Metaphors of Modern Management
Internet Version 
Copyright 1996 Sophisticated:The Magazine. All rights reserved.
Inspired by an entry in 101 Words I Don't Use.

here was once a remote island, inhabited by gentle natives who all owned dogs.  An incurable canine disease infected every pet on the island.  One by one each expired, and their owners suffered unbounded sadness.  They cried out to the missionary preacher, whose intercessions rose above the coconut palms with unctuous grandeur.

Along came a trading ship.  It was loaded to the Plimsoll mark with a large quantity of asses, which the crew had discovered attractively priced at a previous port-o'-call.  The grieving islanders paddled out to meet the ship and, upon seeing the asses, were attracted to them at once.  The captain of the vessel, having endured many days at sea with restless asses, ordered his crew to barter their asses off, in exchange for coconuts and trinkets.

The islanders much valued their asses.  Each brought his or her ass home.  They talked to their asses and kept their asses warm at night.  Wherever a villager went, his or her ass was never far behind.  They showed off their asses to friends.  It was not uncommon to see villagers standing around admiring each other's asses.  And patting them.  As a sign of respect, one might even kiss another's ass.

t the trinket factory, each worker was expected to get his ass to work on time and was forbidden to sit on his ass while on the job.   Soon enough, all the metaphors of modern management came into use: 

  • Slipping a schedule meant "falling on your ass."
  • You were said to be "flat on your ass" if you exhausted your budget, a "smart ass" if you exceeded your authority, and a "candy ass" if you were lazy. 
  • An untrained worker "didn't know his ass from his elbow," and a clumsy worker "couldn't find his ass with both hands in three tries."
  • Supervisors learned the effectiveness of kicking an employee's ass, and each worker discovered the need to cover his ass. 
  • Taking too much risk (betting one's ass) could result in getting one's ass in a sling.  Or worse, getting one's ass fired. 
  • A strict boss, known on the island as a "hard-ass," might then be heard to say "take your ass and get out of here."
he missionary preacher, whose ass was then revered above all others, seized the opportunity to urge the islanders to bring their asses to church and was gratified one Sabbath to find his chapel filled to capacity.  The text for that sunday, of course, was the 10th Commandment "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's ass."  The natives, wearing their best garments, sat on their asses and sang hymns of thanksgiving.

All at once, as the story goes, fire broke out.  Each worshipper was overcome with panic.  All feared for their asses -- including the missionary preacher, whose ass was always seen outside the window behind the pulpit.  As the flames grew hotter, he leaped over the sill hoping to land on his ass.  But he missed -- and fell down the well instead, thus affording to all of us a moral, as edifying as it is obvious:

Whatever your ass-pirations and accomplishments, no matter how lofty your station in life, stay humble.  For when things get hot enough, though you talk with God, you may not always be able to distinguish your ass from a hole in the ground.

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