What a mangled metaphor reveals about its creator

George Orwell warned that when a metaphor gets mangled, that is a sure indication that the writer is not actually thinking about they are saying but is in a kind of auto-mode, not visualizing the idea but just stringing together words that sound good but don’t really mean anything. It is a sign that the writer lacks conviction or does not care. I have observed that this is true for me, that the times when I have been in the auto-mode are when I make errors or say something that makes little sense when examined closely.

I was reminded of this when I read that would-be president Herman Cain had sent out a tweet that said, “A rising tide lifts all boats. A sinking tide hurts the boats at the bottom. Dems don’t want minorities to know that”.

“A rising tide lifts all boats” makes sense literally and thus can be interpreted metaphorically. But what does “the boats at the bottom” mean? Boats don’t stack up, one on top of the other. They all float on the water side by side. When the tide recedes, all boats will get stuck in the mud. In fact, the bigger ones will run aground first since their depth below the waterline is greater. One could make a metaphor out of that to suggest that the rich and powerful are the ones who will be hurt first by an economic downturn, but not only is that not true, it is not be one that would be welcome to the ears of the one-percenters that Cain represents.


  1. Chiroptera says

    …it is not be one that would be welcome to the ears of the one-percenters that Cain represents.

    I disagree. I think this would fit right into their propaganda. Not only do they think they’re smarter than the rest of us, but they also believe they have the most to loose in a bad economy, so we little people should just trust them to run the country and the world!

  2. Mobius says


    In a very limited sense, the 1% will lose more in a bad economy, because if everyone loses 1/10 their 1/10 is bigger. But then, they can afford the loss whereas many of the 99% can NOT afford the losses they will experience. When it takes everything you make just to pay for the basic necessities, any loss is devastating.

  3. Trebuchet says

    A rising tide does NOT lift all boats. Those anchored to the bottom with too short a chain get sunk.

  4. brucegee1962 says

    The “rising tide” metaphor is an example of how metaphors tend to be a poor way of communicating, anyway.
    While it may be true that a rising tide raises all boats, that in no way proves the corollary that a rising economy helps the poor. It MAY. But it won’t automatically do so.

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