Just stop with the flood metaphors for refugees.

Alex Jean
2 min readApr 2, 2022


Can be dangerous in large quantities, just like bad metaphors.

Update: September 2022.

As if on cue, the busing of immigrants to DC and NY has resulted in a predictible flood of flood metiphores by supposidly liberal news outlets like the Washington Post Editorial Board, who recently called the arrival of workers and school children a “problem” for the mayor, who asked for help from the National Guard, as though the arrival of workers during an epic worker shortage were an emergency, rather than a cause for celebration.

Do families arriving in a new country sometimes need help to get settled? Sure! Is it harder to integrate Spanish speaking arrivals in a city like Washington DC that rejects bilingualism and refuses to teach Spanish properly as a second language? Of course! Is there a massive worker shortage in DC? Yes! Does everyone arriving from Central America automatically have the necessary skills to fill every vacancy in Washington, DC? Of course not!

Let’s imagine an alternate reality where 75% of DC residents already speak both English and Spanish because they learned both languages years ago in school, newly arrived workers are greeted by a streamlined bureaucracy and politicians are praised for their efficiency and sound economic policies, rather than rewarded for shouting the loudest.


This week, the NY Times published an op-ed from the editorial board entitled “Putin Knows What He’s Doing With Ukraine’s Refugees.” Beyond the whiplash of seeing a western newspaper give credit to Putin for knowing anything about anything, the article struck me by its copious use of flood metaphors. Flooding as a metaphor for refugees is all too common, lazily so, in the news media. Refugees “flood,” “flow,” “fill” and “spill.” They “pour” and “swell.” This is not only lazy, but wrong. Refugees are not rivers, but people. They don’t “flood,” they walk. They don’t “flow,” they start businesses and write books. I’m hardly the first person to point this out, yet nothing seems to be able to drive a stake through the heart of this bad metaphor.

Floods are scary. Putin doesn’t need to stoke fear of refugees when the Times is happy to do it for him.