Reader challenge: Fix the metaphor overload

Metaphors are “Poetry for Everyday Life,” as New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks said in his April 12 column. However, it’s best to stick to one metaphor per sentence.

Brooks highlighted the following sentence as “clunky” because it uses four metaphors.

Britain’s recovery from the worst recession in decades is gaining traction, but confused economic data and the high risk of hung Parliament could yet snuff out its momentum.

How would YOU fix the metaphor overload and make this sentence more powerful?

Please post your reply as a comment on this blog post.

26 replies
  1. Tom Mangan
    Tom Mangan says:

    I tried, but I can see why the metaphors are so handy… it’s almost impossible to tell without them and still have it remain a finance story. You have four facts:

    a) uncertain economic data; b) political deadlock; c) signs of economic growth; d) and the risk that the a+b cancels c.

    Considering the standing order to using descriptive verbs whenever possible, how else would you write it w/out metaphorical references to each of those facts? And would it be worth the effort of rewriting?

    News writers often have about 12 minutes to dash these things off — that should be the true test: can you produce a compelling rewrite in 12 minutes or less?

  2. Susan Weiner CFA
    Susan Weiner CFA says:

    Thank you for your comment, Tom. I agree it’s not easy. In addition to what you mentioned, we don’t know the specifics behind the sentence. In order to rewrite the sentence, I must make assumptions about what the author was trying to say.

    Here’s my attempt at a rewrite.
    Britain’s recovery from the worst recession in decades may stall if a mix of positive and negative economic data prevent Parliament from agreeing on economic policy.

    I wish I could read the original story. I may have misinterpreted the writer’s meaning.

  3. Jeff McLean
    Jeff McLean says:

    Simple, straightforward language might help.

    Britain continues to recover from the worst recession in decades, but unclear economic data and a lack of consensus in Parliament could slow or stop the nation’s economic progress.

  4. David Lufkin
    David Lufkin says:

    The example is fairly typical of market commentaries; writers who know their subject is boring look to spice it up and believe that writing is 90 percent stringing metaphors and 10 percent punctuation. The problem here is a lack of imagination. Let’s add some spice:

    As Britain drags itself to its feet after the most brutal economic beating in recent memory, risks that it will step straight into a combination right and left of weak economic data and political stasis are increasing.

  5. A.W. Berry
    A.W. Berry says:

    Maybe a some kind of blend between simple and straightforward, and creative punch. Not that this sentence does that, but here’s an attempt at it.

    Britain’s valiant return from a stinging recession has been tempered by confused economic data and political gridlock.

    The caveat is that the word ‘gridlock’ is interpreted from a financial perspective and not as a metaphor.

  6. Susan Weiner, CFA
    Susan Weiner, CFA says:


    I wanted to use gridlock, too. I don’t think of it as a metaphor, but I suppose it is from the viewpoint of a strict constructionist.

    Thanks for having a run at this sentence!

  7. K. Kondracki
    K. Kondracki says:

    Susan, that was fun. I would just like to add that “economic data” cannot snuff out anything, but the economic instability that the inconsistent data conveys certainly could.

  8. David Lufkin
    David Lufkin says:

    Economic data, whether good, bad or indifferent, as interpreted by investors, lenders and borrowers, can snuff out a recovery. Macro econ is the factor that everyone discredits while secretly visiting on the side.

  9. Susan Weiner, CFA
    Susan Weiner, CFA says:

    It’s fun to hear from others who care about these fine points.

    This is probably splitting hairs, but I think it’s people’s REACTIONS to economic data that snuff out recovery.

  10. Sue Nelson
    Sue Nelson says:

    Keep it simple….

    Britain is beginning to recover from its worst recession in decades but uncertain economic data and the risk of a hung parliament could stymie progress.

  11. Amy Welsh
    Amy Welsh says:

    Britain is recovering from the worst recession in decades but unreliable economic data and the risk of a hung Parliament could stall progress.

  12. Joe Anthony
    Joe Anthony says:

    Parliamentary gridlock and uneven economic reports remain a challenge as the British economy rebounds from the worst economic climate in decades.

  13. Jeff McLean
    Jeff McLean says:

    It’s interesting that in an attempt to reduce or avoid metaphors, so many people used forms of “hang” (a capital- punishment metaphor), “stall” (an automotive metaphor), “snuff” (a candle-flame-killer metaphor), and “drag one’s feet” (a walking metaphor). My point? So many metaphors are embedded (is there a metaphor hidden in this word?) in our language that it’s difficult if not impossible to avoid them. While metaphor overload may be bad and mixed metaphors may be confusing, there’s little point in trying to avoid metaphors entirely.

  14. LIsa Stockwell
    LIsa Stockwell says:

    In the end of the game, the sentence is weak, with or without metaphors. It would gain power from a reference to a specific financial statistic or report. If this is part of a financial story, I think the figures themselves would grab more attention and actually educate and inform.

  15. Greg Gocek
    Greg Gocek says:

    Sometimes trying to truncate too many ideas in a single sentence can be counterproductive. So I stretched out the meaning a bit across two sentences while using the same metaphor to link both. And for added measure, I tried to visualize the proposition for readers to make the transition more recognizable. Perhaps a bit too literary, but that’s what fiction reading can get you! Here goes, within the 12 minute mark-

    “Britain seems to be ascending into daylight from its extreme economic darkness. But confidence in that rise requires confirming aggregate data and reinforcing public policies, both of which remain clouded by uncertainty.”

  16. Robert
    Robert says:

    Conflicting data and political unrest are threatening to derail Britain’s economic recovery.

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