Top Ten Metaphors of 2007
Saturday, 26 January 2008
2007: A Titanic year for metaphor!
This marks the third year for the Metaphor Observatory’s ever-so-nerdpopular Top Ten Metaphors List. In years past, the Observatory staff had gorged themselves on a slurry of metaphor from the media trough, digested it, then regurgitated it for an inexplicably unappetized virtual readership. We knew that we needed a change to the way we do things. So this year Observatory staff have decided to go in a whole new direction: we have moved our furniture to face the east – and that has made all the difference.
2007 was a lively year for metaphor in the media. Between the Iraq sinkhole, riotous oil prices, a dilapidated housing market and the American electoral donnybrook, we’ve had more than our fair share of disaster on our minds. In general, the language seems to have turned more divisive and hopeless this year; the metaphors increasingly pessimistic in nature. Meanwhile, a growing trend in our language points to a desire for order, with such entries as troop surge, perfect storm and keeping them honest – all of which rhetorically deliver containment of chaos. In good keeping with the trend, flighty social butterfly Paris Hilton got collected, pinned and tagged.
As usual, the Metaphor Observatory’s top metaphors are 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 2007 (ie: Is it contemporary? ).
The Metaphor Observatory’s Top Ten Metaphors for the year 2007:
- 1) Troop surge: Our brainwaves were awash with the surge concept in 2007, brought to mind by Bush’s controversial “troop surge” strategy, introduced late 2006. The press did their best to desiccate the aqueous term, reportedly seeking higher ground with close conceptual cousin “escalation”. In the end, the urge to “surge” was too great to resist, bringing the unpopular strategy and its metaphor into popular use, and giving rise to “surges” in descriptions of markets, polls and violence. This meteorologic rise in popularity begs the question: was the military “troop surge” a thoughtful conceptual aftershock of two other major surges in recent history – the tsunami and Katrina? For its significance to world history and ripple effect on figurative language, “troop surge” is being honored as the top metaphor for 2007. Hopefully next year will find “troop surge” replaced with “troop vacation” – not quite a metaphor, but a great concept.
- 2) Perfect storm: The aging concept of a “perfect storm” has had a resurgence in recent years, conjured up whenever thunder-thirsty meteorologists wanted a hip-wader climax for an overshoe forecast. Quickly drenching newscasts as a metaphor for any bad-news-a-brewin’, it has since strayed from pretentious portent to misguided metaphor, eventually precipitating into the disastrous headline “‘Perfect storm’ for Arizona investment“. “Perfect storm” is also used to describe the psychology of slasher Michael Myers in this year’s remake of Halloween – disarmingly ironic, since the origin of the phrase dates back to an off-handed description of the 1991 Halloween Nor’easter.
- 3) Mortgage Meltdown: Another uncontrollably hot year for the bottomless nucleaphor that finds itself agoo in everybody’s hands – at least, if one is considered powerful enough to have a meltdown. Of particular interest is this year’s liquification of last year’s “housing bubble” into “mortgage meltdown“, and its reminder of the chocolaty melting bubbles of the Aero bar. (We should note that the chocolate metaphor is also hot: perhaps a comfort metaphor for these uncomfortable times). Among other powerhouses reportedly having a meltdown this year: the New York Mets, JetBlue and Britney Spears.
- 4) Explosion: It looks like the roadside bombs in Iraq have finally started shaking figurative language here. “Explosion” has been spreading out in slogans and products everywhere, quietly usurping wallflower sibling ‘burst‘ in product names. A tasty fragment left on the floury drawing board for Pizza Hut’s 3 Cheese Explosion: “aim away from face“.
- 5) Fusion: Not burning out too quickly, the fusion metaphor continues to be a guiding star for the ever-spending youth market, leaving few store aisles unlit by its universal sales power. The most tele-visible product this year was, by far, the Gillette Fusion razor, which we estimate was seen by everyone and their dog (though admittedly, the dogs found the ads a little off-color). The fusion moniker highlights a spectrum of contemporary products including the Crayola Model Magic Fusion, FLY Fusion Pen Top Computer, Oracle Fusion software, Ford Fusion autos, Herbal Essences Fruit Fusions shampoos, and, of course, the SOG Fusion Battle Ax.
- 6) Nintendo Wii: A significant leap from such video game metaphors as “button equals bat” or “joystick equals direction“, Nintendo’s Wii reunites virtual motion with real-world motion, creating a direct cognitive connection between real-world space and virtual space. Thus, one’s room becomes stadium, golf course or race track. The old “button equals tennis racket” is now “space equals tennis racket“, and the basement den becomes a tennis court. Predictably, the user becomes so embroiled in the virtual space that they lose touch with the real space, resulting in injuries caused by full-force contact with real things like ceilings, tables and people. Just like any successful metaphor, one eventually substitutes a figurative world for a real-world entity without even realizing it. Sweet…
- 7) Boxing: It’s another bare knuckle fisticuffs to find an American Grand Poo-Bah and not a moment too soon. Actually, close to a year too soon. The Democratic race started so early that writers wore out their thesauri long before myriad contenders wore out their welcome. As a result, reporters have pounded on the same boxing metaphors so often that their meaning has been, technically, knocked out. Unfortunately for us, this rocky election is not about to throw in the towel.
- 8) Fuel: Oil greased a few palms in 2007 with slick speculators spilling out their effects into the headlines. These days everything fuels everything and this fossil metaphor is running on empty. Too bad speculators can’t drive oil prices back to where they found them.
- 9) Addicted to oil: We should’ve noticed a few years ago when we got our first cravings. That is, when the Honda C-RV came into being late last decade. Now we are formally addicted to oil and just can’t seem to quit. Nor could we quit using this metaphor when oil skyrocketed and our bank accounts hit rock bottom. Time for an intervention?
- 10) Fallout: We just can’t seem to get enough of this bad-news metaphor. If it’s a scandal, it results in fallout. According to a Google News search, there were over 74,000 references to ‘fallout’ in 2007 just in online news sources alone. Perusing the list, one quickly sees that these references are almost entirely metaphorical – we’ve had thankfully few “incidents” involving real fallout in recent years. Now evenly dispersed across the aftermath universe, the fallout metaphor has even had a homecoming to its nuclear domain (See: “Nuclear Fallout for Families“).
- Metaphors that did not make the list: Chocolate, keeping them honest, quagmire, noose, burst, journey, broken, Razr, man-boobs, Vista, tsunami, half-life
Awarded by the Observatory:
Honorable Mention – Shell Oil: Early in 2007, energy giant Shell directed its television audience to an interactive film on its website. The film, titled Eureka, chronicles the invention of an environmentally-friendlier oil drilling method, inspired by the bendy straw. This well-publicized demonstration of applied metaphor is both rare and welcome, earning Shell an Honorable Mention and reminding our readers that metaphor is behind countless innovations.
Special Commendation – Stephen Colbert: This spring, The Colbert Report invited contender Sean Penn and moderator Robert Pinsky for the Meta-Free-Phor-All, featuring a bloodied-metaphor battle between coiny Colbert and punchy Penn. The winner was the audience, which, thanks to this event, will pay closer attention to the metaphors they hear. The Metaphor Observatory challenges His Royal Wedginess (as quasidubbed by the Observatory) to make this an annual event with jugglers, clowns and acrobats, as it was this year – figuratively, that is.
Metaphor Logo of the year – Amitiza: Amitiza, a drug for chronic constipation, gets special recognition for the inspiring collage of metaphors used in its logo, which depicts, well, its product hard at work. We are reminded of DePuy Orthopaedics replacement hip ad, which implied flight is freedom of movement. Amitiza’s logo also implies flight is freedom of movement, but in a much, much different sense…
2) perfect storm – “The perfect storm of campaign 2008”
3) mortgage meltdown – Rate Freeze To Cool Mortgage Meltdown
4) explosion – “Pizza Hut’s 3 Cheese Explosion”
5) fusion – “Crayola Model Magic Fusion”
6) Nintendo Wii – (creates metaphoric space)
7) boxing – eg “Vajpayee, Sonia slug it out in Lucknow”
8) fuel – “Energy Mandates Fuel a Rift”
9) addicted to oil – “‘Black Monday’: Are We Addicted to Oil?”
10) fallout – “Nuclear Fallout for Families“