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Can’t put a finger on it? 找不出问题所在

中国日报网 2024-05-24 17:13


Reader question:

Please explain this passage, with “can’t put a finger on it” in particular:

“Everybody knows they are having problems because they haven’t talked to each other for weeks. But I can’t put a finger on it. You’ve got to ask them what’s going on.”

My comments:

Two colleagues, say, have stopped talking to each other in the office, and the speaker, like everyone else, has noticed that something’s not right. But the speaker can’t tell exactly what it is that has gone wrong between them.

The speaker can’t put a finger on it. That’s how he or she puts it.

And that means he or she has a rough but not an exact idea of what’s going on.

To literally put one’s finger on something is to get a direct feel of the object. If you haven’t seen a walnut before, for example, you can’t describe how it feels. You need to take a walnut in your hand and feel its hard shell with rough ridges and edges. After feeling it with your fingers, you can tell, for example, how the walnut is different to an apple in terms of texture and feel.

Without putting your fingers on it, however, it’s impossible for you to tell that difference.

Not precisely at any rate.

And that’s exactly where the idiom “can’t put a finger on it” comes into place. It is used in situations where one can’t be precise and exact about something.

In fact, it’s often used in situations where something has gone wrong, as it is the case with the speaker in our example. The speaker knows something is wrong, but can’t put it in exact detail.

And here are more media examples:

1. Donald Trump will skip another Republican presidential debate on Wednesday night because no one will punish him for not being there.

No other Republican front-runner could so contemptuously snub his party’s second on-stage forum and do his own thing – in this case, a speech about the autoworkers dispute in Detroit as he cranks up a general election campaign months before the first primary votes are cast.

While getting away with it is the ex-president’s quintessential political skill, his talent for evading consequences is facing a grave challenge in another sphere – the courts. A New York judge on Tuesday underscored the growing threat to Trump from his mountain of legal challenges, ruling in a civil case that the ex-president and his adult sons were liable for fraud. The judgment, which poses a severe threat to the future of the Trump Organization, comes ahead of the ex-president’s four criminal trials in other matters.

Trump cannot control his legal fate, but his political destiny is still within his hands. He’s shattered the rules of politics as he takes aim at a second White House term that would strain the constitutional system of government more than the first. Trump has repeatedly reinvented his Republican Party and the way it picks its presidents, as well as crushing norms of presidential conduct. He’s defused the political fallout from multiple prosecutions – arising from his assaults on democracy and other alleged transgressions – by portraying them as examples of a weaponized government and justice system. The power of his political persona has cowed GOP critics and created a cult of personality that makes him invulnerable to attacks from within the party. Years of pouring scorn on the credibility of US elections convinced millions of his supporters he’s a victim of voter fraud.

So there’s very little risk for Trump in boycotting the debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, which honors the former president whose specter loomed over his party for decades until Trump’s populist nationalism chased it away. Since the first GOP debate last month in Wisconsin, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ campaign has faded further while former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has picked up some buzz and a few percentage points. But there’s no sign that, with another precious month of campaigning gone, any candidate is emerging as a meaningful challenger to Trump and his massive lead in the primary polls.

It would be a major surprise if one of his rivals used the debate, which is effectively a showdown for second place, to launch the kind of searing criticism of Trump that could puncture his standing among GOP voters. Only candidates who barely register in most polls – like former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who didn’t meet the RNC’s criteria to participate in this debate – have vigorously hammered Trump. While candidates like DeSantis and Haley have hit Trump on issues like abortion or tepidly over his electability, they’ve not risked a direct attack on the ex-president’s growing extremism. Mike Pence, the former vice president whom Trump’s supporters wanted to hang on January 6, 2021, has become more scathing – and has been rewarded with a sagging campaign.

Cassidy Hutchinson – an aide to ex-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows who has shown more courage in exposing Trump’s malfeasance on January 6 than most of the rest of the GOP – marveled at his influence on his party in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper Tuesday timed to the release of her new book. She included Republicans who will be on the debate stage on Wednesday night in her criticism of those who will not forcibly condemn Trump’s actions. “Donald Trump has such a grip on these people, and sometimes, I can’t put my finger on why,” Hutchinson told Tapper.

“Why is it so easy for these people to go along with this, why is it so easy for these people to say what he is doing is OK?” Hutchinson added: “In that moment they are conceding that they are OK with waging a war on our Constitution. That is not a Republican value, that is not an American value, (but) those are the types of candidates we are looking at in 2024, though.”

- Trump can get away with skipping a debate but can’t evade legal consequences, CNN.com, September 27, 2023.

2. Britney Spears’ bombshell memoir, The Woman in Me, has spilled more tea from her romance with Justin Timberlake.

The 41-year-old Sometimes singer detailed how the *NSYNC band member dumped her after their highly-publicized relationship in the tell-all, which dropped on Tuesday.

Britney revealed that she had a “trippy” experience with a friend in Arizona while “escaping” from her recent breakup and abortion.

The Lucky artist wrote that she had an “eerie” feeling that she described as “a profound beauty, otherworldly, and humbling.”

Britney added that she didn’t want to bring up the odd moment until her friend asked her, “Do you feel that? What is that?”

While the Toxic artist couldn’t put her finger on exactly what it was they felt out there, she said, “We felt it at that moment because we needed it.”

“We were so spiritually open and so raw. It showed us there was more than just what we could see,” the pop icon continued.

Talk about spooky!

- Britney Spears Claims She Had “Paranormal Experience” After Justin Timberlake Split, Tag24.com, October 25, 2023.

3. In 1958, Elvis Presley’s mom died after a period of illness. Elvis was extremely close with his mother and struggled to accept the news of her death. According to Elvis’ bodyguard, Red West, though, Gladys Presley had seemed aware of her approaching death. He shared why he began to feel this way in the months before she died.

Less than a year before Gladys’ death, West visited her at Graceland. Elvis was away working on a movie, but West had known the family for years. He was happy to sit and chat with her.

“While I was there, she got on the telephone and called Elvis,” he said in the book Elvis: What Happened? by Steve Dunleavy. “He was glad to say hello, and when he found I had about two weeks leave, he invited me to come to Hollywood and spend some time with him. Great, I had never been to a studio before. I was to leave the next day. After the telephone call, Mrs. Presley and I sat and talked some more.”

Throughout their conversation, West had a nagging feeling that something was wrong.

“Man, I knew there was something wrong with her,” he said. “I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it was just the way she talked.”

When looking back, West believed Gladys knew she was going to die soon. She wanted to make sure he would be there to protect her son.

“Man, that dear lady knew she was dying,” he said. “She never said anything like that, but the way she was talking, it was as if it was all over. She knew she didn’t have long. When I got up to say goodbye, she just sort of called me back, and she said what I had heard her say a hundred times: ‘Bob, look after my boy.’ When she said it this time it was different. There was a sort of, I don’t know, a sort of finality to the sound of her voice, like as if that was the last time she would ever say it to me. It was.”

- Elvis’ Mom Knew She Was Dying and Wanted Someone to Look After Her Son, Said His Bodyguard, CheatSheet.com, January 20, 2024.


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)


Truth or dare? 真心话大冒险


The right horse? 合适的人选


Better left unsaid? 不说为妙


Borderline impossible? 几乎不可能


The upshot is… 结果


Change their tune? 改弦易辙

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