Metaphors are powerful weapons of persuasion. But when that metaphor reverses in mid-flight and comes back to smack you, it’s called a boomerang metaphor.
A humorous example is of the supremely self-confident Muhammad Ali. Sitting on an airplane, Ali was approached by a stewardess and this exchange took place.
Mister Ali, would you kindly secure your seat belt?
I’m Superman! Superman don’t need no seat belt!
Superman don’t need no airplane!
Ali might have dismissed a less confident stewardess with the Superman metaphor. But this stewardess caught his metaphor and flung it right back at him – a boomerang metaphor.
A more sobering example comes from the 1988 vice-presidential debates when Republican Senator Dan Quayle faced Democratic Senator Lloyd Bentsen. The 41-year old Quayle defended his limited experience (12 years) by comparing it with the 14 years experience Jack Kennedy had when he sought office.
The metaphor boomeranged on him, during the televised exchange:
I have as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency. I will be prepared to deal with the people in the Bush administration, if that unfortunate event would ever occur.
Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy, I knew Jack Kennedy, Jack Kennedy was a friend of mind. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.
Bentsen’s comment drew thunderous applause from supporters in the room. Although Bush and Quayle ultimately won the election by a comfortable margin, that iconic boomeranged metaphor continues to haunt Dan Quayle’s legacy to this day.
So keep an eye out for metaphors that are hurled at you to win an argument. And learn to catch them and hurl them back to stick your point.
About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the new language of business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.