Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Home is Where the Hearth Is

Metaphors are shortcuts, a way of quickly getting to the heart of the matter by using comparisons. The basic requirements are that the comparison be clear and that it be apt. It also doesn’t hurt if it presents a striking or colorful image.

It’s not surprising that familiar objects tend to be the focus of metaphors. The mental movement is from the familiar to the less familiar, and what could be more familiar than the structures that shelter us, the furniture that supports us, and the clothing that protects us? So today, let’s visit some metaphors that feature the structures that shelter us.


I’m going to use the neologism structuronym to describe metaphors based on features found in buildings. The –nym part signifies a name or term. The first part comes from the Latin stem -struct-, which means built. Let’s take a home tour.

By looking up, we can see the source of hit the ceiling and the negatively charged glass ceiling. We also have wage and price ceilings. And while we all live under the same roof, as it were, some of us raise the roof at times, especially when gas prices go through the roof. It’s good to have a roof over one’s head, a structure that makes it possible to shout from the rooftops (unless your tongue is stuck to the roof of your mouth), but don’t make yourself feel like a cat on a hot tin roof.

Walls seem to be a favorite way to express desperation and frustration. Thus, we may force someone to the wall, or, in a variation, drive someone to the wall. At that point, you’ll find yourself with your back to the wall or your nose to the wall, where you may bang your head against the wall, climb the wall, or run into a brick wall. If you find yourself in a hole-in-the-wall, you may encounter wall-to-wall people and discover that the walls have ears—probably belonging to that fly on the wall. If you go to the wall for your cause, you’ll be able to read the handwriting on the wall, which is sometimes off the wall. Above all else, don’t let yourself get walled in.

Looking down, you may be floored to discover that you are in on the ground floor. If you take the floor, you will have the floor to do as you wish—perhaps mop up the floor with someone. It’s enough to make you pace the floor.

If you beat a path to someone’s door or if you darken someone’s door, it may be because you’re trying to get a foot in the door or to lay something at their door. But it’s always possible that even if you go door to door, they won’t open a door for you or that they will show you the door, only to shut the door on you. They’re determined to keep the wolf from the door, hoping that he will decline and be at death’s door. All of this takes place as they hide behind closed doors.

Eyes are the window to the soul (or TV the window to the world), but if you don’t see a window of opportunity, or if you miss the launch window, your hopes may all be out the window.

It’s a home truth that a man’s home is his castle, a place to make yourself at home, but a woman makes a house a home. Charity begins at home, so bringing home the bacon will drive the point home. And unless the chickens come home to roost, and until the cows come home, there may be nothing to write home about. Of course, with all those animals milling about, someone may eat you out of house and home, something that will hit close to home. So keep the home fires burning and you’ll be home free—unless nobody’s home.

If meals are on the house and you have a boarding house reach, you’ll bring the house down as people watch you munch like a house on fire. If you wish to hold an open house, you’ll have to clean house and put your house in order. If you’re playing house in a house of ill-repute, you’ll find yourself living in a house of cards. People who live in glass houses, after all . . . .

Unless you are in the cellar and don’t have enough room to swing a cat, you probably have a room with a view; perhaps you even live in an ivory tower. If you have a skeleton in the closet, you may want to come out of the closet and beard the lion in his den—unless he’s hanging from the rafters.

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