One of the fears facing English learners in reading news in English is new words – ugh, so many of them, I hear you groan. The prospect of having to look up one word after another is so daunting that many people simply give up reading altogether. Need not be so.
One sophisticated cure for this fear of new words pertains to psychology. Fear is an idea in your head. It's ok to address it head on, pardon the pun. In other words, feel the fear and do it. Face the fear and look words up anyway. Don't be daunted. Don't focus just on hardship – Don't recall and count the number of words you looked up yesterday. Instead, enjoy your accomplishments today. Or better, you can borrow the bright future by basking in the glories of success you'll achieve as a result of your reading on a daily basis. Bright future because by going through the daily toils, you're making sure of getting some spoils – making sure that your future will be nothing but a bright one. Think about it.
Or if this argument is too sophisticated for you, never mind. It's tossed up for free. You can drop it at no extra charge.
Joking aside, there is a simpler argument in assist and that is, you don't have to look all of them words up anyway. As you go along, you'll soon realize that you don't look as many words up as you think you will. A lot of times, you can guess their meaning through context.
If it doesn't happen today, never mind, either. It will happen some day. Keep plugging away. All in good time.
Without further ado, I'll give you an example. It's the term "slippery slope", which appeared twice in an article (Is torture ever justified?) in this week's edition (September 22, 2007) of the Economist.
One objection to allowing moderate physical pressure is the difficulty of knowing where to draw the line. If stress positions and sleep deprivation do not work, do you progress to branding with red-hot irons and beating to a pulp? And can you rely on interrogators to heed such distinctions? It is the danger of a slippery slope that makes opponents of torture insist on a total ban.
Then, in the next paragraph, it adds:
Israel is the only country in modern times to have openly allowed "moderate physical pressure" as a "last resort". Since interrogators used such methods anyway, it was argued, passing an explicit law would at least make it possible to set out some limits. But in 1999, citing the slippery-slope argument, Israel's Supreme Court ruled that torture could never be justified, even in the case of a ticking bomb. It went on to outlaw techniques such as sleep deprivation, exposure to extremes of hot and cold, prolonged stress positions, hooding and violent shaking.
Well, in the physical sense, imagine a slippery slope in a landslide, with mud and rocks sliding down the valley in much of a free-fall.
The "slippery-slope argument", on the other hand, works like the camel's nose, a metaphor from an Arabian tale which cautions people against allowing a small, insignificant problem to deteriorate into something large, terrible and out of control. If you see a camel roaming round your tent, so goes the story, you'd better chase it off now. If you don't, the camel will poke his nose into your tent. If you do nothing about that, sooner or later it'll stick his head into the tent as well, then the neck and then the torso. Before you know it, the whole camel is in the tent, lock stock and barrel, plundering and already making a mess of things...
In the torture argument, the slippery slope theory works like this: if you allow even the slightest forms of torture ("moderate physical pressure", e.g. sleep deprivation), soon you'll witness the worst (Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay).
That's all for today. I'll be on vacation for two weeks, taking advantage of the extra days off during the National Day holiday. I'll be back in mid-October.