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More Thoughts on Criteria for Framing Success

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Does Your Language Have Metaphorical Tension?

This is a very important criterion, and it requires some explanation. Metaphors come in two basic classes: 'dead' and alive. Most metaphors used in daily speech are 'dead,' i.e., we don't notice them as metaphors: 'time flies' is an example.

When we say this, there is usually no feeling of a real mental leap between the two linked words 'time' and 'flies.' We don't get a conscious mental image, however fleeting, of time as a bird in flight. There is no felt metaphorical tension in this phrase.

Among live metaphors, there are two big classes: daily speech and literary speech.

Examples from daily speech include 'welfare queens,' 'frankenfood' or 'buffalo commons.' Here the linked words or components create a small surprise and sense of strangeness. Even though novel, this level of metaphor is almost immediately accessible, unlike literary metaphor, which may require considerable effort or background (footnotes!) to grasp fully.

Your goal should be creating new metaphors for daily speech that have just enough metaphorical tension to attract attention, but still be easily understood.

Some Other Useful Criteria for American Frames

Do they use active verbs?

Do they refer to well-known elements of our culture?

Do they use concrete, simple words as components?

Do they match your intention, the intended audience, and the


Do they explain concepts?

Do they explain versus command?

Do they raise a question, instead of giving an answer?


Do they help people ask a question of themselves?

Are they cool, will they be socially accepted, do they have social permission?

Do they have the age group target right?

Do they resist cooptation?


Are they congruent with your values and message?

Do they feel easy and smooth?

Do they distinguish between what is urgent and what is


A Further Hint: Create Pairs

When you create negative tweaks or metaphors, try to come up with lively positive opposites as well--for example,
frankenfood vs. eco-safe food. Organic is a very well known term for eco-safe food by now, but it doesn't imply as much of a story or grab as much attention as eco-safe food would. People who are turned off by the word eco-safe probably don't like the word organic either, so why not try for some press!