December 21, 2012: The world hasn’t ended, but I believe the meaning of metaphor has.
Earlier in the week, Inside Higher Education noted that University of Rhode Island Assistant Professor Erik Loomis caught the attention of conservative bloggers when he tweeted, “I was heartbroken in the first 20 mass murders. Now I want Wayne LaPierre’s head on a stick.” Various pundits called out Loomis for his attack on the NRA, of which Wayne LaPierre is president. I’m calling Loomis out for his explanation that:
calling for someone’s head on a stick is a metaphor to hold them responsible for their actions. I think the last time ‘head on a stick’ actually meant murder was sometime around 1450. That anyone would take this seriously as a murder threat is completely absurd.
Actually, Professor Loomis, “calling for ‘someone’s head on a stick’” is not a metaphor. Further, anyone with a passing knowledge of recent events in the Middle East and Mexico knows all too well that severed heads are quite the modern contrivance.
Metaphors draw comparisons, explicit or implied. A grammarian of with a charitable turn of mind might let you get away with labeling your tweet “hyperbole,” but as far as metaphors go—nope. Sorry. You’re wrong. And I won’t even start on the multiple grammatical crimes Loomis commits when he tries to make “somebody’s” the antecedent of “them.”
But let’s suppose for a moment, that Professor Loomis thought however misguidedly that he was waxing poetic. Let’s conjure the image he evoked:
Do I think Professor Loomis was threatening Wayne LaPierre? No, I do not. Remember that Professor Loomis is a teacher—i.e., one of those who “can’t.” Do I find it curious that Loomis and his supporters have no problem condemning violent words and phrases when they are perceived to be harassing from a sexual point of view, or hateful from a racial, ethnic, religious, or sexual orientation orientation? Why, yes, I do.
For example, you could find yourself in a lot of hot water (note the use of implied metaphor) at the University of Rhode Island if you happened to say, “I want Emily’s head on my stick” or “I want Jamal’s head in a noose” or “I want Tariq’s kufi on a pig’s head.” URI’s Bias Response Team will be down on you faster than you can say “Jackie Robinson.” And you’d probably get in trouble for that, too.
Too bad Wayne LaPierre is not transgendered. Then Professor Loomis would have to contend with Professor Cerullo losing her head.