Metaphoric language is a lot more common in everyday life than many people think it is. Metaphors are used for a variety of purposes: some of them are common expressions that people use without being fully aware of their metaphorical sense; others, on the contrary, are used intentionally – for instance, to support an argument or to persuade a person to think about a topic in a certain way. In the latter case, one of the major users of metaphors are newspapers, which want both to attract people to read their articles and to incite a certain opinion on the topic in the audience. For both purposes, the use of metaphorical language in headlines is crucial to catch the people’s attention and to trigger a chain of association that will direct the readers’ focus to a particular side of the topic explored. One of the most explorative sources on the use of metaphors in everyday language is Lakoff and Johnsen’s book Metaphors We Live By, first published in 1980. The authors claim that one of the most common metaphors used for argumentative purposes is connected to the concepts of war and violence (Lakoff and Johnsen, 2003). In this essay, I want to explore three newspaper headlines that utilize metaphors of war and violence to generate a desired feeling towards the subject in the audience.
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One of the first examples is from an article in Daily O, a popular Indian newspaper. The headline of the article is “Making Pakistan bleed by a thousand cuts”. The article explores Indian perspective on Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. According to the author, the strategy has to have two sides to it: first, the improvement of anti-terrorism practices and policies, and second, the stabilization of the relationships between Pakistan and India (Merchant, 2016). Nevertheless, the headline appears to be rather unsuited for the argument. The metaphor used in the headline has two components. The word “bleed” is associated with violence and with inflicting damage on a living organism. In this way, the metaphor “making Pakistan bleed” implies that, similarly to a living being, Pakistan is to take the responsibility for its actions, which included supporting terrorists and for that, India will make it suffer. The second part of the metaphor is “a thousand cuts”. Whereas in the political context, the author means that small steps will be taken to make Pakistan pay for its support of terrorism, the concept of a thousand cuts refers to a brutal method of execution that was practiced in China and Vietnam until the beginning of the 20th century. The small cuts inflicted in the process of execution lead to a painful, slow death of the convicted person. Thus, the use of this metaphor in a newspaper headline leads the reader to think that Pakistan’s support of terrorism is one of the most severe crimes imaginable, as well as that Indian retaliation will have a defeating effect on the country.
Another example of metaphoric language in headlines can be observed in The New York Times’ article “Nailing Down Trump’s Taxes”, which describes the progress made in the Donald Trump’s tax case (Barbaro, 2016). In this case, the phrase ‘nailing down’ has two meanings that offer two viewpoints on the issue, which complement one another. First, similarly to ‘pin down’, the phrase can be understood as a metaphor for proving the unpaid taxes of Trump, which could affect his reputation and his position in the elections that were just one month away from the date the article was published. Secondly, there is a great number of people who would associate the phrase ‘nailing down’ with an expression ‘the last nail in the coffin’. Thus, the headline can also incite the association of the tax case as being the most important one to bring Trump down and to destroy his pre-elections campaign on the basis of lack of transparency. Both aspects of the headline, therefore, work to attract attention and create a negative chain of associations in the readers, thus aiding the author’s hidden argument against the future President.
The final example of the use of metaphorical language in headlines is the article “Deep Scars and Complacency Defeated Colombia’s Peace Deal” by Semple and Casey (2016). The article describes the rejection of a peace deal between the Colombian government and the rebels, which was highly opposed by the people. The phrase ‘deep scars’ in the article’s title evokes a strong image in the reader’s mind, thus catching his or her attention. Another aspect of the metaphor is that emphasizes the severity of the negative experience in the relationship between the rebels and the government, while at the same time suggesting that nothing can heal that relationship in the future, as scars do not go away with the time of even with effort.
Overall, all of the examples above illustrate how the use of metaphorical language in newspaper headlines can catch the reader’s attention and to evoke a certain feeling in the audience, thus creating a certain predisposition to agree with the author’s opinion, even if it is not expressed openly. The images of violence and war can strengthen both effects, as they increase the value and importance of the argument presented.
Barbaro, M. (2016). Nailing down Trump’s taxes. The New York Times. Web.
Lakoff, G., & Johnsen, M. (2003) Metaphors we live by. London, England: The University of Chicago Press.
Merchant, M. (2014). Making Pakistan bleed by a thousand cuts. The Daily O. Web.
Semple, K., & Casey, N. (2016). Deep scars and complacency defeated Colombia’s peace deal. The New York Times. Web.