Top Ten Metaphors of 2006
Thursday, 28 December 2006
2006 has offered us a juicy smorgasbord of metaphor that connects us to both past and future, far away lands and seas, and the largest and smallest of things. Coming out of a year of great disaster and controversy, we entered 2006, a relatively sleepy news year where peace was no longer a destination and we had lots of time for commentary. Not a bad thing for metaphor, since there was much more time for small-print stories and ad campaigns.
Generally, atomic era metaphors were still the big thing, finding their way to store shelves, headlines and big screens. Surprisingly, no one dropped the bomb on anyone else, despite our continuous exposure to the word “fallout”. Kim Jong-il became an urgent threat but was soon forgotten when some other bitter flavor of the day came along. He is said to be building an even bigger dud.
Trenchmouth seems to be spreading this year, as leaders and cartoon characters alike have been saying the wrong things to the wrong people. Nagin’s chocolate, Bush’s course and Foley’s email were all held for contempt in the court of public opinion. Yet Mr. Burns got off with nary a whisper when he broke pace with the hip-hop use of the word “bitch” during Sunday’s family hour (it was, we’ll note, on FOX).
The terms “road map to peace“, “toxic gumbo” and “housing bubble” are among the dropouts from last year’s list, meeting their demise like the old news they are. With little big news to steal the limelight, more products entered this year’s top ten than did last year, including auto, cell and soda varieties.
All in all, we seem to leave this year in pretty much the same tattered condition we found it in: a bottomless war, high gas prices and no sense of direction.
As usual, the Metaphor Observatory’s list of top metaphors was chosen based on a magical combination of the following:
accuracy (ie: Does it make sense as a metaphor?)
popularity (ie: Did it catch on?)
impact (ie: Did it successfully communicate to its audience? )
relevance to 2006 (ie: Is it contemporary? ).
The Metaphor Observatory’s Top Ten Metaphors for the year 2006:
fusion – Thanks in part to mega-marketing by both Gillette and Ford, the superhot metaphor “fusion” tops this year’s list hands down. Among the many other products credited for putting “fusion” in its place: Denny’s D-Fusion Drinks, Herbal Essences Fruit Fusions Collection, the Hoover Fusion Cyclonic Upright Vacuum and Wow Wee’s robotic “fusion of technology and personality“. Fusion, today you are a star!
(see “Cool Fusion“)
course – Of course, we couldn’t let George Bush’s sea-weavery go unnoted. Ever since his decision to scuttle the “stay the course in Iraq” tub-thump in late October, newscasters have scrambled to salvage what they could with headlines like “changing the course in Iraq“. Awarded posthumously the title “Catch Phrase of the Year” by the Global Language Monitor, “stay the course” is charted to join the president’s precedent “road map to peace” in the navigational metaphor boneyard.
(see “White House Abandons ‘Ship’ “)
fallout – Hitting every form of press from Three Mile Island all the way to Chernobyl was the negatively-charged article “Foley Fallout“. The explosive headline was scattered across several networks in the U.S. and in blogs around the world, and lasted so long on C.N.N. that they even changed the font to keep it fresh. Part of the currently trendy nuclear family of metaphors, “fallout” is the black sheep, associating itself with any story involving political scandal and its career-crushing repercussions. Fallout spends little time alone these days.
(see ” ‘Foley Fallout’s’ Long Half Life ”
meltdown – Metaphor hits the big screen this year and in a mammoth way. “Ice Age: The Meltdown” topped the box office in the spring, triggering a detectable rise in “meltdown” use this year. Le Glacier Dairy Queen’s Chili Meltdown GrillBurger and Canadian Tire’s summer Price Meltdown along with supercool anchor Anderson Cooper’s feature “Melting Pot or Meltdown” helped this nucleaphor reach the critical masses in 2006.
bitch – Though playing dead in various dialects as a spiteful person or strong woman, the “bitch” metaphor began littering the hip-hop world dog-years ago with the meaning (sexual) underling. In recent years, however, “bitch” has jumped the lingo fence of hip-hop and is doing tricks in other dialects. Just ask The Simpsons’ old dawg Mr. Burns, who fetched a few raised eyebrows this spring with the primetime Sunday comeback “Dream on, bitch.” Youthful pigskin-headed cell-mate Stewie Griffin has been known to bark out the odd bitch-equals-underling too, making this a top choice metaphor for mouthy characters of all ages and backgrounds.
fuel – While gas prices spiked and let the air out of S.U.V. sales, energy drink sales were skyrocketing. Natural health pop-alike Mountain Dew Energy, first launched in 2002 in Canada, aptly decided to change its pitch slightly in 2006 becoming “Dew Fuel“. Meanwhile, newswriters continued to inject “fuel” into headlines, firing off such titles as “Fuelling Poverty“, “Black History Month: Does It Fuel Racism?” and “Fuelling the War in Iraq“.
hybrid – Hybrid vehicles enjoyed greater attention this year as drivers felt more pressure at the pumps. Ironically piggish in its etymology (a crossbreed between a wild boar and a tame sow), “hybrid” now signifies cleaner, sippier vehicular technology far removed from the rolling, swilling filth of its porcine roots. The nearly unstoppable movement of hybrids into the broader auto market assures us that this metaphor has legs, and a future worthy of investment. That’s some pig.
(see “Hybrids in Style“)
chocolate – New Orleans’ mayor Ray Nagin spent a little time in political hot water early this year when he served up the scalding “It’s time for us to rebuild New Orleans — the one that should be a chocolate New Orleans“. Sized up as racist and seized on by the unimpressed press, Nagin later retrofitted the recipe by claiming he was speaking of chocolate, (the hot beverage, especially the one made with milk, not water), and not chocolate (the candy bar, not made with milk, but it could be, too). He apologized for any confusion. Dissent soon enough melted away and Nagin was re-elected – however his recipe for success this election contained measurably far less milk than it used to.
jazz – This year’s release of Diet Pepsi “Jazz” brings together three key elements: jazz, only one of a collection of music metaphors hitting the product-naming scene in recent years; New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, on our minds since last year’s devastation; and fusion, a popular form of jazz, and popular form of metaphor. Though popster Pepsi’s product may itself one day fizz out, its name will remain an uncanny benchmark in contemporary metaphor.
blackjack – The new smart phone by Samsung with a name resembling its rival the BlackBerry. The trick here is that while gambling metaphors are due to rise in popularity, cell-phones and computers prefer to associate themselves with reliability rather than risk. If the BlackJack is dealt a blow from a pending trademark suit by BlackBerry, Samsung will have to hit the deck and shuffle along.
Special Recognition is awarded to the following people:
The Daily Show and The Colbert Report: For contributing to metaphor awareness. Jon Stewart’s broadcasts frequently mention metaphor by name, and the show joined the Observatory in pointing out Condoleezza Rice’s ten-foot-pole handshake with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora on July 24th. Timeslot-sharing alumni member Stephen Colbert even centerpieced the word “metaphorically” during his segment “The Word“, aired this year. Together, they share the priceless – and completely worthless – title Metaphor Observer of the Year, 2006. The prize will be awarded at the southwest corner of Division and Princess Streets in Kingston, Ontario on January 26th at 8 pm. Neither are expected to attend.
Lou Dobbs Tonight: For his relentless presentation of the metaphors “Red Storm (Rising)“, “Our Broken Borders” and “War on the Middle Class“, we award anchorman Lou Dobbs the title Metaphor Man of the Year, 2006. These same three metaphors have appeared each and every weeknight on his CNN show for many months, and have clearly influenced broader public sentiment through their decisive rhetoric.
Here’s the short version of the list:
1) fusion – “Gillette Fusion”
2) course – “Stay the course” (George Bush)
3) fallout – “Foley Fallout”
4) meltdown – “Ice Age: The Meltdown”
5) bitch – “Dream on, bitch” (Monty Burns)
6) fuel – “(Mountain) Dew Fuel”
7) hybrid – “Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive”
8) chocolate – “Chocolate New Orleans” (Mayor Ray Nagin)
9) jazz – “Diet Pepsi Jazz”
10) blackjack – “Samsung BlackJack”
Note: Due to an unscheduled illness, unseasonably normal temperatures and the so-called Janutardy-Februtardy Effect (the “feelin’ grave-y” months), the annual awards ceremony has been postponed indefinitely. We are deeply sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused our readers, who missed out on the tasty buffet of raw witticisms, the icy basket of out standing remarks and the free bipolar bearback rides. A tentative date for the awards ceremony has been set for some other day, later in time. No one is expected to attend then, either.
The Metaphor Observatory