages in a bottle at jessid-at-richmond-dot-edu

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Flag image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Metaphor of the Month! Horse Latitudes

Sopranino cover imageEvery summer, I read something nautical. I’m a mountain and not a water person, but sailing and ships really interest me. The closest I get is from my fishing kayak (and this has been a good fishing year for me). Four years have passed (!) since I did my last nautical metaphor, doldrum.

Part of my interest in ships and sailing involves the riches of vocabulary they bring us. In several books I encountered our rather antique metaphor, another of those terms I’d love to see used more commonly again. As the OED informs us, the term refers to a “belt of calms and light airs which borders the northern edge of the N.E. trade-winds.”  Usually the term simply indicates the literal area, even in our time of steam-ships.

The origin of the term remains unknown to the OED editors. The tales of sailors lightening their load by throwing effigies or actual horses overboard seems a stretch to this landlubber, given the animals’ value. Eating them when becalmed and starving? Possibly, according to a writer at Medium.

Metaphorically, our term suits June and early July well for academics. We are deep in our summer projects, and campus is silent of most student noise. Sometimes we have little bursts of activity; the winds pick up, so to speak. In that area of calm between steady winds, Facilities repairs and builds, plans for the year are laid down. It’s my favorite time of year, even though most summer weeks I work from home.

This summer’s read? Sopranino by Patrick Ellam and Colin Mudie. They designed and sailed the world’s smallest ship–a 19′ sailboat rated for ocean travel–across the Atlantic. It’s a great story told in a light, yes, breezy style from a simpler time than ours. They do run into several sudden calms off South America, in the horse latitudes. They also get robbed in Jamaica, but being charmers, content the crooks with a few dollars. The books remains out of print but old copies are easy to find.

As Summer skims along like a fast racing yacht, I’ll post your entries. Do you have a word or metaphor for this blog?  Send them to me by e-mail (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Image from the 2011 edition.

Word of the Week! Sybaritic

Theatre of Sybaris

Here’s a term (a metaphor, really) that I misunderstood. For the longest time, I believed that it implied sensual decadence, the sort we might associate with gluttons and pornographers. In other words, hedonism.

Wrong. Though excess is possible for sybarites, my guide to a more nuanced meaning of our word comes from Patrick Leigh Fermor’s excellent, three-volume account of a walk he took from The Hook of Holland to Constantinople. I’ve finished volumes one and two, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and The Water. Simply put, Leigh Fermor proved himself one of the finest travel writers of the 20th Century, among other things all starting with the letter P: polymath, prodigy for languages, patriot. You’d do well to pick up his books.

And yes, he was a sybarite who enjoyed drinking, art, natural scenery, and beautiful women. No wonder James Bond and Indiana Jones are said to have a bit of Fermor in them.

As a commando in the Second World War, his fluency in both German and Cretan Greek was so prodigious (another P) that he led a team of commandos disguised as German officers who captured Major General Heinrich Kreipe. While waiting for a boat to Egypt, Fermor and Kriepe sat in a cave, passing the time by smoking cigarettes and spouting lines of verse at each other in ancient Greek.

But like the man himself, I digress. Fermor’s digressions go on for pages, but they entertain. I’m not sure that a dissertation on Sybaris, an ancient Greek city in southern Italy “noted for its effeminacy and luxury” in the words of the OED entry, would prove even a shadow of Fermor’s words.

We today recoil at the use of “effeminate” in a pejorative, even misogynistic sense. In Fermor’s reckoning, however, anyone can enjoy good food, drink,  art, or the company of witty, beautiful people. I remain uncertain about how the prosperous Greek city came to be associated with decadent enjoyment. Jealousy, perhaps, of the wine cellars and good life to be  had in Sybaris? I’d prefer life there to, say, Sparta. Both cities are curious ruins today: perhaps that too is a warning about the virtues of moderation?

Yet forget moralizing and think luxurious thoughts for April, perhaps our most sybaritic month of all.

Do you have a word or metaphor for this blog?  Send them to me by e-mail (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

 

Metaphor of the Month! Tomfoolery

Fool's Cap

In what seems now ancient history in the year 2019, I covered the metaphor of an April Fool. It is April Fool’s Day as I write this, so I sought about for another foolish word.

So who was Tom? A generic name, equivalent to our “Joe Blow” or “John Q. Citizen,” if we are to believe the etymology given by Merriam-Webster’s Online site. This origin gets repeated by sources found with Google. Thome would have been foolish indeed for his example to endure many centuries. Admittedly, we do still call miserly folks “Scrooges,” but we have Uncle Ebenezer (I played him in our 6th Grade Christmas play) to remind us of Dickens’s original humbugler.

As usual, I sought out the OED for clarity and authority on this matter. Thome Fole was English, right?

Yes indeed. Tom was a common name in Medieval England, and as the OED explains, the earliest recorded examples from the 14th Century likely refer to specific jesters named Tom. I’m reminded of a later Tom, “Poor Tom,” the madman Edgar feigns to be from King Lear. Later, the term simply became generic, with the older spelling “fole,” from the Anglo-Norman foole, becoming our “fool.” And there we have it.

Who else from myth or history has a name that became metaphor? Tyrants, certainly, and dictators. Think of all the “Little Hitlers” since 1945. Consider the many Lincolns who have freed people and scores of Cassandras trying to warn us (though we fools do not listen).

Send words and metaphors, wise or foolish, to me by e-mail (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Metaphor of the Month! Pyrrhic Victory

Battle of Santa CruzWe have, for the first time since the 1990s, a European war on. In fact, we have the first since 1945, if one considers the tragedy in the Balkans, after the breakup of Yugoslavia, to be a civil war.

If President Putin triumphs, however, it appears that his victory will be pyrrhic. That metaphor has a long, interesting history but also, as descriptor, it reveals a long past of human suffering.

The adjective pyrrhic denotes an ancient Greek war-dance. Check that etymology at the OED link. In this sense, the term has no related to King Pyrrhus of Epirus, who won a battle against the Romans but at a terrible cost in irreplaceable manpower. Recent examples might include some of Japan’s early victories in World War II. Their navy, in particular, lost aviators who had been some of the best in the world, in 1941. They never replaced them properly, with horrible consequences for their military and civilian population.

Wikipedia lists other examples. The term enjoys use beyond military history; any contest where the winner comes out weaker could be labeled a Pyrrhic Victory. Consider this example from 1998, in  the OED entry on pyrrhic as adjective:

For the Chancellor who has been running Germany for 16 years, pushing through the euro could be pyrrhic.

That entry also has a great deal about our metaphor, including a first usage in the 17th Century.

Any victory that the Russian President and his circle of minions achieve may be added to the list of nation-breaking victories. I’d prefer peace, with honor for Ukraine, and without more bloodshed. Right now, however, that prospect appears remote.

Do you have a word or metaphor for this blog?  Send them to me by e-mail (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

Image of Battle of Santa Cruz courtesy of Wikipedia.

 

 

Metaphors of the Month! Silly Love Songs

Bryan Ferry

Happy Valentines Day. Will you be my Valentine? That itself is metaphor, and you can read about the actual Saint(s) Valentine here. Warning: you will find a severed head in that box of chocolates.

Out of curiosity, and a desire for a week to avoid writing about academic language, I decided to have a bit of fun with love-song metaphors. I ate a lot of saccharine (another metaphor) to give you folks the most overused figures of speech for love and lovers out there.

They say the world is full of silly love songs. So what’s wrong with that? I need to know. I pick on Boomer-Generation artists here, mostly. I don’t listen to formulaic contemporary pop, preferring Americana, indie rock, or old punk and glam. The other type of music I like, electronica, has no words so no metaphors can be found.

Love-and-lover metaphors from Country and Western music (those two types of music played at Bob’s Country Bunker in The Blues Brothers) merit an entire post. I’ll be walking the floor and walking the line over that subject in a year.

Love as controlled substance, and more: Maybe you have been drunk with love, but if you listen to Bryan Ferry, pictured up top, you will find a number of rather disturbing metaphors. The decidedly louche crooner remains one of my favorite musicians, but really. In Ferry’s lyrics, one can be a slave to love, and love is the drug, of course, prescribed and dispensed by his and David Stewart’s “Goddess of Love.”

Come to think of it, a person can have a “bad case of loving you,” and the Doctor of Love can “give you the pill.” That’s right, kids, just call Doctor Love. He is not a mental-health professional, clearly. When Bryan Ferry cries out “love me madly,” there is no cure. That makes sense, if you’ve known someone made insane by love.

Now we are really off to the races (the heart races, naturally) in an open car with Love, who is a stranger, after all. Love hurts, love binds, love wounds, love shines, love is painful (it really hurts a lot) until love is lost. Up to that sad point, one becomes a prisoner of love or a victim of love because love is a battlefield. If you survive, you are singed, because love is like a flame. It burns you when it’s hot.

Love birds provide a gentler metaphor where two hearts beat as one. But wait, we have a bunch more hearts to deal with here. Deep in your heart of gold (Neil Young is still searching for one) you may find a change of heart, and that brings us to all the following metaphors for the embers of love’s once-bright flames, as love grows cold.

Broken Hearts, Etc: I will give Janis Joplin a break because 1) She’s dead and 2) “Piece of My Heart” remains such a great song.  Yet the end of a loving relationship, when “you’ve lost that loving feeling,” spawns its own series of cliches (remember: all cliches once were fresh). Love can make one heartsick, or hearts can be stepped on. It’s a matter of the heart, you know, so stop dragging my heart around. A cold-hearted lover may have a heart of stone. Hearts can be given away and not returned.

Maybe that is why Warren Zevon, who has more than earned a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, goes out “searching for a heart,” one of his finest songs that somehow makes an old subject sound new, as he moves from a tired cliche to some interesting similes,  noting “They say love conquers all / You can’t start it like a car / You can’t stop it with a gun.”   I suppose in time those similes might become cliched, too. Or maybe not. Zevon and R.E.M. teamed up as The Hindu Love Gods for a single release, and I don’t see anyone imitating the work from that one-off experiment.

Love Light:  I saved the most overused for last. We’ve all seen it, in the eyes of our intended.

Just. Find. A. Fresh. Metaphor. People. We need more than this, Bryan Ferry!

Help me shine a light on interesting words and metaphors by leaving a comment below, or by e-mail at jessid-at-richmond-dot-edu.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

 

 

Metaphor of the Month! Under the Radar

British Radar, World War 2This metaphor gives me the chance to engage in a bit of aviation-geekery. I am also certain I can figure out a Holiday angle, as the season did suddenly come upon me by surprise after a year that dragged on, slowly: a rarity at my age.  Such unexpected events can be said to have flown under the radar.

So where did it come from, this term? The OED has many radar-related metaphors we use constantly, and they’d provide good training on the vagaries of phrasal verbs (ones that have a preposition after them) for English-Language Learners. Consider the nuances between these sentences:

  • Sorry I missed the meeting. It wasn’t even on my radar.
  • Several unpopular provisions of the law flew under the radar until just before a final vote in the Senate.
  • Briefly the darling of campus technologists and a few educators, the use of virtual worlds in learning fell off the radar after just a year or two.

“Below the radar” and “under it” pretty much imply the same thing: something slipped in unnoticed. Storms actually do this and so can stealthy aircraft or low-flying ones.

These metaphors started turning up in the 1980s; I find that date unusual, as radar played an enormous role in aerial warfare during the Second World War. The word itself is an acronym for “Radio detection and ranging,” first appearing in 1940, when the United Kingdom used it to great effect to detect Luftwaffe aircraft bound for British cities during the Battle of Britain.  At the time, London claimed that their anti-aircraft gunners were doing so well because their eyesight had been improved by eating lots of carrots.

Step back a moment. I recall when that lie, worthy of a Monty-Python skit, still had some currency.  The truth of the matter did not fly quite under the radar, as the Germans knew about British radar installations and attacked them. They had radar of their own, as did all the major combatants.

You can find an interesting history of British radar myths at The Spitfire Site, where I borrowed the Creative-Commons image above of a German radar installation. Happy landings!

And it cannot hurt to eat more carrots.

Please send interesting  words and metaphors and send them to me by e-mail (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Word of the Week! Comorbidity

Comorbidity imageProfessor Joe Hoyle sends us another word, albeit one better suited to Halloween than Thanksgiving. The OED’s definition is brief, “the coexistence of two or more diseases, disorders, or pathological processes in one individual.” First instance they track? 1967, making our word a neologism. These disorders can be psychological or neurological, our graphic shows (creative commons licensed).

The word has deep roots, however; “morbid” goes back centuries, and we associate it with death. Yet our Word of the Week does not imply death; many of us live with diseases for years, even decades. My doctor recently told me about an ailment that, thankfully, I do not have. With this particular disease men my age “die with it, not from it.” It’s often a comorbidity with other disorders.

Our word gets used metaphorically, these days. Professor Hoyle cited an article about a particularly detestable former American leader, where the author claimed that he “was a comorbidity.” I think the claim implies that this rascal carries all the illnesses besetting our the nation: xenophobia, toxic nostalgia, avarice, misogyny, anti-scientific thinking, cronyism, militarism, racism. In short, that man is a walking, bloviating cluster of societal diseases.

Pleasant stuff, even in a pandemic.  Stay well, folks. Nation. Avoid comorbidities if you can.

Please send interesting  (or morbid) words and metaphors and send them to me by e-mail (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.