The Washington Post (October 31) carried GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain’s remarks on allegations of his sexual harassement of two former female employees as head of the National Restaurant Association in its “Today’s Quote of The Day.”

In denying the allegations of harassment as “totally baseless and totally false,” he said:

"This bull’s-eye on my back has gotten bigger. We have no idea the source of this witch hunt, which is really what it is."

I had a hiccup in interpreting the implication of Herman Cain’s “bull’s-eye. Doesn’t “bull's-eye” give, or have a risk to give an impression as if the allegation is on the mark, that is true?

Readers Plus (Japanese publisher’s) English Japanese Dictionary at hand defines “bull’s eye” as:

  1. n. Center of the mark, crux, decisive one.
  2. int. That’s right. Exactly.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines is as:

  1. The center of the target, also central or crucial.

Cambridge Dictionary defines it as:

The circular center of the object aimed at in games such as darts, or shot that hits this.

All of the above definitions tempt me to interpret “bull’s-eye” as the shot that hits right, or correctly, thus, the allegation is on the mark, exact, and true, which though the candidate should never intend to say.

Therefore it comes back to the captioned question - Does “bull’s-eye” simply mean a hole made by a bullet (or an arrow), without the notion of rightly hit (answer, remark, allegation)?

  • 4
    Yoichi, you really need to quit torturing yourself by trying to understand the utterances of American politicians. A lot of the time they don't make a lot of sense to us either.
    – T.E.D.
    Nov 1, 2011 at 13:11
  • @T.E.D. Interesting comment. I like it. Yoshihiko Noda, Japan’s Prime Minister said in his pre-inaugural speech that he wants to behave like a Dojo (loach) that lives in the muddy water, I guess, in an attempt to say he wants to take down-to-the-earth policies, not big talk. Most Japanese voters queried and still are puzzled about what he meant by Dojo. However, politicians’ jabberwockies are fun to relish sometimes to let me think they are human after all. Nov 1, 2011 at 21:44

3 Answers 3


He meant target on his back. This is a common metaphor for a situation where everyone else seems to be attacking (shooting at) you. However, Mr. Cain isn't exactly the most carefully-spoken person on the American political scene, so he didn't quite get his metaphor right.

As others have pointed out, a "bulls-eye" is the very center of the target that a person is supposed to be aiming for. It is also the term used if someone actually hits that part of the target, and can be the name for the hole left in that part of the target (or sometimes an imaginary target on an object someone was shotting at) by a particularly well-aimed shot.

If he has a "target on his back", naturally there would be a bulls-eye there in the center of it, so this isn't the worst mixed-metaphor ever.


The American Heritage Dictionary provides one definition of bull's-eye:

The small central circle on a target.

The term bull's-eye in this context most likely does not mean what you think. Instead, it is being used as a synecdoche for the entire target. Cain is stating that because of the additional allegations, that the metaphorical target on his back is becoming bigger, i.e. more groups are seeking to level allegations against him.

Using the term bull's-eye in this context makes no judgement as to the actual validity of the allegations. However, Cain's choice of words indicates his contention that they are untrue.

  • 1
    I think your last sentence is a bit misleading. His use of the word shows that he believes the allegations are invalid.
    – user13141
    Nov 1, 2011 at 8:08
  • True, I'll edit my post accordingly.
    – Brendon
    Nov 1, 2011 at 11:59

Regarding you question the logic is simple and universal the phrase bull's eye is used only in the first sense, of a target and in that sense: The fact that one is targeted does not imply that one ought to be.

Furthermore, the phrase bull's eye on the back implies few more things:

1) target is the type that is attached to something (this does imply exactly the opposite, that this kind of target can be put on anything or on anyone)
2) target is on the back (this implies that a person might be unaware that the target is there, or at least how or why it got there; or express that the person is not able to remove it)
3) saying that the target is attached to his back also implies that people who target him are kind of people that would shoot someone in the back. This is kind of ad hominem attack; attacking the attacker instead of the arguments. The effect here is not emphasized i.e. there can be different interpretations and reasons for the target on his back, but he reinforces the interpretation with 'this witch hunt1, which is really what it is'.

In summary he is implying that he has been targeted, and that this targeting is unjustified, unfair, prejudiced and dishonorable.

1 An investigation carried out ostensibly to uncover subversive activities but actually used to harass and undermine those with differing views.

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