"2008 Was An 11" - List of Top Metaphors Released

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The 2008 Top Ten List of Metaphors in The Media has just been released by The Metaphor Observatory. The list, gathered from various forms of media, shows the effect of current affairs and concerns on metaphor. Among the top metaphors in 2008 were "Joe the Plumber", "Angry Whopper" and "Rock Star".

is one of several references to anger last year, presumably sparked by such things as the housing market collapse, high energy prices and stolen retirement dreams

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The Metaphor Observatory has released its fourth annual Top Ten List of Metaphors in the Media. The list, informally gathered from newscasts, products, music, advertisements and the press, shows how current social concerns are reflected in figurative language. Metaphors are ranked according to their accuracy, popularity, impact and relevance to the past year, and presented in a humorous form.

Topping the 2008 list is "bailout" which dominated the headlines towards the end of the year. Bailout is followed closely by "Joe the Plumber", "Rock Star" and "Angry Whopper". According to Metaphor Observatory creator John Casnig, the Angry Whopper "is one of several references to anger last year, presumably sparked by such things as the housing market collapse, high energy prices and stolen retirement dreams". One commercial depicts a sedate anger management instructor transformed into an angry woman shouting out an office window.

The top ten list actually contains eleven entries, which, according to the website, metaphorically represents the enormity of the year. "2008 was a big year for metaphor - and an outrageous year." Casnig said, "We had the election, the financial crisis, the Madoff scandal, the bailout bill, high energy costs and even the Iraq war. These all need explanation and commentary, and metaphor is a choice tool for the task."

"A metaphor is born when we substitute one concept for another in order to convey an idea," added Casnig. "We normally reach for concepts that are physically close at hand, usually found on our body or in our immediate environment. The media will choose metaphors based on concepts that are familiar to everyone, such as important news or events. If these 'contemporary metaphors' are broadly accepted by the public, it is likely because they somehow connect with what is in the back of people's minds," Casnig believes. "Meltdown" and "fallout", which received special recognition in the list, are good examples of what he calls 'society's Freudian Slip'.

Several personalities are also mentioned in the list, including John McCain for connecting the mortgage crisis to drive-by shootings, and Barack Obama for being a "living, breathing metaphor for hope and change". Past honorees include cognitive linguist George Lakoff, comedian Stephen Colbert and CNN commentator Lou Dobbs.

"The list certainly isn't for everyone," admits Casnig, "it is written for those who love words, and especially those who love etymology. There's also a short version of the list "for students who just want to get their homework done."

The complete top ten list and accompanying article, as well as prior lists and posts can be seen at The Metaphor Observatory's Top Ten Metaphors of 2008. For additional information regarding the top ten list or the Metaphor Observatory, please contact John Casnig or visit the website.

The Metaphor Observatory is a website "dedicated to detecting, examining and poking fun at metaphor usage in contemporary media". It is directly affiliated with Knowgramming.com, an educational web site providing metaphor learning resources to over one million students, teachers and businesses annually.

John D. Casnig
The Metaphor Observatory
P.O. Box 1383,
Kingston, Ontario,


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