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Vertiginous times? 兴奋又忐忑

中国日报网 2019-07-05 11:36

Reader question:

Please explain this sentence: “These are vertiginous times.” Vertiginous times?

My comments:

These are giddy and dizzying times, in other words.

I say giddy and dizzying because the root of “vertiginous” is vertigo.


Vertigo is the technical word for to the medical condition of height fearing. People who suffer vertigo feel a whirling sensation when they look down from height, such as from the rooftop of a tall building. They lose their sense of balance, hear a ringing noise and/or become nauseated.

I’ve never climbed a water tower as quite a few friends from my generation have done, but I’ve climbed many a tall tree back in the day. Climbing a water tower, let alone a tall tree was our idea of a high good time, paltry poor things. And when I came close to the top of the tree, when limbs got thin and the view became clear, I sometimes felt my legs shake, especially when the tree branches began to sway.

That’s an idea of what it feels like to be vertiginous, well, sort of.

So, vertiginous times means giddy and dizzying times, times of excitement, times of frenzy, times of trouble.

Yeah, being high up in the air feels giddy, as in exciting and exhilarating but once that giddiness morphs into dizziness, excitement gives way to fear, fear of falling, falling, say, off a cliff.

So, vertiginous times can be exciting and fraught, fraught with uncertainty, danger and trouble.

That’s about it.

Oh, by the way, vertiginous clearly is a big word, a formal word, a literary word. If you find “vertiginous times” too literary to put into use in your writing, just say “giddy times”. The latter expression, less vertiginously high sounding and intimidating, is more commonplace anyway.

Here are media examples of both:

1. THE WORLD CHANGED SO DRAMATICALLY in the 1980s, particularly in the past few months, that at times one felt nostalgic about last week. The 1980s saw the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe; the diagnosis of a deadly disease--AIDS--that has escalated into a worldwide epidemic, and the ascendancy of American conservatism. Indeed, so much changed so rapidly in the waning years of the decade that the prospect of contemplating more U-turns in the 1990s makes one a bit lightheaded.

But these are vertiginous times, like it or not. The calendar dictates a new decade, ready or not. We aren't reckless or presumptuous enough to try to label the ’90s before they arrive, but we thought it might be wise to ask for help in preparing for the next spin of the wheel of history.

Many of the specialists we queried were ill at ease about trying to gaze into the future. Because events have a way of embarrassing horse-racing handicappers and denim salesmen, the squeamishness evoked by questions about peace, economics and environmental issues is understandable. But, with a little prodding, we came up with a panel of 14 prophets who speculated, wondered, expounded, hedged and warned about the coming years. Two main currents stand out: sweeping optimism and chilling pessimism.

So don’t expect a dull decade. And don’t blame us if they turn out to be wrong.

- Slouching Toward the Millennium: Prognostications, Prophecies and Just Plain Guesses About What the Last Decade of the 20th Century Will Bring, Los Angeles Times, December 24, 1989.

2. I have it in front of me now and it started a tumult. It is an airmail letter addressed to me c/o American Express, Bocca da Piazza 1261 Venice. It has two 10- cents stamps and is postmarked Jamaica, dated July 8, 1962. Inside are eight flimsy pages of airline paper headed: “Flying with BOAC”. The letter is from Harold Pinter. It is the first of many such in a relationship that was to last some eight years. Others followed from New York, Boston, Wisconsin, Sicily, Berlin and even Venice, sometimes addressed to Mrs White, more usually to Miss Kydd (a character from his very first play, a one-acter called The Room, commissioned by Henry Woolf, who would years later loan us his own rented room). Each letter was sent c/o a sympathetic friend who could be relied on to keep our secret. Just such a letter was to be the focus of the plot of one of his most celebrated plays, Betrayal.

It is more than 30 years now since Harold wrote that play. It was set in a period that stretches backwards from the late Seventies into the late Sixties, and drew on things that happened a few years earlier. The play portrayed many of the events of the affair between us, with an accuracy verging on the literal. At the time when he first sent me the script, I was deeply distressed to have our private affair so glaringly presented on stage. In the years since then, I have come to regard it as a brilliant exposition of loyalty, love and betrayal between people who care for each other. I have seen many productions of it and grown reconciled to what I first regarded as a judgment on my behaviour. Time passes – and now I look back on it all with fond memories.

Right now, it is being presented at London’s Comedy Theatre with Kristin Scott Thomas as Emma – the woman who is not me, but whose life corresponds very closely to an important part of my own. I went along to talk to the cast as they embarked on rehearsals. There was plenty to talk about.

Some things stay the same: men and women have always fallen passionately in love. But the world in which they live and are judged changes. In many senses, this is now a period play. Not only are the settings and locations different, but social attitudes have changed, too. The 1960s were a different world – and Sixties London was a good place to have an affair. They were giddy times, and the city’s young people were buoyant with a creative optimism that made people inclined to smile rather than frown. And people always smile on lovers. For some seven years, Harold and I met easily and often in London’s pubs and cafés. I sped around London happy as a lark in my first car, a Morris Minor, finding no traffic jams and few parking restrictions. We were so in love we felt it was worthwhile to dash across London to spend half an hour in each other’s company. The Little Akropolis restaurant in Charlotte Street became our regular haunt, and its Greek proprietor took us under his wing.

This would be trickier now, not because we might be recognised, but because the technology has changed. We made our clandestine arrangements in snatched moments from our homes or public telephones. The play refers to “the pip, pip, pip phone calls” made from a pub. There were no mobile phones, phone bills weren’t itemised, no ring-back facilities, no texting, no Twitter, no Facebook – all of which can ambush today’s lovers. Our plans left no trace.

- My affair with Harold Pinter - and why we could not have kept it secret today, Telegraph.co.uk, June 12, 2011.

3. Amazon is on the path to fundamentally changing the way you shop with a few, quiet experiments in logistics.

Yes, delivery logistics, once a staid business, is now the frontline of a tectonic shift that’s taking place everywhere from the United States to Europe to China, largely thanks to Amazon.

In the past two years a diverse set of firms, including German electronics retailer Media Markt, department stores Bloomingdale’s and Macys, and Internet giants Google GOOGL +0% and Ebay, have followed Amazon by launching same-day delivery service. And Amazon has upped the game by introducing one‑hour delivery in major American cities and even a Wi-Fi-connected button customers can push to re-order select products right away.

For customers, delivery is becoming a when-I-want-it-where-I-want-it service. So e-tailers, traditional retailers, and third‑party logistics players started using customer-determined delivery speeds, on‑demand time slots, and flexible delivery locations to separate themselves from the pack. Once the stuff of science fiction, in the new world, customers can get what they desire almost immediately with the press of a button. The question is: Who owns the customer?

Amazon is hustling logistics players down this road to more customized delivery options as the company seeks to differentiate itself and keep customers under its banner throughout the entire shopping process. Worried large consumer markets like the U.S. and Europe lack enough sorting and last-mile delivery capacity to take care of the growing number of parcels, Amazon is investing heavily in regional warehouses and information technology. Amazon is rolling out same-day, one-hour, and Sunday delivery services, and even a nascent drone program.


If logistics players and retailers want to continue to own their customers, they must revamp their processes from the perspective of the final customer, with a focus on quickly removing hassles. Soon, receiving packages within an hour of ordering them or at the time and place specified at no extra charge could become the new standard in cities.

For the strongest e-tailers, those that can already supply goods faster than once thought possible, these are giddy times, as their empires rapidly expand. Traditional retailers may find themselves cornered unless they can meet the demands of customers who want to shop anywhere, any time. Logistics companies, too, will need to think hard about how they can better serve their e-tail clients. They’ll need to be fast, flexible, and much more innovative, or risk being pushed off the map altogether.

- Amazon Is Using Logistics To Lead A Retail Revolution, Forbes.com, February 18, 2016.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)


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