The experienced catcher can help the pitcher by “framing” the plate, especially the border-line strike.

– Jeff Mincey, “Crash Course for Catchers,” Scholastic Coach (vol 52; 1982)

In art school, students learn not to look at the edge of the canvas as an absolute border.

In umpire school, the rectangle of the strike zone is an absolute border, but its exact location is a matter of judgment and even consultation. The catcher can influence an umpire – for example, by setting up with the mitt at the “low-outside corner.” Perpendicular lines sprout by implication from the catcher’s mitt, proposing a frame for the strike zone. If the pitch hits the glove, without obvious reaching by the catcher, the umpire may assent to the pictured zone and call a strike.

This influence does not deceive the umpire, say players willing to comment. They also say a catcher who is good at framing can earn a dozen strikes per game that might otherwise have gone the other way. Are umpires being bamboozled, milked, shaken down, seduced? They are being persuaded by a picture inside an imaginary frame.

In a crime drama, “framing” someone means rearranging evidence to make an innocent person appear guilty. This kind of framing clearly crosses a boundary between interpretation and deceit, offering a mental picture that is intentionally contrary to fact. Those last nine words could also describe a metaphor.

But a metaphor is always understood to be imaginary. It doesn’t deceive because it doesn’t make sense as fact: e.g., this month just flew by.

Image: Part of John Lennon’s face is excluded by the artist’s placement of the edge. Revolver album cover via Wikipedia

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Like trying to drink water from a fire hose

– D. E. Rogers, “Some Musings on Medical Education” (1982)

Too much, too fast: the water is liquid but might as well be solid. It is undrinkable.

Water in a less energetic state represents knowledge in Norse mythology when Odin drinks from Mimir’s well. In British history, the scholar-king James I was said “to drink indeed of the true Fountain of Learning” (Wm Sanderson, Compleat History…, 1656).

Many teachers have noted that knowledge-water can’t just be poured in:

It would be wonderful if our guardian angel could open a sort of trap-door in our head and pour in even a small part of the knowledge…
The Liguorian magazine (1951)

The strangest of all knowledge-drinking metaphors was developed by Robert Browning in Aristophanes’ Apology (1875), based on an ancient Greek party game called kottabos. In Browning’s kottabos, you are inside a rolling ball that has two holes: one hole is called High and Right and the other Low and Wrong. Wine dribbles in through the holes as the ball turns, and if you position yourself to drink only from High and Right, then you are like Euripides. If you drink regardless of where the wine comes from, you are like Aristophanes and can:

…drink knowledge, wine-drenched every turn,
Equally favored by their opposites.
Little and Bad exist, are natural:
Then let me know them, and be twice as great
As he who only knows one phase of life!

Ordinary kottabos is simpler, requiring only that you toss your almost-empty goblet across the room at a target that does ding!

Image: Young man playing kottabos. Red-figure kylix, ca. 510 BC. Ancient Agora Museum in Athens, via Wikipedia

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Remember what the dormouse said: feed your head.

– Grace Slick, “White Rabbit” (1967)

The idea that knowledge is something you can eat like food goes back to the Garden of Eden, with the stipulation that some knowledge is better left on the Tree. In 1741, Isaac Watts insisted there was no merit in reading all day long, because food was worthless without proper digestion.

As a Man may be eating all Day, and for want of Digestion is never nourish’d; so these endless Readers may cram themselves in vain with intellectual Food, and without real Improvement of their Minds, for want of digesting it by proper Reflections. (Improvement of the Mind)

For most of us, digestion comes automatically after eating, no conscious effort required. So Watts may be right about the need for proper Reflections, but his comparison is “hard to swallow.” (See the index, Meta-failed images, for familiar expressions that seem to make sense but don’t.)

The idea that wisdom could be ingested conveniently in pill form took hold in the 20th century – when vitamins, antibiotics, and The Pill offered “better living through chemistry.” Aldous Huxley described instant access to enlightenment through mescaline (The Doors of Perception, 1954), and a few years later pop radio was celebrating the extraordinary mental experiences available through sublegal pharmacy: “One pill makes you larger, one pill makes you small.” Grace Slick’s lyrics drew on imagery from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), which included a cake with “Eat Me” spelled out in currants on top. But it was Slick, not the Dormouse, who advised feeding your head.

Photo: Adapted from Wikipedia

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He’s not hurt much; I just winged him.

– Jackson Gregory, “Judith of Blue Lake Ranch” (1917)

In fact, Judith “winged” Trevor a couple of times: in the right arm with her first shot; after the second, his “left arm hung limp like the other.” The obstreperous Trevor was escorted off the ranch, and Judith went on with her breakfast.

It’s hard to imagine a gunshot wound being so lightly dismissed, even if it was to a mere “wing.” For a bird, a limp wing would amount to a death sentence. For a cowboy, in the days before doctors washed their hands and gave antibiotics, an infection could mean the same thing.

Yet the first OED example for “wing” in this sense is from a comedy, The Poor Gentleman (1802), by George Colman, in which the cantankerous Sir Charles complains about greenhorn hunters hitting everything but what they aim at: “What are the odds now, that he doesn’t wing me?”

Illustration: W. Herbert Dunton for “Judith of Blue Lake Ranch,” Everybody’s Magazine (vol. 37, 1917)

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As viewed by physicists, a solid “consists of a pattern of atoms repeated over and over again…like a large hotel with floor upon floor of identical rooms, identically furnished.”

– Alan Holden and Phylis Singer, Crystals and Crystal Growing (1960)

Waldorf_Astoria_1899Wikipedia

Waldorf-Astoria, 1899, via Wikipedia

This passage asks you to visualize something no human has ever seen – the atomic structure of a molecule – in terms of something invented by humans: a skyscraper. As a description, it would be wholly self-referential, and useless as a unicorn, if the imagined hotel did not connect in some way with real solids in the observable world.

Happily, the image agrees with results from scientific experiments. Materials that physicists classify as solids test positive for hotel-ish qualities: uniformity of material, repetitious structure, and interlocking connections. Experiments would yield very different results if it turned out solids were really more like a loose pile of clothes in a hamper than like the Waldorf-Astoria.

In most ways, admittedly, the hotel comparison is bogus. Atoms are subject to vibrations and attracting forces that would make a hotel uninhabitable. But this is how metaphor works: by describing a thing as if it were something else, which it is not. This is what poets mean when they say they tell “lies” to reveal a truth. This is what fiction is. We imagine what the eye literally cannot see, and sometimes there is truth in it.

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Like a reel in which the dancers form two rows, so that one of their number can come skipping brightly down the aisle, a concern of the Count’s would present itself for his consideration, bow with a flourish, and then take its place at the end of the line so that the next concern could come dancing to the fore.

– Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow (2017)

Trouble getting to sleep is a nightmare, except that you have to be asleep to have a nightmare. Towles compares the activity of the mind when it is trying and failing to fall asleep to a reel – a form of line dancing for lords and ladies. Worries take turns stepping forward, then retreat to the end of the line as the next worry comes up.

A dance is an orderly presentation. What goes on in the mind of a would-be sleeper is more a meandering, tumbling, often discontinuous succession of excerpts from the day, scripts for what might have been, feelings relived over and over, and details to be dealt with in the morning. Pre-sleep mental activity could be compared to the surging and swirling of seawater in tidepools, but the widely accepted metaphor is stream of consciousness.

Psychologist Alexander Bain coined that expression in 1855, describing how various sensations come together in “one common stream of consciousness – in the same cerebral highway” (The Senses and the Intellect). As the highway reference makes clear, the stream that Bain had in mind was a stream of traffic – a convergence of horse-drawn carriages.

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Mountains are the bones of the earth…

– John Ruskin, The True and the Beautiful in Nature (1843)

The bones of the earth are covered by thick layers of soil, which are like skin and muscle. When human bones and muscle move, you see outer surfaces of the body – shoulders, torso, thighs – bulge in some places and form hollows in others, like hills and valleys. Ruskin wants you to look at a landscape the way an artist looks at a living model, a subject “full of expression, passion, strength.”

Ruskin then notes: “But there is this difference between the action of the earth, and that of the living creature, that while the exerted limb marks its bones and tendons through the flesh, the excited earth casts off the flesh altogether, and its bones come out from beneath.”

In other words, the stony peaks and crags that inspire feelings of grandeur in alpine tourists may be seen as horrendous jutting injuries. As Maria might have sung it with the von Trapps, “The hills are alive with the screams of landforms.”

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Every instrument, a drum.

Get On Up (2014)

A banjo is a drumhead with strings.

In an early scene, James Brown explains to bewildered reporters what his new style of music is all about. Instead of being built on a melody, it’s built on a groove – a rhythmic environment that brings the mind and body to a state of readiness for feeling good. Later, Brown has to re-explain the principle to his musicians in the studio. Their training tells them, “It doesn’t work musically.” Brown insists: “Now we all got our drums.” Some may be guitars, some may be keyboards, but all should be doing the same work as drums: adding to the groove. “And when you’re playing a drum,” he says, addressing issues of music theory, “it don’t matter what key you in, what bar you in, what planet you on…” All that matters is: “Does it feel good?”

The metaphors for what music is and does are many. A traditional melody is a progression (travel) through notes and chords beginning at a root. The melody grows from the root like a plant.

In jazz, groove is said to trace back to phonograph records, on which a phonograph needle follows a track that keeps coming back around. If the needle is the band, the groove is their shared sense of direction.

Photo: Karl Stull

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After the crab eyes, the fish eyes appear.

– Chinese saying about bubbles in boiling water

“Crab Eyes” is also a poem in Guide to Capturing a Plum Blossom, a 13th century book of 100 ink paintings and 100 accompanying poems by Sung Po-jen – the world’s oldest known art book. The book begins with the buds of early spring and ends with fruit plucked for the soup pot.

The buds in painting number 4 remind Sung of the small bubbles in boiling water that are called crab eyes. This leads him to imagine how the world must look through the eyes of a crab – the rough seas and unforeseeable dangers. He concludes that a crab would rather die in the wild, from any cause brought by the dawning sun (Lord of the East), than in a boiling pot.

scuttling across sands of rivers and seas
at home in the foulest wind and waves
preferring the Lord of the East
public death to the cauldron

Looking at the ink painting again, after you’ve read the poem, the painted image is transformed. You see not only the buds but also oval eyes nestled in sockets, and an idea that brings the two images together – life in an uncertain world. We live in hope, but are all at risk of the cauldron.

Translation by Red Pine (a.k.a. Bill Porter, 1995)

Photo: Karl Stull

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Your body is a battleground.

Gulliver is a metaphor for France (a great nation tied down by petty factions) in this 1830 cartoon by Ferdinand-Philippe d’Orléans; Library of Congress

The idea that you are a battleground where good and evil clash is as old as the story of Adam and Eve and as contemporary as the image of a micro-devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other.

In the song “My Body Is a Battlefield” (Tobias Jundt/Bonaparte, 2010), the devil versus angel conflict is expressed as a series of contradictory impulses and perceptions, negative versus noble, raising a question of true identity: Who are you really? The two sides shatter the self into “a thousand faces”:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=859p9lW0Wws.

In Barbara Kruger’s poster “Your body is a battleground” (1989), the inner devils and angels turn political and the question is not which choice to make but who has the right to make it. Pro-choice and pro-life advocates battle in the courts, legislatures, and streets to determine who will own the “territory” that is a woman’s body: http://www.thebroad.org/art/barbara-kruger/untitled-your-body-battleground.

In the Book of Job, God and Satan use a man’s body as a battleground – leaving him with a bad case of boils.

In The Odyssey, Odysseus makes a battleground of his own body. He has himself tied to the mast of his ship so he can experience the thrill of the Sirens’ song without being drawn to his death, like a moth to flame. Odysseus-minded people nowadays go bungee jumping.

When it’s compared to something other than a battleground, your body may be a temple, a nation, a house, a shell, a suit of clothes, a machine with a control unit upstairs, or a gross weight carried around by the soul. Duality (or multiplicity) is built into all these metaphors. When there is duality, there will be a battle.

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