In the USA AIG got a $85 billion bailout. Then Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac each received around $100 billion. The US government approved a whole lot more money for more bailouts. Then the big three American automakers got $17.4 billion in December 2008. The Canadian government immediately followed suit and gave the automakers $ 4 billion. And each time the stock market responded positively for a while and then took another nosedive in week after week of extreme volatility, ricocheting around the world from stock exchange to stock exchange. Small investors, stuck on the sidelines, got seasick from worry about their lifesavings, if they had any to begin with. Not too mention all those people who lost their homes and their jobs.
Why didn’t our economic situation stabilize, with all this money being thrown at the problem?
Perhaps it is this nautical metaphor. When you “bail out” a boat, you remove water from the boat without actually fixing the gaping hole in the bottom of the boat. If the metaphor holds to what actually occurred, then no one was fooled. The bailouts have managed to slow the sinking of the ship. So of course, the pirates (another nautical metaphor!) who run the stock markets (see Bernard Madoff) and have the emotional maturity of scared chickens (opinion alert!) responded literally to the word bailout and were appeased for a few minutes until they realized what had really happened and panicked again.
And then there is the meaning of the verb “to bail out”. That’s when everyone, including the rats, leaves a sinking ship. Not a great image to create in people’s minds.
Why not have a rescue package instead? At least that way the intended recipient gets saved from the perils of the deep.
And that is the power of a metaphor. It has meaning all on its own. Choose your images carefully or the message you want to get across may just slip through your sweaty hands like melting ice cream on a hot summer day.
Shelle Rose Charvet,
Author of Words That Change Minds.