Metaphors of conflict in press reports of elections

Susan Burnes, School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics, The University of Sheffield


Metaphors of conflict are so ingrained in the language we use to discuss political elections that it is difficult not to use them: we fight election campaigns, we suffer heavy losses, we emerge victorious. This paper presents a case study of English and French press reports on the 2008 elections in Pakistan, asking why this metaphorical source domain is so entrenched, what the consequences are of its use, and whether the patterns of use observed occur across languages. It discusses the reasons for using metaphors of conflict to describe peacetime situations drawing on conceptual metaphor theory and pragmatics in an account that also considers the contextual notion of newsworthiness. A cross-linguistic perspective facilitates the exploration of similarities and dissimilarities between metaphors in the two languages. The paper concludes by discussing the metaphors that seem to characterise conflict situations.

1. Introduction

Out with the president’s men” (Economist)

Le général Moucharraf battu par KO
[General Musharraf beaten by a knock-out] (L’Humanité)

Article in l'Humanité

It may be ‘fighting talk’, but no blows were exchanged. Anyone interested in politics takes for granted the use of metaphors using images of conflict to describe political events – elections are battles, constituencies are battlegrounds. These metaphors affect the way we think about politics, blending ideas from politics and conflict. Thus they contribute to the creation of political discourse, where metaphors initiate an array of pragmatic effects which convey ideological viewpoints. Furthermore, metaphors of conflict are one of the journalist’s tools for breathing life into the news and making it relevant to the reader.

In this paper, I explore the use of metaphors of conflict to describe political elections by means of a case study, with three aims in view: to investigate the pragmatic aspects of metaphor which convey attitudes, intentionally or unintentionally; to examine specifically the case of metaphors of conflict; and finally, to consider metaphor as a cross-linguistic phenomenon, by comparing English and French press reports of the same event.

The paper begins with a brief review of relevant research and approaches to metaphor (section 2). The methodology section (3) discusses the data and its preparation. Section 4 presents the results, followed by sections devoted to discussion of four major issues which emerge from the findings, as follows: the application of the frame of conflict; the reasons for using conflict metaphors; the effects of their use; and finally cross-linguistic aspects. The conclusion comments on the findings and their implications.

The case study comprises an analysis of the metaphors relating to conflict in press reports of the February 2008 elections in Pakistan. There are several reasons for this choice. Press reports as a genre have stylistic norms common to both languages. A single event of limited duration, out of the immediate sphere of influence of either Britain or France, provides comparable and clearly-focused subject matter. There was extensive press coverage, providing a sample large enough to be able to draw conclusions (14,000 words in total); and the election was intrinsically interesting because it was far from being a foregone conclusion.

The background to the elections was that General Musharraf seized power in 1999 in a military coup, and pronounced himself President. In the elections, the party loyal to him was defeated by other parties, including the party led by Benazir Bhutto until her assassination [1]; at the time of writing, those parties are partners in a coalition government. In August 2008, Mr Musharraf resigned from the Presidency.

2. Theoretical framework

2.1 Conceptual metaphor theory

Traditional approaches to metaphor regard it as “an elliptical simile useful for stylistic, rhetorical, and didactic purposes, but which can be translated into a literal paraphrase without any loss of cognitive content” (Johnson, 1981: 4). Indeed, metaphor was often branded a deviance or even a means of deception, disguising the ‘literal truth’ (Locke, 1689). In 1980, Lakoff and Johnson’s Metaphors we live by caused permanent shifts in attitudes by expounding the view of metaphor as an all-pervasive cognitive phenomenon. Lakoff and Johnson argue that “human thought processes are largely metaphorical” (1980/2003: 6), and that “The essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another” (1980/2003: 5 – their italics). Their views became known as conceptual metaphor theory.

Conceptual metaphors can be understood as a mapping of correspondences (Kövecses, 2002: 4-6) between two conceptual domains: the source domain, from which we draw metaphorical expressions to understand another conceptual domain, and the target domain, which is the conceptual domain that we are trying to describe and understand. Conceptual metaphors are usually noted in small capitals, thus: target conceptual domain = source conceptual domain. In this study, a metaphor is defined as the linguistic expression of a conceptual metaphor, and conceptual metaphor theory provides the theoretical framework for the identification and classification of metaphors, using the notion of mapping according to an underlying concept.

Metaphors are often used to describe abstract concepts in concrete terms [2]. For example, the conceptual metaphor politics = war (also written politics is war), which constitutes the dominant metaphor in the case study data, generates the linguistic expression ‘fighting an election campaign’: the abstract processes of an election are described in terms of physical conflict.

Blending Theory (see for example Fauconnier and Turner, 2002) has contributed to the development of conceptual metaphor theory by arguing that a metaphor comprises not simply a mapping from source domain to target domain, but a blend which combines elements of the source and target domains with the individual reader’s existing background knowledge about these domains to create a new “emergent structure” [3]. A detailed analysis in the section on “Metaphor and pragmatic effects” below of one of the metaphors found in my data, “political cover” (The Guardian), provides an illustration of this ability of metaphor to represent more than the sum of its constituent source and target domains.

Conceptual metaphor theory has some limitations, in particular the fact that identifying conceptual metaphors is obviously a subjective process (Steen, 2002: 20; Goatly, 2007: 20). Nevertheless, the technique of grouping metaphors according to underlying concepts, such as an election = a battle or a disappointment = a physical blow, is a useful and intuitive method for examining several different linguistic expressions of the same concepts at the same time. It allows metaphors to be grouped together in manageable quantities, bringing together source and target domains and semantic fields from a wide range of linguistic expressions. From a pragmatic point of view, Charteris-Black states that “Identification of the conceptual basis of metaphors is a way of explaining the associations that underlie metaphor” (2005: 24). This examination of concepts forms a crucial part of the study of the reasons for using metaphors, and particularly the use of metaphor to convey beliefs and values. For example, the metaphor “dealt a heavy blow” (Economist) draws on an analogy between physical power and political power, and carries a negative evaluation of the weaker, humiliated party. By comparison, categorisation based on traditional theories, such as sorting according to linguistic expression, semantic field or word class, would give a more limited and superficial range of results.

2.2 Frames

Common metaphors often combine to make a bigger mental picture, which Lakoff and Johnson referred to as an “experiential gestalt” (1980/2003: 71), but which is now variously known as a frame [4], an Idealised Cognitive Model or ICM [5], a schema [6], or a scenario [7].

Frames do not have to be metaphorical. Schank and Abelson (1977: 42ff) developed the famous ‘restaurant’ frame, complete with roles (like the waiter), scripts (we know what we expect the waiter to say), and props, like menus. Frames form part of the background knowledge, constantly being updated, which is used in interpreting any utterance. When we encounter something new, we try to locate it within an existing frame, either real or metaphorical, to help us to understand it. This urge to find analogies for something new within our existing knowledge is hugely powerful, and provides one of the reasons for using concrete metaphors to describe abstract processes.

Thus the metaphor politics = war generates an entire mental model in my data where the election workers correspond to troops, the candidate’s base becomes their stronghold, and a constituency is a battleground. Once this frame is activated in the reader’s mind, it provides not only an analogy for the election situation but also an underlying structure for the development of metaphorical treatment of the subject.

2.3 Metaphor and pragmatic effects

Metaphor could be seen as principally a pragmatic device, as it relies almost entirely on factors like context, inference and shared knowledge for its interpretation. Pragmatic effects like connotations [8] and metaphorical entailments [9] can be illustrated by the use of the metaphor “cover” here:

“… the PML-Q [a political party]… has given Musharraf valuable political cover” (Guardian).

Firstly, readers must recognise that this is a metaphor from a situation of armed conflict. Using the context, they can understand that the PML-Q has in some way defended Mr Musharraf. Readers are then further required to use their knowledge of conflict situations, perhaps from films involving gunfights, to imagine what form that cover might take. The writer invites readers to apply the entailments of such a situation to infer that Mr Musharraf has been criticised, and that he has needed help to maintain his position. Another possible interpretation is that the PML-Q has allowed him to undertake activities which would attract criticism unless his critics’ attention was drawn elsewhere; this interpretation exploits the reprehensible connotations of this type of situation requiring “cover”. These inferences generate a negative evaluation of Mr Musharraf.

2.4 Metaphor across languages

Studies of metaphor across languages tend to approach it from the perspective of either cognitive linguistics or discourse analysis.

Cognitive studies include Gibbs et al’s investigation (2004) as to whether the principles of conceptual metaphor theory apply across languages [10]. Kövecses (2005) and Boers (1999) both emphasise the role of culture in cross-linguistic variation: “the primary metaphors are likely to be universal, whereas the complex ones that are formed from them are much less likely to be so. Cultures greatly influence what complex conceptual metaphors emerge from the primary metaphors” (Kövecses, 2005: 4) [11].

While taking cognitive linguistic research into account, my approach relies principally on discourse analysis. Studies based on discourse analysis often use the techniques of conceptual metaphor theory as a theoretical framework, but without any evident interest in the principles of the theory, taking the language and culture rather than the concept as the starting point [12]. For example, Semino (2002) compares the portrayal of the euro in Italian and British newspapers as a “sturdy baby” or a “derailing train” respectively. She illustrates the power of metaphor to convey the writer’s attitude by creating a total image, complete with a supporting frame and an array of associations, evaluations and inferences to be drawn about the euro’s future. She believes that differences in reporting are due partly to cultural differences (e.g. the salience of ‘christening’ metaphors in Italian reports) but also to different viewpoints regarding the euro.

The findings of my study primarily point to the universality of metaphors of conflict, but with minor differences which will be explored in the light of these researchers’ ideas, both cognitive and cross-cultural.

3. Methodology

3.1 Data

Four newspaper articles

Despite considerable institutional and historical differences between the French and British press [13], the publications chosen for the study, listed in Table 1 below, could be said to be comparable in that they are mainstream, national publications; they cater for the educated middle classes; their articles are of a similar length and style; and they are regarded as the “quality press” (ABC). These publications were chosen for this study because they give full reports of international news, unlike the better-selling tabloids (UK) or regional press (France). Political orientation can affect lexical choice, so as wide a range of opinions as possible is represented, from the right-wing Telegraph and Le Figaro to the left-wing New Statesman and the Communist L’Humanité.

The data comprised 9 French and 6 British reports from newspaper and news magazine websites, summarised in Table 1, below. Where possible, links are to the original article (for a selection, see Appendix A).

Table 1. Source publications of case study articles.

British publication Abbreviation French publication Abbreviation

The Telegraph daily


Le Figaro


The Times daily


L’Express weekly magazine


The Economist weekly magazine


Le Point weekly magazine


The Independent daily


Le Monde daily


The Guardian daily


Le Nouvel Observateur weekly magazine


The New Statesman weekly magazine


Libération daily (2 different articles)


Le Monde diplomatique monthly


L’Humanité daily


Total words: 6618

Total words: 7436 – but see note below regarding repeated sections

The data were sourced from websites for reasons of cost and ease of access. A range of reports from the same time (19 – 27 February 2008) was chosen to meet the criterion of comparability. The abbreviations given in the table are used in the discussion which follows.

3.2 Preparing the data

In the days following the election in Pakistan, a sample of articles of at least 350 words – either reporting or editorial – was saved from the internet. Some of the French articles contained sections which were verbatim copies of other articles, presumably the result of using news agency copy unamended. In these cases, the repeated sections were discounted, so that the relevant section was only included once. This means that the actual sample sizes in each language were roughly equivalent, although the word count of the French articles was slightly higher.

The texts from the news websites were assembled into two Microsoft Word databases, one French and one English. This allowed the use of a word count and more importantly the ‘Find’ feature, so that once a particular metaphorical expression had been identified, the documents could be searched for that expression. The feature is flexible: for example, a search for “victo” would identify all words with that root, such as “victoire” and “victorieuses”.

3.3 Classifying and recording metaphors

The texts were searched manually to identify metaphors. Having identified that metaphors of conflict represented a dominant theme, the texts were then searched for metaphors which could be considered to make a connection between the source domain of conflict and the target domain of politics. The metaphors were then assigned to groups based on their underlying conceptual metaphor. Terms were included even if they are lexicalised to the point that they might be considered examples of polysemy rather than metaphor, such as “fight” or “a blow”. The concept underlying each metaphor was identified as consistently as possible: i.e. where there was more than one possible candidate for an underlying concept, other instances were considered in order to keep the groupings as coherent and as serviceable as possible. The conceptual metaphor politics = war was too general to be useful: more specific metaphors were sought, such as an election = a military campaign, while still remaining sufficiently general to account for more than one linguistic expression, and preferably several. The concept, the linguistic expression and a small section of text (to provide the context) were then entered onto an Excel spreadsheet (see Appendix B) and numbered, with the publication identified by a code.

Excel allows data to be sorted according to any heading: with these data, that could be by publication, by concept, or by linguistic expression. For the purposes of this paper, the data were sorted by concept, to provide groups of linguistic expressions which were being used in the same way in both languages. All instances of each expression or closely-related expression (e.g. “claque” (Point) and “gifle” (Lib), both French expressions here for a figurative slap in the face) were listed against each concept, subdivided by language. If the data were to be sorted by publication or by linguistic expression, then a separate line would need to be used for each instance; at the time of compiling the spreadsheet, it was felt that this would prove too cumbersome to analyse. Keeping all expressions of a single concept on the same line highlighted the differences in usage, e.g. where a particular type of expression was used in one language but not the other.

Once the metaphors had been sorted, the results could be examined to identify patterns, similarities and differences. It is worth noting that interesting results can be obtained using this relatively basic software.

3.4 Reliability of metaphor classification

It was noted above that one of the weaknesses of using conceptual metaphor theory as a framework is that identification of conceptual metaphors can be subjective. To attempt to validate the choices of conceptual metaphors in this case study, the ‘inter-rater reliability’ method was used (Trochim, 2006). Two people were trained in identifying underlying conceptual metaphors, using non-case study text material. They were then given 20 samples each of metaphors found in the case study texts, in two sets (a total sample of 40 different metaphors). They were asked to match metaphors from the first set with underlying concepts from a list provided, so as to familiarise them with the type of concepts found; then they were asked to identify underlying concepts for the second set of metaphors. This was only partially successful. One person scored a 95% match with my choices, but the other scored only 60%. Reviewing the choices made by the low scorer highlighted the lack of distinction between concepts in a small source domain – for example, between humiliation and criticism – and the difficulty of the task.

This showed that the inter-rater reliability procedure can be effective, but requires more than minimal training.

4. Analysis of findings

Table 2 summarises the findings. The English and French examples are the metaphors found in the texts. These metaphors have been grouped according to the concept which underlies each analogy; the concepts are listed in the second column. So one concept, such as an election = a battle, is expressed in several different ways in both English and French, such as “victory/victoire”, “defeat/défaite”, and “rout/déroute”. It is clear from the outset that the concepts found situate the discourse within a unifying frame of conflict. The concepts themselves are grouped together in the first column, which describes the role of these particular metaphors within the frame of conflict. For example, use of terms like “fight” or “defeat”, which occurred frequently in the texts, often right at the start, serve to locate the election action for the reader in a frame which is already familiar to them, that of conflict. The reader on encountering this ‘conflict’ frame will expect to find (as they read on) the usual elements of conflict: two opposing sides, military leaders, winners and losers. The reader is not disappointed in this – the frame of conflict, once established, is maintained throughout the case study texts, using the metaphors given below [14].

Table 2. A summary of the metaphors found, their underlying concepts, and their role in the frame of conflict.

Role within the frame of conflict Underlying concept English examples French examples

These set the scene and activate the frame of battle.

an election = a battle

Fight, victory, defeat, routed, trounced, captured

Défaite [defeat], débâcle [rout], victoire [victory], vainqueurs [conquerors], lutte [fight], battu [beaten]

an election =
a military campaign

Campaign, campaigners

Campagne [campaign]

Abstract events are converted by metaphor to physical action.

an election =
physical combat


KO [knock-out], claque & gifle [both = slap in the face], mordu la poussière [bit the dust]

a disappointment =
a physical blow

Blow, suffered a crushing defeat, stinging rebuke, victims

Coup [blow], essuyer un cuisant revers [suffer a burning reversal], écrasante [crushing]

Here are the roles in the frame…

political groupings =
military groupings

Lieutenant (in the sense of assistant)

Troupes [troops in the sense of supporters], camp, forces, légions, ennemi [enemy]

… and here are locations.

a political base =
a fortress



a constituency = a battleground


These metaphors relate to processes and outcomes, again abstract events converted by metaphor into physical action.

disagreement =
physical breakage

Split, splinter faction, splintered

Division, divisés [divided], rupture, césure [split]

political difficulties = a fall / death

Survive, survival

Chute [fall]

to gain more votes than = to eliminate physically

Wipe out

Effacement [wiping out], balayé [swept aside]

to deprive of office = to remove physically


Évincé [ousted]

Looking at the nature of both the underlying conceptual metaphors and the linguistic expressions of them which are used in these articles, one finds that they are not original or creative usages, but lexicalised metaphors from everyday language. For example, “to oust” is probably used more often in its figurative sense, as it is here, than it is in its literal sense of removing someone physically [15]. Goatly (2007) points out that although most metaphors in newspaper reports are “inactive”, these conventional metaphors are probably more useful for conveying – or perpetuating – an ideology, precisely because they are unmarked [16].

The following four sections discuss the four major themes yielded by an analysis of the findings. Firstly, section 5 examines the location within a frame of conflict of this description of a political event. This frame, evident right from the start of each text, provides an overriding structure. There are two aspects of the use of this frame which each merit an extensive examination: the reasons for its use, and the effects and consequences of doing so. The reasons for the use of a frame of conflict are discussed in section 6. Three main reasons for the use of metaphors of conflict become apparent: they play a role in conceptualisation, news value, and the communication of opinions. This last aspect motivates an exploration in section 7 of the effects – intentional and unintentional – of using metaphors in general, and this frame in particular. Finally, section 8 is devoted to a comparison of the use of metaphors of conflict in the two languages, which is almost identical – but not quite. The differences, though minor, present intriguing questions about metaphor as an expression of cultural difference.

5. The frame of conflict applied to elections

The metaphors used reveal a well-established frame connecting politics and conflict, with clear correspondences between the source and target domains. Furthermore, this frame is virtually identical across the two languages. It is invoked from the start of each text, often with the headline, such as Libération’s “Gifle électorale pour Musharraf” [Electoral slap in the face for Musharraf]. The frame is then consistently maintained throughout the texts by constant reference to events using their metaphorical equivalent rather than the literal term: there are numerous references in the texts in both languages to defeats and blows, but the term “disappointment/disappointed” does not appear at all. Pakistan is personified (“Pakistan-bashers” (NS), “qui menace le Pakistan” [which is threatening Pakistan] (MD)) as more empathy is aroused if we think of the state as a person: metaphorical personifications of nations are routine in political cartoons.

The correspondences or mappings between the domains are summarised in Table 3. The events in the elections, the target domain, are shown on the left of the table; these comprise the rather mundane-sounding abstractions of plans, votes and constituencies, and the emotions of success or disappointment. The way these events are portrayed metaphorically in the case study texts, using the source domains of war and fighting, are listed in the middle column and illustrated on the right, constructing an action-packed scenario of physical combat and strong emotions – indeed, of survival itself.

Table 3. Metaphorical mappings between political elections and conflict.

Target domain – politics/elections Source domain – war, fighting Examples from the texts

Winning a seat, losing a seat, losing office, scoring more votes than a rival

Fight, victory, defeat, routed, trounced, captured, wipe out, ousted

Tel: “… may have captured the pivotal province
NS: “Though the religious parties were routed … MMA alliance was wiped out … their gun-wielding brothers in Waziristan are not in retreat
MD: “en dépit d’une déroute écrasante” [in spite of a crushing rout]

Disappointment, losing a seat, unsuccessful candidates

Blow, defeat, stinging rebuke, victims; knock-out, slap in the face, bite the dust

Lib: “Gifle électorale pour Musharraf” [Electoral slap in the face for Musharraf]
Gu : “… party suffered a crushing defeat
Point: “… a essuyé mardi une défaite cinglante” [suffered a stinging defeat on Tuesday]


Split, splinter faction

Econ: “the MMA has splintered
Lib: “… le véritable point de rupture entre la population et le Président” [the real breaking-point between the population and the President]

Lack of success

Demise, survival is at stake

NS: “rumours of Pakistan’s demise
Tel: “Mr Musharraf’s political survival

Plans, supporters and workers

Campaign, troops, lieutenant

NO: “Le camp du chef de l’Etat” [the Head of State’s camp]
Lib : “… en faisant campagne … Nawaz Sharif a rallié des légions de nouveaux électeurs” [fighting his campaign ... Nawaz Sharif rallied legions of new voters]
Gu : “Nearly every major Musharraf lieutenant lost his seat


Battleground, stronghold

Times: “Sindh, its traditional stronghold
MD: “Dans son bastion…” [In his bastion]

It is clear from these examples that it is customary in both languages to think of politics and elections in terms of conflict, and in almost identical ways. In fact, the most difficult aspect of compiling this table was thinking of the non-conflict equivalents, as the conflict metaphors come more naturally to mind. When juxtaposed in this way, it is striking how much more active and emotive the metaphors from the concrete source domain are compared to the real life elements from the abstract target domain, the elections.

The frame of conflict thus locates this distant political event in a familiar context for the reader. The frame guides the writer’s lexical choice, but also facilitates their chosen interpretation of events: simply by choosing this frame, for example, the writer is portraying the election as a highly antagonistic event, and also one which is much more clear-cut than an election is in reality.

Individual metaphors give rise to pragmatic effects, but the fact of locating the event within the conflict scenario itself generates pragmatic effects such as metaphorical entailments. The motivation for using conflict metaphors, and the effects and consequences of doing so, will be explored in the next two sections.

6. The reasons for using conflict metaphors

The existence of conflict as a pervasive metaphorical frame raises the question: why is it the case that people are so accustomed to thinking of politics as conflict that it is difficult not to do so? Very different – but complementary – answers are offered within cognitive science and journalism respectively: conflict metaphors help the reader to conceptualise an abstract political event; they enhance news value; and they can convey the author’s evaluation of the event.

6.1 Conceptualisation

As was explained in section 2 above, conceptual metaphor theory argues that we use metaphor to understand something new or abstract in terms of something familiar or concrete. Lakoff and Johnson (1980/2003: 4-5) take the example argument is war, and explain that “argument is partially structured, understood, performed, and talked about in terms of war[17].

This logic can be applied to elections, which can be considered a form of argument between different factions. It is clear – at least in this study – from the frequency of use of conflict metaphors, and also the absence of alternative frames, that elections, with their jargon of candidates, constituencies, tactics and statistics, become easier to understand in terms of conflict. International politics may appear distant and irrelevant to many newspaper readers. However, from childhood onwards, people experience fighting and conflict, both personally in the playground and as a spectator on TV, so that is probably more meaningful for most people – and certainly more interesting – than a discussion of a set of voting statistics.

According to conceptual metaphor theory, once the familiar frame of conflict is activated in the context of an election, people instinctively begin to make analogies – “a set of systematic mappings” (Kövecses, 2002: 147) – between the elements from the target domain of elections and the source domain of conflict. So, in the case study texts, readers are invited to consider the political parties as opposing “camps” in a battle, and each constituency as a “battlefield” where a battle to gain votes will take place. The reader’s comprehension of the facts and statistics is modelled on this acquired structure. There are, of course, consequences in terms of interpretation of this urge to make an election situation correspond to a conflict situation: the analogies are not a perfect match.

6.2 Imagery and news value

Almost everyone can identify with a situation of conflict, whereas they might not relate to a mere difference of opinion. Furthermore, the analogy of conflict is well-entrenched in the discourse of elections, as the case study texts illustrate. It therefore comes as no surprise that journalists charged with presenting an election to the readership, and possibly including their (or their employers’) evaluation of the situation in the process, use this metaphorical portrayal as a matter of course.

News does have to be entertaining, or it will not get published. Harcup and O’Neill (2001) found that entertainment ranked third (after the power élite and celebrities) in news value. Agnès, former editor of Le Monde, describes “distraction” [entertainment] as one of the four major purposes of a newspaper: “… la lecture des journaux est surtout une occupation du temps de loisirs; il est donc bon que le côté ‘distractif’ soit bien présent ” (2002: 34) [18]. In a journalistic context, the entertainment value of a concrete image is almost essential when depicting an abstract fact.

If one compares some statistics from the Australian elections (The Age, 20 October 2008):

“The Labor Government has lost two of its nine seats…”

with their headline announcing the result:

Labor thrashed in NSW, ACT polls

– then the metaphorical headline could be considered to have more entertainment value. Even though “thrashed” is a completely conventional metaphor, no longer evoking an image of physical punishment (at least for native speakers), the headline nevertheless evokes a range of emotions, depending on which side the reader is on, through hyperbole. This is borne out by Semino (2008: 211), who found that physical aggression metaphors were used more frequently in tabloids, “where they seem to be part of a general tendency to dramatize and sensationalize”, and also by Nerlich et al (2002: 7). As the examples from the case study texts illustrate, hyperbole seems to be a characteristic involved in conceptualising an election as a conflict. “Le général Moucharraf battu par KO[19] [General Musharraf beaten by a knock-out] (Hum) is an obvious example, but even more mundane aspects, such as the feelings of disappointment on the losing side, are portrayed metaphorically in rather more dramatic terms as “suffered a crushing defeat” (Gu) or “subi une cuisante défaite” [suffered a burning defeat] (MD). In this way, the journalist enlivens a statistical story, enhancing its news value and making it more likely to be published.

6.3 Conveying opinions, values and beliefs

A metaphor can be used to convey an evaluation; it can also be used for other purposes, such as stylistic ones, but may still convey an evaluation. As Fowler stated, “News is a representation in this sense of construction: it is not a value-free reflection of ‘facts’” (1991: 4). Particular aspects of metaphor engender a rich variety of effects, which in turn invite the reader to interpret the text in a particular way. The choice of a metaphorical frame – conflict rather than, say, sport – is a conscious decision on the part of the journalist. I would argue that, as alternative metaphors do exist which would help the reader to conceptualise the event, the choice of the frame of conflict reflects the choice of the effects which can be obtained from the use of that frame.

7. The effects of using conflict metaphors

7.1 Contrasts and identities

In the case study texts, a positive ethos surrounding the notion of conflict, particularly armed conflict, is evident in the frequent use of “victory/victoire”, in the triumphalist associations of “trounced” (Tel, Times) and “rout/routed”, and in the hyperbole of “débâcle/déroute” [debacle/rout] (Lib, MD). The notion of physical strength in many metaphors, including “the old stranglehold on Pakistani politics” (NS) and “battu par KO” [beaten by a knock-out] (Hum), also holds a positive evaluation in our culture. Political power is equated by means of metaphor to physical strength, within a familiar frame of “the survival of the fittest”. The use of conflict metaphors to describe elections, which are morally highly valued in Western cultures as the exercise of democracy, is indicative of this positive ethos surrounding conflict in our culture [20].

The use of conflict metaphors, especially those related to personal physical strength, exaggerates the difference between the winning and losing side in an election, making it seem more clear-cut than is usually the case in political reality. This exaggeration is typical of the deliberate use of contrast in political writing. In the study texts, binary opposition is established right from the outset, with discussion of “victory” and “defeat” in both languages, and maintained throughout. The use of military terminology to describe political groupings, such as “troupes” [troops] (MD) and “camp” (passim in French), helps to reinforce identities and the idea that there are distinct opposing groups.

Conflict metaphors are often used in political writing to guide the reader to construct identities, especially in a binary, polarised form, such as ‘us and them’, or winners and losers (Chilton, 2004: 202). These can be thought of as “in-groups” and “out-groups” (Van Dijk, 1998: 57). The notion of territory, with boundaries, forms part of the conflict frame, and is also consistent with the ideas of “in-groups” and “out-groups”. Consequently, relationships are often conceptualised in terms of spatial relations. This elicits metaphors connected with containers: “le gouvernement sortant” [the outgoing government] (Point), “l’entrée dans un gouvernement” [going into government] (MD), “on the fringes” (Econ), “an insurgency spilling out” (NS). The frequent metaphor “ousted/évincé” creates the image of a person being expelled from their home territory and into the “out-group”. All of these features contribute to the consistency of the portrayal within the familiar frame, which depicts usually two opposing and clearly distinguished groups engaged in confrontation, one of which will establish a clear victory over the other.

7.2 Evaluations through connotation and association

The use of connotations and associations is one of the ways in which metaphors influence the reader towards a particular interpretation (Charteris-Black, 2005: 205). In these reports of the Pakistani elections, it is clear that none of the writers has any sympathy for Mr Musharraf, even if they are more even-handed about the other players.

Metaphors carrying negative evaluations predominate. For example, the metaphor of the “point de rupture entre la population et le Président” [the breaking-point between the population and the President] (Lib) conveys the idea of permanent physical and/or emotional damage; applied to Mr Musharraf’s relationship with the electorate, this implies that he will never be able to win back support. Similarly, the word “débâcle” (Lib) has great historic resonance in French, as it is often associated with Napoleon’s catastrophic defeats, especially at Waterloo in 1815. By describing the results for the extremist parties as a “débâcle”, French readers are invited to regard the scale of their defeat as being on the same scale as Napoleon’s.

A further feature of word association is that, in some cases, “an associative relation is treated as if it were a causal one” (Charteris-Black, 2005: 24). So, by associating Mr Musharraf’s situation with a catastrophic “débâcle”, a “rout” or a “crushing defeat”, then the implication – simply by continued repetition and association – is that he caused that defeat.

Evaluations are particularly evident in the over-emphasis on metaphors of physical strength and weakness. In metaphorical terms, physical strength equates to political power. It is noticeable that ex-President Musharraf is portrayed as being completely overpowered physically by the opposition: voters dealt him “a heavy blow” (Econ), or even a knock-out (Hum).

7.3 Metaphorical entailments

Consider the headline and opening section of L’Humanité’s report:

Le général Moucharraf battu par KO

Pakistan. Le président a subi une défaite écrasante. Ses alliés islamistes sont battus dans le nord-ouest, où se trouvent les taliban. Le parti de Benazir Bhutto est le grand vainqueur.

[General Musharraf beaten by a knock-out

Pakistan. The President suffered a crushing defeat. His Islamist allies were beaten in the north-west, where the Taliban are located. Benazir Bhutto’s party is the principal victor.]

On reading this section, the reader automatically interprets the text using the conceptual metaphor politics = war, and situates the text within the frame of conflict owing to the multiple metaphorical references to that frame: beaten, knock-out, suffered, crushing defeat, allies and victor. The metaphor consists of a set of correspondences, or mappings, between the source (war) and the target (in this case, the election). Metaphorical entailments [21] comprise elements of additional knowledge about a source domain which are not specified by the metaphorical expression, but which the reader is effectively invited to infer from that source domain into the target domain. Thus, readers tend to map onto the target issue – the elections – the entailments of the frame of conflict. However, not all of the assumptions regarding the usual roles and activities in a conflict situation are actually applicable to elections, a fact which can be exploited for political ends.

For example, the stereotypical outcome of a conflict is that the winner takes all – the territory and everything on it – and the losing side suffers some unpleasant fate. To apply this stereotype to an election, because it is described using metaphors of conflict, is consistent with the notion of contrasts, polarisation of ideas, and dealing in absolutes which was mentioned earlier. Yet in an election, this clear-cut outcome is far from being the case in reality. The boxing metaphor in L’Humanité’s headline, “Le général Moucharraf battu par KO”, implies that Mr Musharraf lost power; but although the party supporting ex-President Musharraf lost heavily, he was still President and did still have pockets of support, especially in the army. A stereotypical conflict involves two opposing sides; yet in this election, the winners were not one party, but two parties who hate each other and who are now having to work together in a coalition government. So from the point of view of entailments, then to use metaphors like “victor”, “knock-out” and “crushing defeat” could be seen as at least an exaggeration, if not a misrepresentation, depicting Mr Musharraf’s situation in a negative light.

This example illustrates the fact that a major effect of using conflict metaphors is to simplify the situation. The notion of conflict presupposes two opposing sides with clear differences, competing for absolute primacy. By situating the reports within this frame, the metaphors guide the reader to infer these details as metaphorical entailments, even though they do not match the political reality [22].

Entailments can have an effect in two directions. According to Lakoff and Johnson (1980/2003: 157), metaphors can produce “a coherent network of entailments that highlight some features of reality and hide others”. This, too, is exploited by writers on politics. By using metaphors of conflict, journalists, for example, hide the reality of politics, where absolutes are rarely the case and most of the ‘action’ is actually rather humdrum.

The use of conceptual metaphor theory as a theoretical framework greatly facilitates and enriches this type of analysis. By grouping together linguistic expressions according to concept, dominant themes come to light, identifying a supporting frame. The process of seeking the underlying concepts also reveals metaphorical effects: for example, a conceptual analysis of the metaphor “ousted” contributes to an understanding of the binary nature of the portrayal and the creation of identities.

8. Cross-linguistic aspects

Let us now turn to a comparison of the French and English metaphorical patterns. The most obvious difference was that there was a much higher frequency of metaphor use – over 40% more – in the French texts. As a stylistic feature of journalistic writing rather than referring to source domains in particular, it falls outside the scope of this paper, but it is interesting all the same.

As far as metaphors of conflict are concerned, the lexical choices in French, and the frame they activate, are very similar to those in English, which is not surprising as the basic underlying concepts (such as an election = a battle) are identical. Nevertheless, there are two points of divergence in the case study texts.

The first is the usage of ‘military group’ metaphors to describe political groupings, which is particularly noticeable in French, with “leurs troupes” [their troops] (MD, describing party workers), “leurs forces/les forces démocratiques/les forces parlementaires” [their forces/democratic forces/parliamentary forces] (Fig, Monde, MD), “des légions de nouveaux électeurs” [legions of new voters] (Lib), “rempart” [rampart] (Hum – discussed below) and especially “camp” (passim – 11 instances), for example “le camp présidentiel” [the presidential camp]. One could perhaps also add “vainqueurs” [conquerors] (NO, MD, Hum), which does not refer to a military grouping but has its origin clearly in the semantic field of armed combat. None of these metaphors were used in English, although they would all be regarded as conventional if used in this context, with the possible exception of “rempart”. The use of “rempart” here – “voyant en lui le meilleur rempart pour contrer les islamistes” [seeing in him the best rampart to counter the Islamists] – to describe Mr Musharraf’s role would be regarded as creative, or “Active” in Goatly’s terms, rather than conventional. In the English texts, the only use of ‘military group’ metaphors to describe political groupings comprises two instances of “lieutenant” (Gu, Econ) to describe Mr Musharraf’s principal supporters.

The second distinct difference between the French and English treatments is that the French versions used metaphors of actual physical combat much more frequently, particularly in their discussions of ex-President Musharraf [23]. While both accounts described the results for Mr Musharraf’s party in terms of “blows/coups” and “crushing defeat /cuisante défaite /déroute écrasante” [stinging defeat/crushing rout], this accounted for three instances in the English versions (Econ, Gu, Tel) but eight instances in the French versions (passim). In the English versions, Mr Musharraf was described as personally suffering a “heavy blow” (Econ) and a “stinging rebuke” (Gu). However, in the French, he suffered seven physically damaging metaphors: “coup dur” [heavy blow] (Exp), “coup rude” [harsh blow] (Lib), “défaite écrasante” [crushing defeat] (Hum), “défaite cinglante” [stinging defeat] (Point), “une véritable claque” [a real slap in the face] (Point), “gifle électorale” [electoral slap in the face] (Lib) and finally “battu par KO” [beaten by a knock-out] (Hum). The impression given by these metaphors is not only of defeat, but also of personal humiliation, carrying a very negative evaluation.

In Kövecses’ terms, if one regards fighting as a “universal primary experience”, then we should expect this to produce “universal primary metaphors” (2005: 3). So how can one account for these differences? Seeking possible explanations can only be speculative, not least because of the small data set, but there are some interesting avenues of inquiry.

Kövecses argues (2005: 231) that metaphorical variation across languages stems from two key factors: differential experience (such as history and religion) and differential cognitive preferences or styles (such as attitudes towards the body, and different viewpoints, prototypes and frames). Boers, too, points to “salience in everyday experience” (1999: 49) as a source of variation.

Applying the idea of “differential experience” to mainland Britain and France, one would not at first glance expect much disparity: France and Britain share much social context, lifestyle, economy and values, as well as a similar climate and geography. However, the history of conflicts in the two countries is very different. Mainland Britain was last occupied almost a millennium ago, and its last civil war was three centuries ago. France spent much of the period from 1789 – 1871 in a state of revolution and counter-revolution, and has experienced occupation by foreign forces first-hand in the 1940s, with both armed conflict and close physical combat taking place on French soil. It is difficult to imagine the depth of trauma which would be caused by witnessing conflict in one’s own immediate environment, thus not only removing any sense of safety, but also in a sense destroying part of one’s own and one’s country’s identity. Only a relatively small percentage of the British population experienced fighting on the ground in the last World War, and in a different country rather than in their own home town.

If one bears this historical context in mind when examining variation in metaphors in the case study texts, looking firstly at the more extensive use of ‘military group’ metaphors in French, one could speculate that French people are more likely to conceptualise conflict using images of real troops and opposing camps than are the British, who have not had that recent experience.

The second difference, that of the use of ‘physical combat’ metaphors in French, particularly to describe Mr Musharraf’s situation, is perhaps open to speculation from more angles. From a political viewpoint, one might expect the right-wing British press not to describe Mr Musharraf in humiliating terms, as he demonstrated his right-wing credentials in giving his support to the so-called ‘War on Terror’. However, one would not necessarily expect the left-wing British press to have similar qualms. Furthermore, these ‘physical combat’ metaphors featured across the political spectrum in the French texts – the ‘slaps’ appeared in Le Point (right of centre) and Libération (left) respectively – although it is perhaps predictable that the ‘knock-out’ appeared as the headline for the piece in L’Humanité, the most left-wing of the publications. Differing levels of support for Mr Musharraf do not appear promising as an explanation for the divergence.

A further political factor may be that Britain has historically been more closely connected with the Indian sub-continent than France: perhaps the use of less physically humiliating metaphors in English to describe Mr Musharraf, even on the part of the left-wing press, simply reflects that closer involvement. Usage might therefore be different in describing an arena from which Britain is more detached.

From the perspective of differential experience or salience of experience, in a similar argument to that of the ‘military group’ metaphors, one could speculate that the French experience of conflict has led to a greater propensity to conceptualise conflict in terms of physical combat than is the case in Britain.

“Differential cognitive preferences or styles”, as Kövecses puts it, may also be a factor in this variation. It has to be said that to consider this notion as potentially explanatory is even more speculative than that of differential experience. Nevertheless, it generates interesting ideas.

Firstly, one could hypothesise that the use of source domains of physical combat results from a more concrete, physically confrontational view of politics in France. As far as political policies are concerned, Thornborrow’s study of metaphors for security in international relations found that French metaphors seem to indicate the reverse: she found that French metaphors tended to use more abstract source domains than English (Thornborrow, 1993: 113). However, this does not preclude the possibility of a more physically confrontational attitude in France towards day-to-day encounters between politicians. Thornborrow also found, when comparing personifications of Europe, that French represented Europe as having physical and mental attributes (such as a face and moods) to a greater extent than English. This seems to support the idea of a greater use of this type of source domain in French political discourse generally compared to English (1993: 115), at least when referring to people or personifications.

At a more basic cognitive level, perhaps the relative lack of examples of ‘physical combat’ metaphors in English reveals a reserve where physical contact is concerned.

9. Conclusion

The case study texts paint a clear picture, almost entirely consistent across the two languages, of elections as physical conflict. This states the obvious: the metaphors concerned are almost all thoroughly lexicalised, and the frame of conflict well-entrenched as a standard image of political contests. The consistency with which metaphors of conflict are used serves to locate the discourse within that frame, and to keep it there; and the metaphors enliven a potentially dull subject.

Fairclough comments that: “Metaphor is one resource available for producing distinct representations of the world” (2003: 131-2). Metaphor achieves this not least by engaging the readers’ emotions in an otherwise abstract subject. More importantly, the use of metaphors of conflict guides the reader towards a particular interpretation, through largely pragmatic effects. These were seen in the case study material, including the establishment of identities and contrasts leading to the elections being portrayed largely as a polarised contest (Mr Musharraf versus everyone else); connotations and associations of some metaphors triggering inferences carrying evaluations; and metaphorical entailments resulting in what could be seen as an over-simplified, over-dramatised portrayal.

The analysis reveals the overwhelming similarities between French and English in the conceptualisation of elections in terms of conflict. In fact, given the essentially adversarial nature of politics in general, the analogy between politics and conflict may well be a “universal” metaphor, to use Kövecses’ term, based on the underlying concept argument is war, which was used as a classic example of a conceptual metaphor by Lakoff and Johnson (1980/2003: 4ff). Nevertheless, there were two differences between the metaphors in the study texts: there was a higher incidence in French of metaphors relating to military groups and to physical combat.

There are, of course, alternative frames to describe elections, such as that of a race. I intend to carry out further case studies to test whether conflict is indeed the predominant frame for election reports, or whether journalists chose it as the most appropriate to describe this particular election.

The frame of conflict is rich in presuppositions, many of them connected with the positive ethos attached to conflict and physical strength. While applying this frame to politics could be seen as reinforcing politics as a positive and worthwhile activity, it could also be seen as conferring a masculine, ‘tough guy’ culture: as was seen in my data, participants in politics need to be prepared to ‘fight’, to rally their ‘troops’, to run the risk of a ‘slap in the face’ or a ‘crushing defeat’ – not traditionally feminine pursuits. Koller (2004: 4) makes exactly this point with regard to business media discourse, arguing that the war metaphor “helps to masculinize both that discourse and related social practices”. Women are under-represented in politics, and this metaphorical terminology may be contributing to the situation.

So, while one can enjoy and admire the scope of metaphor to achieve so much with so little – remembering “political cover”, for example – one has to acknowledge that the use of metaphors of conflict to describe elections has moral consequences. These metaphors are beneficial in helping readers to understand elections, and making them more interesting. On the other hand, the portrayal that is given by these metaphors is both simplified and distorted, highlighting some areas and hiding others, and it carries hidden evaluations conveying the writer’s presupposed and/or desired interpretation of events. No one reading these newspaper reports could glean from them any sympathy for the defeated side – if indeed they could ascertain exactly who the defeated side were. This could be seen as vindicating Locke’s condemnation of metaphor as “mislead[ing] the judgment” (1689: III: X: 34). However, it depends whose side one is on. The persuasive use of metaphor, guiding the reader or listener towards a chosen interpretation, has been valued since classical times. Journalists have much to gain from the use of metaphor; readers gain a clearer understanding of the event, but they need to be aware that this understanding is not as objective as it may appear. Caveat lector!

At a wider philosophical level, Goatly (2007: 30) argues that “some of these widespread and unchallenged metaphorical themes or models [including arguing/criticising is fighting] are not conducive to the future survival and well-being of the human race”. Following this argument, one could consider it inappropriate to use metaphors of conflict to describe non-conflict situations: there are enough sources of conflict in the world without inventing more. The problem is that, once metaphors like these are lexicalised, they become – as this case study has demonstrated – the usual way to discuss a particular topic. In fact, Underhill (2003: 154) states that an insistence on warfare metaphors tends to imply a “sympathy with, and desire for, the conflict and power struggle that warfare allows”. Only a major shift in the dominant paradigm would render such metaphors inappropriate.

These concerns are deepened if one examines metaphors in use in a real conflict situation. What one often finds then – in a reverse of the non-conflict situation of elections – is euphemisms [24]. So in non-conflict situations, metaphor is used to liven up the proceedings; whereas in conflict situations, in both languages, metaphor is used to demilitarise and to tone down (see Charteris-Black, 2005: 15; Chilton, 2004: 46; Thornborrow, 1993: 110). This appears to be a form of dual morality.

The use of metaphors of conflict thus raises a host of fascinating issues – from cross-cultural linguistic issues, to wider questions of the purpose to which metaphor is put, and the different interpretations of reality which it creates.


Many thanks are due to the following for permission to publish the text of their articles and a screenshot of their website:

All rights reserved.

I would like to thank Professor Susan Fitzmaurice for her expert help in developing this paper, and also the editor and the reviewer, whose detailed comments improved it considerably.


[1] This violent context could be considered to promote the use of metaphors of conflict. Further research into elections in different contexts will demonstrate the extent to which this source domain is entrenched in the discourse of elections.

[2] Kövecses (2002: 6) explains why metaphors in particular should help our understanding:
“Argument, love, idea, social organization are all more abstract concepts than war, journey, food and plant. This generalization makes intuitive sense. If we want to better understand a concept, we are better off using another concept that is more concrete, physical, or tangible than the former for this purpose. Our experiences with the physical world serve as a natural and logical foundation for the comprehension of more abstract domains”.

[3] Black’s “interaction theory” of the 1950s (1955/1981) could be considered to anticipate aspects of Blending Theory.

[4] The term used here. I prefer ‘frame’ as I believe its visual image best captures the concept; it is widely used in metaphor research; and it is more succinct than ‘ICM’. See also Fauconnier and Turner (2002: 40).

[5] Stockwell (1999: 125).

[6] Goatly (1997: 28).

[7] Musolff (2004: 17).

[8] The connotation of a word is “a[n] emotive or affective component additional to its central meaning” (Lyons, 1977: 176); it is “the ‘real world’ experience one associates with an expression when one uses or hears it”, and consequently varies according to culture, historical period, and the experience of the individual (Leech, 1981: 13).

[9] Levinson (1983: 174) describes semantic entailments as “logical consequences”. Metaphorical entailments work in a similar way. They comprise elements of additional knowledge about a source domain which are not specified by the metaphorical expression, but which the reader is effectively invited to infer from that source domain into the target domain (Chilton, 2004: 52; Kövecses, 2002: 93ff).

[10] As Deignan and Potter comment: “Because conceptual metaphor theory claims to describe central processes and structures of human thought, it is not language-specific and should have explanatory power for languages other than English; it is therefore of potential use in cross-linguistic research” (2004: 1232).

[11] Kövecses found that metaphors vary across languages in many ways, such as using different source/target pairings: for example, Hungarian metaphors reveal a passive approach to life, whereas American metaphors reveal a more active approach (2005: 158). Variation can take the form of elaboration of mappings: sailing is particularly productive in British English (Boers 1999: 48; Kövecses 2005: 158). The “degree of conventionalization” can differ, with a conventional metaphor in one language being marked in another (Boers, 1999: 48; Kövecses, 2005: 153).

[12] Charteris-Black and Ennis comment that “speakers of two different languages may interpret the same discourse profoundly differently” (2001: 250). This is in line with the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, which proposes that language influences thought. For a discussion, see Armstrong (2005: 14-17), who gives as an example the necessity of assessing one’s relationship with an interlocutor when speaking a language which has both informal and formal personal pronouns, like the French tu/vous.

[13] In terms of sales, the British press is dominated by tabloids, with The Sun selling over 3 million copies daily – more than all the French publications listed put together. The most popular of the broadsheets is The Telegraph on 850,000 copies. Weekly news magazines sell far fewer – The Economist leads with182,000 (source: Audit Bureau of Circulations). The French press sells far less overall. While France does not have a true equivalent of the tabloid, it has a thriving regional press, with the most popular daily being Ouest-France (769,000). The position of the broadsheets and the weekly news magazines is reversed in France: the three magazines listed sell around 450,000 each, while the most popular national daily, Le Figaro, sells around 320,000 (source: Fédération Nationale de la Presse Française). French broadsheets have denser text, they include fewer pictures than their British counterparts, and they tend to require a high level of general education (Thogmartin, 1998: 4).

[14] Translations here and elsewhere are my own, and are given in square brackets and a smaller font size.

[15] This is illustrated by the dictionary definition of “oust” (Oxford Dictionary of English, 2003): “drive out or expel (someone) from a position or place: the reformists were ousted from power.” The definition describes the literal use of “oust”, but the example is taken from the figurative use. The use of “oust” to interpret in a concrete way the concept of removal in an abstract sense has been used for so long that the two – both the concept and the linguistic expression – are becoming blurred.

[16] Goatly (1997: 32-34) would describe this type of metaphor – indeed, probably all the metaphors in the above table – as “Inactive” and “Tired”, but not “Dead”. “… their Topic and/or Grounds are relatively fixed by habit or convention … with Inactive metaphors the metaphorical connections are in place and may be switched on, in which case the user perceives the word as polysemous”. He contrasts “Inactive” metaphors with “Active” metaphors, where the interpretation is not fixed but context-dependent; and “Dead” metaphors, where the two meanings (the original literal meaning and the metaphorical meaning) are regarded as unconnected homonyms, like “germ” meaning a seed (originally) and a microbe (metaphorically).

[17] “… we don’t just talk about arguments in terms of war … Though there is no physical battle, there is a verbal battle, and the structure of an argument – attack, defense, counterattack, etc. – reflects this. … Arguments and wars are different kinds of things – verbal discourse and armed conflict – and the actions performed are different kinds of actions” (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980/2003: 4-5).

[18] “Reading newspapers is above all a leisure pursuit; it is therefore appropriate that the ‘entertainment’ aspect should be present.”

[19] The “knock-out” metaphor comes from the source domain of boxing, constituting sporting conflict rather than armed conflict. It could be seen as representing the common concept of politics = sport (see examples used by Bill Clinton in Charteris-Black, 2005: 138), or more specifically a political election = a sporting contest. It still conveys the image of physical combat. Indeed, it could be said that there is a blurring of the boundaries between metaphors of politics, sports and conflict, given that it is common to describe sports in terms of war (Kövecses, 2002: 75).

[20] Charteris-Black, writing about sports reporting, found that words associated with conflict were “invariably associated with attributes that appealed to the emotions such as strength, courage and determination” (2005: 14).

[21] See note [9].

[22] The same point was made by David Miliband, Foreign Secretary at the time of writing, in January 2009, when he said that “’War on terror’ was wrong: the phrase gives a false idea of a unified global enemy, and encourages a primarily military reply” (Miliband, 2009).

[23] One can note in passing that the use of metaphors from the source domain of physical combat (in both languages) bears out the cognitive linguistic thesis that metaphors have their origin in bodily experiences.

[24] The following examples describe events in Afghanistan:

“… containing the insurgency (even if this might not be pretty)”,
“One soldier described it as ‘a playground’.”

The Spectator, 26.3.08

“Ces avions ne chôment pas.” [These planes are not unemployed.]
“… aucune «bavure» sur des civils n’est à déplorer de sa part.” [… has not made any deplorable “smudges” on civilians.]

Libération, 1.4.08


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