The Volokh Conspiracy

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Careful with Those Metaphors …

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

I don't want to make much of this—I just thought it was a funny glitch, of the sort that all of us fall prey to from time to time. But it might also be a reminder for writers to be careful about using figurative phrases, especially ones that are so familiar that we don't really think about their literal meaning: Sometimes, circumstances bring up that literal meaning, and make the phrase jarring or unintentionally funny.

This is closely connected to the problem of mixed metaphors (e.g., "the political equation was thus saturated with kerosene"). There, the literal meaning one half of the metaphor is highlighted by its mismatch with the literal meaning of the other half. Here, the literal meaning of "lock arms" is highlighted by its mismatch with the substance of the situation.

Thanks to Glenn Reynolds (InstaPundit) for the pointer.

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17 responses to “Careful with Those Metaphors …

  1. Together, we’ll show those viruses what we’re made of!!!…. ur, we won’t show those viruses what we’re made of.

  2. Ms. Widmer is threatening administrative action against doctors who treat SARS infections (that IS the name of the virus) who prescribe hydroxychloroquine to folks in danger of dying.

    She is dangerous to the health of the sick and dying.

    1. Given the currently available evidence and its reliability, what in your considered medical opinion should be the criteria for use of hydroxychloroquine to treat this particular virus, covid-19, in humans? Does your answer take into account all of the relevant considerations (e.g., proven or likely efficacy; known and unknown risks) and properly weighed them? I ask so as to be clear whether you are expressing a medical opinion grounded in facts or a political one based largely on a libertarian point of view.

      1. Off-label prescribing is not only protected by Federal law, but we wouldn’t have transgendered people if it wasn’t because the hormones they are taking are being prescribed off-label.

        I’m not saying if this drug is effective or not — what I am citing is FDA policy that licensed MDs can prescribe any licensed drug for “off label” things — and that no state has the authority to say they can’t. And second, there is the “Right to Try” that was established in response to AIDS, and if you are gonna die anyway, Federal law lets you try stuff that may be totally useless.

        A state’s Governor doesn’t have this authority.

        1. ” that no state has the authority to say they can’t” State medical licensing boards have no control over the way physicians practice and can’t stop them from doing crazy stuff with meds, as a few do from time to time. I think they do have such power and have exercised it many times, those boards serving at the direction of their governors.

          I don’t think “Right to Try” laws are as permissive as you suggest. And I don’t think they have much relevance in cases of acute infectious diseases that will not be on for very long before eventuating in recovery or death. Where those laws may pertain is with cases of cancer and degenerative diseases.

          1. [There’s no “edit” function on this platform? That’s a definite shortcoming that wasn’t here when the VC was with the WaPo or earlier on its own.]

            ” RIGHT-TO-TRY LAWS are U.S. state laws and a federal law that were created with the intent of allowing terminally ill patients access to experimental therapies (drugs, biologics, devices) that have completed Phase I testing but have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).” Sorry fellows, notwithstanding your certainty, they don’t pertain here.

      2. Leave it up to doctors and hospitals not governors. Trump didn’t order any doctors to prescribe it, he ordered the FDA to make it available to prescribe.

        Now Governors Whitmer and Sisolak are interfering with doctors and hospitals using all the tools available to them.

        1. “Trump didn’t order any doctors to prescribe it…” Of course he didn’t but he encouraged it, though it was so unwise for him to do so, especially under the current circumstances. Can you point to respected members of the medical community who are promoting the wide use of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine? I know of none at this time.

          “…he ordered the FDA to make it available to prescribe.” “Off label” use of approved and marketed drug already permitted it, so no need for such an order. What is being demanded of FDA, wisely or unwisely, is looser strictures on clinical trials (however sloppy) of these meds not out there as antivirals.

          “using all the tools available to them,” proven and unproven ones alike.

          1. “Can you point to respected members of the medical community who are promoting the wide use of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine?”

            Does the Massachusetts General Hospital, the teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, count as “respected?”

            They are using drugs off-label in an attempt to save the lives of people infected with the Wuhan Virus.

            1. Well CBS had it on the news this morning, not sick people getting the drug, but Doctors and Pharmacists hoarding pills for their families just in case they get the virus.

        2. “Now Governors Whitmer and Sisolak are interfering with doctors and hospitals using all the tools available to them.”

          They’re definitely interfering with Interstate Commerce and my understanding is that is where the power of the FDA comes from.

      3. The virus’ name is not “covid-19”; the virus itself is, in fact, named SARS-CoV-2.

        SARS-CoV (now SARS-CoV-1) died out by itself in 2004.

        COVID-19 was assigned as the name of the disease by the WHO to avoid irking certain Asian countries that are bothered by the name SARS.

        https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/technical-guidance/naming-the-coronavirus-disease-(covid-2019)-and-the-virus-that-causes-it

        I’ve read the paper by the French MDs (along with numerous anecdotes) and until something better is identified, I’ll scream bloody murder to get hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin for me or a family member after testing positive for the SARS du jour, getting louder as symptoms progress. For you and yours, I suggest acting as a Christian Scientist with appendixitis; just grin and bear it until the last FDA holdout agrees.

  3. How often does “lock arms” have literal meaning other than when playing Red Rover? So infrequently that it is hard for me to see this as a mixed metaphor except for those who are really concrete in their thinking.

    Those people will stumble on mental status exams when asked to interpret sayings like, “A rolling stone gathers no moss.” They may offer as an explanation that stones that roll won’t have moss attach to them, or something like that, thereby missing the intended meaning that most people will readily apprehend.

    “Every cloud has a silver lining” will puzzle them because it has no literal meaning. That may not exactly qualify as a mixed metaphor, but it is very much like one inasmuch as it is again a matter of the literal vs figurative meaning or implication. Give those “concrete” interpretations and the examiner may think he/she is onto a schizophenic, because schizophrenics are liable to answer that way, unable to handle the simple abstraction.

    EV, do you think this Widmer “locked arms” utterance is a very clear instance of a mixed metaphor? I don’t.

  4. I still remember “giving them space to riot” — and as bad as that clueless woman was, I honestly don’t think she quite meant what she said….

    1. Given her overall body of work, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she did.
      Anything that compromises the English language should fall prey to reasoned criticism, but I’ll take a mixed metaphor over a collection of cliches any day … and make it on the rocks.

  5. Together we can all lick this problem.

    We must all come together.

    Rally against this virus.

    Our enthusiasm to fight the virus is contagious.

    etc.

  6. I have always liked to mix my metaphors.

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