Metaphor Man: Mixing Metaphors

Colin Powell’s name recently crossed Metaphor Man’s email inbox, after his appearance on “Meet the Press” in which he was accused by Politico of “mixing his metaphors.”  What Powell said, verbatim, is this:

“[T]he President … has to, I think, shift the way in which he has been doing things. I think the American people feel that too many programs have come down. There are so many rocks in our knapsack now that we’re having trouble carrying it. I think the president has to, like a razor blade, just go right after the single issue that is uppermost in the minds of the American people, and that’s employment. And he’s done a lot with health care, with cap-and-trade, with education. And I understand the importance of all of that. But as far as the American People are concerned, the main attack is employment. … I think he has lost some of the ability to connect that he had during the campaign. And it is not just me picking on the President. It’s reflected in the polling.”

Two specific things make this sound odd. One is that “rocks in the knapsack” and “having trouble carrying it” occur so close to the “razor blade” image; your brain is still parsing the knapsack image, then it’s jolted with the razor blade. Another is that the “razor blade” really isn’t the prototypical object you’d associate with single-minded purpose; it should be “laser beam.” (Which suggests that he might have inadvertently said “razor” even though he intended to say “laser.” ) Globally, the sentences are odd because they violate at least three of Grice’s four conversational maxims; Metaphor Man suggests you argue about which ones in the comments.

Of course, Powell is speaking off the cuff — maybe he has talking points, but he’s not reading from prepared remarks, so doesn’t enjoy the brilliance of forethought.  And let’s the note the other metaphorical language he swings more successfully (which have been put in bold).

“[T]he President … has to, I think, shift the way in which he has been doing things. I think the American people feel that too many programs have come down. There are so many rocks in our knapsack now that we’re having trouble carrying it. I think the president has to, like a razor blade, just go right after the single issue that is uppermost in the minds of the American people, and that’s employment. And he’s done a lot with health care, with cap-and-trade, with education. And I understand the importance of all of that. But as far as the American People are concerned, the main attack is employment. … I think he has lost some of the ability to connect that he had during the campaign. And it is not just me picking on the President. It’s reflected in the polling.”

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Metaphor Man: Mixing Metaphors

  1. A notification of Michael’s post didn’t go out this morning, so I’m commenting simply so that blog subscribers know that it’s here!

    Like

  2. There were some good metaphors in the atricle and I liked the knapsack being heavy. I can visualize this for the President and all the issues on his plate or that he carries in his pack and for the people carrying their own burden.
    I see some of the metaphor words as rather violent ie. “main attack”,”picking on “and the notion”of using a razor blade” like a knife “is gross and bloody”. It is amazing how a metaphor can immediately create images for one so they need to be used with some caution. Using the idea of knapsack and talking about lightening the load by sorting through priorities or heavy burdens might work . We need to acknowledge the people with the heavy load too and the devastation that unemployment can have on individuals and families. Blaming the President does not fix the issue nor are there any other strategies provided. Colin Powell is a man I have respected on many issues.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s