Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Marching, cruising front-runners gain upper hand

Here we go again. Metaphors run amok!

Front page of today’s Oregonian. Lead story. Top right.

Let’s count the metaphors.


Illinois Sen. Barack Obama cruised (1) past New York Sen. Hillary Clinton in the Wisconsin primary Tuesday, gaining the upper hand (2)* in a Democratic presidential race (3) for the ages (4?).

But wait! There’s more!

Second paragraph.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, the Republican front-runner (5) [actually a repeat of #3 above], won a pair of primaries, in Wisconsin and Washington, to continue his march (6) toward certain nomination.

At least we don’t have “battleground states,” “’air’ wars,” “war rooms” “near knockout blows,” “routs,” “thrashings” and “poundings.”

That’s good because the story quotes Obama talking about ending the war (the real one in Iraq). Perhaps the reporter, the AP’s David Espo, could see the reference coming and restrained himself. Best not to use political war metaphors in political stories mentioning war and its death and devastation.

Reality exposes war metaphors as the shams they are.

By the way, that’s why I’ve suggested on numerous occasions that the University of Oregon and Oregon State University declare peace and stop referring to their low-stakes athletic rivalries as a high-stakes “Civil War.”

Ducks! Beavers! Are you listening? Or are you just, well, Beavers and Ducks?

* The origin of “Gaining the upper hand” according to the American English Sports Games Idiom site is "the medieval gambling practice of throwing a stick to your opponent who would catch and hold it. Players would alternate hands around the stick until one won by having "the upper hand" on the stick, no room being left for another hand."

Come to think of it, I used to do this as a kid to determine which side would bat first. The thrown stick in question was our baseball bat. After the catch, we did the hand-over-hand. The kid left grasping the top had to pass one final test. If he could hold on to the bat as it was kicked by an opponent, his side was awarded "the upper hand" and the first at bat.

It seems like a long way from what Barack Obama did in Wisconsin on Tuesday.

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