Reader question: What does this – Don't put me on the spot like that – mean?
It means don't embarrass me like that.
If we are put on the spot, we're called out to answer a question or to solve a problem. It is usually a troublesome question, one we may not want to answer, or not to answer in public. Take the classroom for instance. Teachers ask students to answer questions in class. If it's a question we've got a ready answer for, we cannot wait to raise our hands. If not, we want to hide our heads in the drawer – we don't want to hear our names called out loud this time. In other words, we don't want to be put on the spot – we don't want to make a fool of ourselves in front of class.
Likewise a lot of public servants don't want to be summoned speak out in meetings. Public servants, those that really know what's best for them at any rate, get themselves trained not to call a spade a spade. To save face, skin or a job, they know not to speak their minds over sensitive issues, such as the sunshine, the rain or the snowstorm unless they know exactly what their boss's preference is – Then of course they'll say they like the way, say, the rain pours just to toe the boss's line. Obviously it's not easy to know exactly what the boss likes every time because like the average public servant, the boss changes his mind and often do it without warning. Therefore, no good public servant speaks the first thing on his mind in public – which often leads them to be accused of being vague or not telling the truth or plain lying. Lying won't do of course for many an honest bureaucrat. Hence, the safest route to take is for them to remain silent and pray not to be put on the spot whenever "serious issues" are being discussed. If they say nothing, they will say nothing wrong.
Anyways, take "the spot" as an awkward spot, a tight spot where there's little room for wriggle and maneuver. Similar sayings include being put "in a quandary", "in a tight corner" or "between a rock and a hard place".
Without further ado, here are a few media examples. But before the examples, dears, Merry Christmas!
1. Gordon Brown was put on the spot last week over a truly extraordinary act of serial illegality committed by his Government. In Brussels he was personally accused by senior members of the European Parliament of acting in flagrant defiance of both British and European courts – in a futile bid to appease a murderous tyranny that has recently stepped up its campaign of terror against its own people, and is also supplying arms used to kill British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan (Brown under fire for illegal ban on dissidents, Daily Telegraph, December 23, 2007).
2. Opponent Is Put on the Spot Over Remarks About Clinton
The two recent debates between Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and her Republican opponent, John Spencer, may have lacked fireworks. Yesterday, however, the race was set astir by remarks that Mr. Spencer reportedly made before the first debate — comments about Mrs. Clinton's sexuality and physical appearance (New York Times, October 24, 2006).
3. In the final Democratic presidential debate of the year Thursday, both Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama were put on the spot about leadership: whether she tended to be too secretive and insular, and whether he could mold a new foreign policy when many of his advisers had worked in Bill Clinton's White House (Democrats Soften Tone for Final Debate in Iowa, New York Times, December 14, 2007).