Framing the War. The Use of Metaphors in US Political Discourse

An Exemplary Linguistic Analysis of the State of the Union Address

Seminar Paper, 2014

13 Pages, Grade: 1,7




1. Introduction

2. Research questions

3. Methodology

4. Results

5. Discussion of Results

6. Conclusion


1. Introduction

When it comes to framing the war linguistically, metaphors have always been key for many politicians in conveying their message and distinguishing in a simplistic manner between good and evil. Employing metaphors in political discourse helps politicians simplify their content and make the audience understand their message more clearly, as Lakoff notes: “Abstractions and enormously complex situations are routinely understood via metaphor” (1991: 25). Lakoff further describes the use of metaphors as something not necessarily good or bad, but rather depicts it as a stylistic device that is widely common even in everyday language (1991: 25).

While metaphors in everyday language might often be used for mere stylistic purposes, in political rhetoric its use often follows further purposes. Certainly, rich metaphors in political speech, such as those President Barack Obama makes use of all the time, are beautiful to listen to. But besides the aspect of beauty, metaphors in political rhetoric often have a more distinct function in trying to help strengthen the message and thus convince the recipient. Over the last decades, the use of metaphor in specific has even more become a key component of political speech and was subject to numerous linguistic analyses. Halverson notes that “[s]ince September 11th, political discourse about terrorism has largely been a pastiche of metaphor” and specifically characterizes terrorism-related language as being “constructed of a system of metaphors” (2003: 1).

Therefore, it seems highly interesting to look even closer at how metaphors are being used in the context of war-related speech in the United States. The focus of this paper will be on metaphors used in the State of the Union Address, since I assume that the latter is perfectly suited for an exemplary analysis of how war-related metaphors are constructed and which specific purpose they serve.

Originally, the State of the Union Address was constitutionally intended to inform the Congress “from time to time [...] on the State of the Union” (US Const. art. II, Sec. 3, cl. 1, as cited in Ritchie 2006: 117) and before the advent of Radio and TV this had been done only in written form (Shogan 2015: 2). Undoubtedly, its mere informative meaning has changed towards an event that is broadcasted nationwide on TV, Radio and through multiple channels online. President Obama’s 2015 address was covered by 70 broadcasters and drew an audience of 31.7 million viewers, still one of the lowest ratings in recent history (Harper 2015: n. pag.). Nevertheless, the State of the Union Address’ utmost importance for the President should be obvious by now. Therefore, I assume that its importance and wide media coverage that is perceived through all social classes and backgrounds results in a higher use of metaphors than in usual speeches. The necessity to create language that everyone understands seems to be a priority and therefore it might be probable that metaphors are being used more distinctly in order to convince a diverse and huge audience of the President’s perspective on complex issues of armed conflicts. It is therefore the aim of this paper to take a look at two State of the Union Addresses and exemplarily examine the use of metaphors relating to war or armed conflicts within those.

2. Research questions

In general, politicians usually lack a concrete description of who the specific enemy actually consists of. More often, rather abstract threats are being presented in order to leave out potentially risky concretizations and to simplify the message for a large audience and the mass media. What Halverson claims to be valid for defining terrorism, proves true for defining a concrete enemy as well: “Actually, it is a lot like metaphor - you know it when you see it, but it is hard to define” (4: 2003).

As stated in the first chapter, I rely on the assumption that the State of the Union Address might be suitable for an exemplary analysis of war-related language and therefore my hypothesis will be as follows: “Language in war-related speech is crucial to the hidden message the speaker aims to convey and often simplifies “good” and “evil” by the specific use of certain metaphors. Examples of the latter can be found in State of the Union Addresses over time.”

3. Methodology

This research examines the use of metaphor and how metaphor influences political language with special regard to language used for war-related content. The central questions being explored are what are the major metaphorical concepts being used?, what is the main purpose of its use within a speech?, and (how) did that change over time?. Several works on the subject matter were studied (even if there does not exist a lot of research on the specific subject matter). Finally, many State of the Union Addresses were consulted, especially before and after major armed conflicts, and two exemplary ones were eventually chosen.


Excerpt out of 13 pages


Framing the War. The Use of Metaphors in US Political Discourse
An Exemplary Linguistic Analysis of the State of the Union Address
University of Marburg
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ISBN (Book)
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framing, metaphors, political, discourse, exemplary, linguistic, analysis, state, union, address
Quote paper
Simon Brandl (Author), 2014, Framing the War. The Use of Metaphors in US Political Discourse, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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