An entertaining footnote about metaphors!

This is footnote 2 from Official Committee v. Integrated Res., Inc. (In re Integrated Res., Inc.), 147 B.R. 650, 662 n.2 (S.D.N.Y. 1992):

The Supreme Court has warned that “[c]atch words and labels . . . are subject to the dangers that lurk in metaphors and symbols, and must be watched with circumspection lest they put us off guard.”United States v. Ron Pair Enterprises, Inc., 489 U.S. 235, 253, 109 S.Ct. 1026, 1036, 103 L.Ed.2d 290 (1989) (citing Henneford v. Silas Mason Co., 300 U.S. 577, 586, 57 S.Ct. 524, 528, 81 L.Ed. 814 (1937)). Nevertheless, courts seem to enjoy framing bankruptcy issues in colorful, but misleading, metaphor. For example, the term “stalking horse” has appeared in a variety of odd contexts. See, e.g.,In re El Paso Pharm., Inc., 130 B.R. 492, 496 (Bankr.W.D.Tex. 1991) (“[t]he jury issue thus turns out to be a stalking horse”); In re Louis Fleet, 122 B.R. 910, 917 (Bankr.E.D.Pa.1990) (rejecting a “last ditch effort” of a debtor to use “his wife as a stalking horse”).

Bankruptcy cases teem with other mixed and maltreated metaphors. See, e.g., United States v. Nelson,969 F.2d 626 (8th Cir.1992) (“trustee here was attempting to `gouge substantive congressional-given rights from the eyes of debtors'”); Reynolds v. Comm’r of Internal Revenue, 861 F.2d 469, 472-73 (6th Cir.1988) (“Emerson’s dictum that `a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds’ cuts no ice in this context.”).

Food-related metaphors are common. See, e.g., In re Central Ice Cream Co., 114 B.R. 956, 960 (D.N.D.Ill.1989) (referring to the bankruptcy judge’s metaphor of the “egg” of conflict); In re Jeffrey B. Stone, 119 B.R. 222, 234 n. 18 (Bankr.E.D.Wash.1990) (“An appropriate, if informal metaphor, is to compare the exemption to a wedge of Swiss cheese.”); In re Charles Richard Snow, 92 B.R. 154, 158 n. 3 (D.W.D.Va. 1988) (extending the Swiss cheese metaphor to “argue that the wedge of Virginia cheese contains too high a ratio of holes to cheese”); C.I.T. Corp. v. A & A Printing, Inc., 70 B.R. 878, 882 (D.M.D.N.C.1987) (“The familiar metaphor of a pie is instructive.”); In re Tri-Cran, 98 B.R. 609, 620 (Bankr.D.Mass.1989) (learning “through the grapevine” in the cranberry industry).

Zoological metaphors abound. See, e.g., In re Financial News Network, 126 B.R. at 154 n. 5(conferring the title “tethered goat” on a break-up fee recipient); Mellon Bank v. Metro Communications,945 F.2d 635, 646 (3d Cir.1991) (“the target firm may not at all reflect the Elizabethan deadbeat, but may in fact wind up as the sacrificial lamb”); In re Universal Profile, Inc., 5 B.R. 572, Bankr.L.Rep. (CCH) ¶ 67,696 (N.D.Ga. 1980) (“This court is not favorably inclined toward making [the subsidiary] a sacrificial lamb for its parent company.”); In re Willie Charles Jones, 105 B.R. 1007, 1012 (D.N.D.Ala.1989) (remarking that “`Chapter 26′ . . . is an animal as different from `Chapter 20′ as an elephant is from a giraffe”); In re Assembled Interests Corp., 117 B.R. 31, 32 (Bankr.N.H.1990)(acknowledging that “calling an elephant a giraffe does not make the animal any less an elephant,” but also noting that “[t]his is an obvious but irrelevant truth”); In re Robert James Johnson, 80 B.R. 953, 962 (Bankr.D.Minn.1987) (“This test is popularly phrased via the fine, homely folk adage of `The pig gets fattened, but the hog gets slaughtered.'”); Dolese v. United States, 605 F.2d 1146, 1154 (10th Cir.1979) (employing a variant: “There is a principle of too much; phrased colloquially, when a pig becomes a hog it is slaughtered”); In re Donald J. Falconer, 79 B.R. 283, 289 (D.W.D.Mich.1987)(suggesting the allegory of counting and burying cattle to explain the “ontological demise” of cattle which “disappeared in almost `Orwellian fashion’ [and] became, in a word, `uncattle'”).

The reference to Orwell is particularly jarring because that author, a master of the language, warned against the use of stale metaphors as a substitute for clearly expressed thought. IV The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell 127-40, esp. 130 (Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus, eds. 1968).

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