Thursday 19 April 2012

Working in Ottawa today --Mind your metaphors

Good morning folks, I will be working in Ottawa today.

We've all heard bad mixed metaphors when the speaker combines two separate metaphors into one new one that just falls short of making any sense at all.

"We have to get all our ducks on the same page."
"It’s time to step up to the plate and lay your cards on the table."

And there is always the malapropisms, this misuse of similar sounding words for often humorous results, for that we could probably look to George Bush alone for all the examples that we would ever need, here is just two of his vast collection.

"We cannot let terrorists and rogue nations hold this nation hostile or hold our allies hostile."
"It will take time to restore chaos and order."

I am not sure to call it when one just screws up the metaphor, a mixed-up metaphor Don C. style.

"Don't put all of your eggs in a row."
"I can see the fire at the end of the road."

But what do you call it when the right metaphor is used for the wrong situation?

I was on a phone call Monday and the legal beagle of the other end of the phone made reference to The Sword of Damocles hanging over another party's head.  Now the situation was that the other party would be agreeing in writing that if they dare to do X then damages would apply.  But the amount was not specified, so for my opposite there existed an open ended or an unbounded liability if he broke the agreement.


That's not what The Sword of Damocles refers to.

In the 4th century BCE Dionysius II was the tyrant ruler of Syracuse.  He was only particularly  notable because his uncle Dion teamed up with Plato to try and restructure the Syracuse gov't to be more moderate and move toward a democracy, but Dionysius would have none of that and banished his uncle, gave away his wife, and seized all of his assets and stopped Plato in his tracks. —beware bratty nephews I tell you what.

Anyway.. Damocles was a bafoon  in Dionysius' court.  Sort of a cross between a kiss ass and a Fop.  As part of his kiss ass routine, he carried on about how great Dionysius was and how great life must be being that great and surrounded by all of this wealth and leisure.

What's that -- a Fop?  That is a member of the King's/Baron's/Lord's court that dresses over the top, flamboyant, attempts wit and generally puts on airs, certainly seeking a higher station than his resources shall we say… suggest?

Kiss ass?   You should know that one already.

Back to Damocles.. Dionysius may have tired of the ass kissing or was just bored, but likely decided that Damocles should just shut the hell up.  So he put it to Damocles, If you think my life is so great, swap places with me, or something to that effect, but likely with more hand waving. Of course that sycophant Damocles jumped at the chance.  (see: ass kissing & seeking higher station above).  Damocles loved it.  Had the attention of the court, the food, the lavishness, the beautiful staff..  All was swell, until he looked up.  Dionysius had arranged for a very sharp and very heavy sword suspended over the throne held by a single horse tail hair.

It was right around this moment of realization that Damocles implored Dionysius to allow him to resume his regular station.

So to what does The Sword of Damocles refer?  Simply that positions of great power and responsibility carry built in perils; One could even say that it's hard to be happy with a dagger pointing at you; Certainly that the sword represented an ever present risk of injury that could occur regardless of the victim's action.  But it is not a good metaphor for break your side of the agreement and the costs could be surprisingly high.

Have a good day, mind your metaphors.