Sunday, October 30, 2005

Messing with Metaphors: The Foot in Mouth Award

Metaphor: a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them (as in drowning in money); broadly : figurative language -- compare SIMILE

Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Metaphors are things we all learn in high school, but most of us aren't very good at using them. When you use a metaphor, you explain a concept by drawing an analogy to another concept. What is funny with metaphors is sometimes the reader doesn't realize you're using one, and may take what you say literally, drawing a completely different meaning from what you're saying.

A really hillarious example of that just like that happened yesterday in the blogosphere. Last week, Truth Teller closed his comments section, and a few days ago, my friend Najma wrote a post about it, where she used a metaphor, referring to her dad's comments section as his "second wife", who "took too much of his time, and he wasn't being fair enough to mom when it comes to dividing time between the two wives." She was drawing an analogy between her dad's comments section and the provision in Islam where some men will have multiple wives (but are supposed to treat each wife equally).

Of course, anyone who knows Najma and her family would know she wasn't being serious. Her family is very progressive, where men each have one wife, and women tend to have their own careers independent of their husbands. Najma's mom is a university professor, her older sister is a physician, and many of her female relatives are professionals (doctors, engineers, dentists, etc.).

A few days ago, when Najma first wrote that post, she asked my opinion on it. I thought the metaphor was brilliant, but I wondered in my mind whether some readers may not quite get it. Najma's post linked to her dad's post (where he said he was closing his comments section), so I'd think most people would clue in it was a metaphor. But, some people, it seems just aren't that observant....

Sure enough, someone at Iraq Bloggers Central found Najma's post and started an discussion in the comments section there:

Any comment on the momentary expansion of the Family in Mosul? (I'm still fumbling around the floor, trying to find my jaw.)Michael in Framingham Email Homepage 10.27.05 - 8:50 pm #

Michael in Framingham,"momentary expansion"? What happened?CMAR II
Email Homepage 10.28.05 - 9:50 am #

CMAR II,Well, I guess it really amounts to little, an illustration of "other countries, other customs." I admit to some true shock, and, perhaps less respectably, some amusement. Star of Mosul, Aunt Najma, presented a post on Oct 27, "Second Wife." Her father, Citizen of Mosul, Truth Teller has a second wife. Perhaps it has been mentioned before, in a post I haven't read, but it's news to me. So, the known size of a Family in Mosul suddenly expanded.Of course, I know that Moslems are allowed four wives under the Koran. This man, however, is the first person I've encountered--if reading and commenting on his blog count as "encountering"--who actually does it. I've read that it is becoming less fashionable among Moslems, especially educated, westernized ones. Truth Teller said he is a doctor and has been in the US. He also indicated that he is a devout Moslem.I wonder about his posts on family trips to Kurdistan and the trip to Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. Did both wives participate? If the second wife stayed home, does she get exclusive trips with Truth Teller, while Najma and her family stay home? No mention.Najma's post, however, announces that her father just divorced his second wife. The known size of the Family in Mosul thus almost immediately shrank back to where it started.Najma repeatedly says that she hates the second wife, for taking too much of her father's time. Ill feeling between multiple wives and their children is an obvious risk of the custom. This episode is a sad example of the risk.An unclear point is that she may be indicating that her father is divorcing his second wife by sending her an email! Under Muslim religious law, apparently, a husband can divorce a wife unilaterally and verbally. A wife cannot divorce a husband as easily. One doubtful thing about this interpretation of events is that Iraq currently has a civil law for women that is very different from sharia.Michael in Framingham Email Homepage 10.28.05 - 7:21 pm

Michael,My immediate reaction to Najma's post was a racy "WTF." And you may append anywhere between two to four exclamation points to the end of that "WTF" in your attempt to approximate my surprise.Little ol' Najma with TWO MOTHERS. Man, THAT's how SPECIAL that girl is!I guess ONE would not have been enough to bring her to term.Heh.*Jeffrey -- New York Email
Homepage 10.28.05 - 10:42 pm #

I laughed my head off for about half an hour when I saw this comment chain - I can't believe anyone took Najma literally on this one. Najma and Hassan both got a good laugh out of this too.

To Michael in Framingham and Jeffrey, in honour of your superior metaphor comprehension skills, and in particular to Michael for your brilliant and detailed analysis, I am pleased to present you both with the Foot in Mouth Award. Congratulations to you both on a splendid achievement!