September 16th, 2013 .

Block That Metaphor

Pat Morden

During the recent media coverage of the re-floating of the Costa Concordia off the coast of the Italian island of Giglio, the mayor of the tiny community was quoted as saying,

Metaphorically this is like giving birth, so it is painful because this has been a tragedy. At the same time it has entailed a great commitment and sense of responsibility on everyone’s part in order to reach this important moment. For us, finally, this will be the removal of a huge problem that we have in our port and that we want to solve as soon as we can.”

The first time I heard the quote it was truncated to read, “Metaphorically this is like giving birth. It will finally be the removal of a huge problem.”  On behalf of all mothers, I was deeply offended. Certainly I don’t feel that giving birth to my two sons, now magnificent young men, involved the removal of a huge problem.

This is a perfect example of what happens when you lose control of your metaphors. Metaphors are wonderful things, capable of bringing clarity and vividness to language.  But without discipline, they can get loose and (to misquote Stephen Leacock) ride off in all directions. A metaphor on the run is a terrifying sight. Sometimes it’s best just to put it out of its misery. Or perhaps never give birth in the first place?

I rest my case.

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