Metaphors in the Language of Bankruptcy

Bankruptcy law can be complicated and confusing to the average layman. That is why the American judicial system certifies lawyers that have been educated in the field of bankruptcy law. Bankruptcy attorneys are formerly trained to help the average layman better understand bankruptcy laws so the layman can make informed decisions when going through the judicial system available to them. To complicate the issues, there are metaphors in the language of bankruptcy.

Copy of Sketch of Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens often used bankruptcy metaphors in his novels(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A metaphor, according to the Merriam Webster online dictionary, is a “figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them, or it can be an object, activity, or idea treated as a metaphor by symbol.” Bankruptcy, like most systems of language, use a variety of symbols and figures of speech to explain the legal circumstances a layman might find himself or herself when they face the reality they are financially bankrupt.

By definition, the very nature of the word “bankrupt” involves a metaphor of its own. The term has most likely evolved into the English language from the ancient Latin words bancus, meaning a bench or table, and ruptus, meaning broken. The term “bank” refers to a bench the first bankers used in public places where they levied their money and wrote their bills of exchange. When one of these bankers failed, he broke his bench, or “bank,” to let the public know he was no longer in any financial condition to continue in his business.

The word also could have derived from the French words banque, meaning table, and route, meaning trace. By the use of a metaphor, we can understand the meaning of theses word relations from the sign left in the ground. In public places, the banker would attach his table to the ground with a stake to prevent others from walking off with his table when unattended. Often, when things went wrong for the banker, he might pull up his stake and suddenly leave. The only sign there had been a banker working at the station was the trace left from the stake one time attached to the ground but suddenly gone. The banker may even have left with others money. For those whom he left with their money, they would have seen only a trace, sign, or shadow of the former station left behind. The language implication is that those whom the banker left with their money were now bankrupt, for they could now only see a trace of the table where they last saw their money.

Writers throughout history have used bankruptcy metaphors to describe a variety of life’s situations. Mostly, bankruptcy refers to financial matters, but a writer might use the term as a metaphor for other of life’s situations. For instance, Dickens used the term, “bankrupt,” in a variety of circumstances to convey a void and hollow existence in relationship to religion, patriotism, virtue, and honor. This figure of speech was a powerful tool in directing the emotions and thoughts of Dickens’ readers for the various novels he wrote.

Like in the term “bankruptcy,” most metaphors used in bankruptcy law are subtly disguised and often misunderstood. Understanding the language of bankruptcy is very important when you are forced to file for bankruptcy protection. Having a trained bankruptcy attorney in your corner to help you understand the language is equally important.

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