I’m thinking on metaphors of the body. Here are some examples of what I mean:

On the one hand
Foot in my mouth
Lend a hand
Get back on my feet
Stand up to her
Run with the idea
Wrapped around hir little finger
Get your foot in the door
Dip in a toe
Dangle his feet
Under your thumb

I think these metaphors are interesting evidence as to how much the physical is present in people’s experiences. How much do these phrases assume body parts or functions? What other similar expressions can you think of? What do they mean to you?

I’m thinking on how disability-based metaphors trend to the negative, what Jesse the K would call disabling metaphors. What if we came up with metaphors that centred disabled people’s experiences, of our bodies or otherwise, neutrally or positively? What if disabled people controlled the language, were in charge of determining references to our own experiences? How would that work? What would that even be like?

16 thoughts on “Figuratively

  1. I’ve cheerily talked about getting away from a situation “as fast as my three legs would take me” or handling someting “on my own three feet” counting leg + leg + cane. Is that the sort of thing you have in mind?

  2. I find myself with my foot in my mouth a lot these days. Of course, I think that just has to do with the fact that I’m autistic…

    Hey, that’s something to think about right there: I’ve always wondered where that expression came from and I’m wondering if it doesn’t have to do with the fact that some autistic people and some other developmentally disabled people suck on their toes. I’ll bet it has a lot to do with comparing enabled people to “retarded” people.

  3. In work contexts, someone saying that they’re “so OCD” is a positive trait – it’s synonymous with organization and attention to detail. Sometimes in casual contexts too, it’s used to describe cleanliness. But both of these are also used to downplay these positive qualities, in a way.

    Of course, it makes me slightly uncomfortable as a person with OCD who is not particularly organized or detail focused or neat. And both are, in my view, a way to downplay bragging one’s positive qualities – in my experience it’s often women who are saying these things, and women are pressured to not say “I’m awesome!” or “I have positive traits!” full stop.

  4. A few attempts:

    Hitting the ground wheeling. She hasn’t got a cane to stand with. Running off at the fingertips. Don’t let your scooter stall on the way out.

    And here’s a pre-existing one that could be modified: left spinning her wheels.

    When I describe myself performing actions, I try to be accurate. I left a teasing joke on a friend’s Facebook wall, and was putting “*runs away giggling*”, when thought about it, and substituted “*hobbles away giggling*”, because that’s how I move. I also talk about myself “wheeling at the speed of light”, and if I could coin a term, I would like to be able to use “caning” as a descriptor of how one moves with a cane. So on days when I’m using one, I can say I was caning dreamily along, or caning the pavement with a vengeance, or whatever.

    And I think on days when I’m not in bed or on wheels, I’ll take after nightengale and say “up on three feet”.

  5. The one that really rubs me up the wrong way (ha ha) is ‘jumping through hoops’. It came up a lot in a discussion I had recently with some abled friends about how difficult it’s been for me to get accommodations at work. I thought it was particularly insensitive because I actually have a mobility impairment.

    On the other hand (groan) as a student of linguistics, I love finding out the origins of all these phrases.

  6. I almost posted recently about someone’s argument being “without a leg to stand on” (aka, lacking in any internal consistency and external factual basis) and then caught myself. Pernicious little bugger (that ableism is), I actually debated myself for a second being all “oh, but it’s just a metaphor” before realizing how freaking privileged and jerkish that thought was.

  7. Hello, I’m here through Shakesville where I went specifically to look for help with a question of this sort. I hope this is an appropriate place to ask my question:

    Today I asked my cousin to reconsider his use of the word “tard” on Facebook, and he offered to switch to “moron.” I pointed out that was really the same issue, smaller “target” group, so he wondered what he *should* say.

    I’d love to offer him some fun, creative, non-ableist (or other sort of -ist) alternative, and I’m soliciting suggestions. Thanks in advance, and I hope this is appropriate for this space!

  8. I don’t have mobility issues unless the pain is bad, but then it’s just “oh you’re so weak, letting pain stop you from walking” not something being wrong or off with my legs.

    But like whirlwitch, I frequently make reference to the “okay” things that help me – I said on twitter I was looking forward to having my heating pad under my laptop with a baseball game on the TV. The heating pad part wasn’t necessary, but it is an accurate description of what I’ve done and will do.

    I’ve been using “jumping through hoops” a lot to describe my fights with institutions about care, but it’s my narrative and sometimes it feels like they’re getting harder and harder to get through (just flop over the bottom of the hoop and scoot forward, eff jumping) and there are so many.

    But saying it to someone with mobility issues? Just a jerk move, really.

    The untoward lady – dammit, now I’m wondering. Because you say it when you’ve just embarrassed yourself, and sucking on toes in public is embarrassing and something “weirdos” do? I don’t know.

    Idea for a joke told by a comic with no or one leg – She said, “your argument is weak, you don’t have a leg to stand on!” “You’re right, I don’t.” (I never said *I* was a comic… it made me think of that video of the stand-up comedian with one leg posted here not sure about what to tell a date and she’s happy because he didn’t respond to her rubbing her toes on his leg.) I’d love to see these phrases used by comics – performing life, written down – who have those disabilities, and how they’re literal. It would be funny and interesting and reclaiming.

  9. Is there any linguistic evidence that “putting one’s foot in one’s mouth” has any of these origins? A web search for phrase origins isn’t very revealing, but it seems far more likely to me that it’s related to “to put one’s foot in it”, referring to inadvertently stepping in something unpleasant.

  10. I’ve said ‘I just put my crutch in that, didn’t I?’ in place of ‘put my foot in that’

    An acquaintance of mine has said ‘on the other wheel’, which I really liked because it gave me this great image of what happens when you push forward on only one wheel or the other – you turn in opposite directions.

    I’ve heard ‘Let’s wheel!’ for let’s go.

    Other service dog users I know referred to a chance to ‘get my dog in the door’ and ‘get our paws in the door’ metaphorically instead of ‘get my foot in the door’ (as opposed to the literal trouble getting people to allow us in!).

    In a Deaf community I went to occasionally when I lived on the other side of the country, there were a couple of people who would say/sign ‘read my signing’ instead of ‘read my lips.’

    I remember hearing a crutch-user say someone was ‘under my crutch’.

    I’m sure that I can come up with some when I’m not quite so tired, these are just ones I’m pulling from memory.


  11. Kaitlyn: I can’t remember his name but there is an Australian comic who has a prosthetic leg and talks about it in his act. (Usually I’d open a new tab and Google it but I’m on my mobile at the moment so can’t do that.) I saw him on the televised Royal Variety Performance and he talked about going through a metal detector in an airport and when he told the staff that he had a prosthetic leg, which was why it went off, they all started to get embarrassed and say “Oh sorry mate!” (This makes me want to get all deep and meaningful and ponder on whether him being white and male made them treat him better than someone else with a prosthetic limb or whether it was the country he was flying from)
    .-= Zaftig Zeitgeist´s last blog ..Paradigm shifts =-.

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