Metaphors are used throughout the data sets to position the events in different ways. A number of metaphors in the early data (2010) present the events—that is, the explosion, oil spill and the weather conditions that affected operations—in ways that foreground that these phenomena were out of control, or difficult to control. Metaphors used in the later data sets position events and their subsequent business outcomes as part of a journey (BUSINESS IS A JOURNEY), a process, or a story (MYTHS AND LEGENDS). This is a feature of the process of symbol creation, as the events move towards a somewhat-agreed meaning, perhaps that events are “part of life’s/business’s rich pattern”, but it also serves to background those elements of the events that are troubling or fragmented, and were early on metapho- rised as being unmanageable.
Naming of Events
My analysis of the naming of the events showed that qualifying terms of time and place increased in number and complexity, the range of head terms reduced, and that “oil spill” and “disaster” became the most commonly used over time. This reduction in the variety of terms suggests a degree of convergence on the part of the media, while still indicating two slightly different evaluative stances. The word “disaster” already encodes negative shading, and the term “oil spill”, in itself arguably neutral, is generally accompanied by qualifying terms that evaluate the events negatively.
Of note is the use of the terms “accident” and “incident” in the 2010 texts, which appear to have been the preferred labels in the early BP press releases. “Accident” implies no, or unclear cause, and “incident” implies a neutral stance towards events. Both are absent in later texts, suggesting that the widespread practice will be either a negative head (disaster) or a neutral head (oil spill) + negative qualifiers. These naming practices do not at all attempt to downplay the seriousness of the explosion and oil spill, although there is a reduction over time in richness of signification, whereby a complex noun phrase serves to replace a longer retelling of the story, and in this way selects and restricts available meanings. The conventional use by news media of certain negative formulations can serve to make these terms familiar yet “other”, and in that way “safe”.