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What makes Russia tick?
"What makes Russia (or a person) tick" is an idiom. Here it means "what makes Russians do what they do"...
[ 2008-07-22 10:44 ]

What makes Russia tick?

Reader question: In this passage – Western illusions that Russia might side with America against the regime in Zimbabwe betray a basic lack of understanding of what makes Russia tick, says Dmitri Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Centre, a think-tank. These days, Russian thinking divides the world into America and its docile friends on one hand, and "sovereign" countries, like China, India and South Africa on the other. Given Russia's aim to speak for the second camp, its veto was logical—and as Russian officials stressed, it reflected the African Union line (Russia and the UN: The Return of Mr Nyet, The Economist, July 17, 2008) – what does "makes Russia tick" mean?

My comments: "What makes Russia (or a person) tick" is an idiom. Here it means "what makes Russians do what they do", that is, veto sanctions against Zimbabwe over human rights abuses and rigged elections.

And why did they do that? I ask you.

No, I am not talking about Zimbabwe's rigged elections – I'm not so inquisitive. I am asking about the Russians. Why did they, along with China, block UN sanctions?

Well, if you ask me, I'll say: It's hard to say. Geo-politics being geo-politics, I'm sure you'll forgive me for being diplomatic.

Let's instead focus on "what makes a person tick" the idiom itself. The way with an idiom, you see, is that it may consist of several commonplace words. So commonplace that individually we understand them perfectly. Put together, however, they seem to take on some new meaning, which we can't always logically infer (from reading each individual word).

However, I'm going to give it a try and analyze "what makes a person tick" verbatim, word for word. What makes a person tick. What...makes...a...person...tick. Tick. Tick, tock, the clock starts to work. What makes a clock tick.

Yes, do you know what makes a clock tick? In other words, do you know what makes the Earth spin? Do you know what makes you who you are, with all your quirks and idiosyncrasies?

Exactly. This idiom points to the subtle reasons that make a person act the way he does, that which motivates him, that particular which that makes him different.

I'm not encouraging you to figure out idioms through wild guesswork, but it seems to have worked this time, to a degree at any rate. Anyways, I've got some great examples to show and so let's not dawdle over definitions. All examples, by the way, are handpicked (just like some candidates are handpicked in elections – some candidates, that is, in at least some elections).

1. What Makes a Business Leader Tick

Another surprise is CEOs who just feel incredibly fortunate. Often they say that they don't understand why they're so lucky to be able to run a company, to be in their position, that one day they're going to be discovered. Psychologists call this the impostor syndrome, where people feel they don't really deserve their position – any more than lots of other people – and are just lucky to be there.

The line of reasoning is, "If they knew how much fun I was having, how I get to work with fabulous people, how I'm getting paid millions of dollars... one of these days someone is going to find me out." These CEOs consider themselves really blessed to be in their positions. They fully realize that there are others who are qualified to do their jobs, and they're just thankful they're the guy who got the nod.

- Business Week, June 19, 2007.

2. England coach Kevin Keegan has defended star midfielder David Beckham - and told the Manchester United rebel that he will start the friendly against Argentina at Wembley on Wednesday night. 


"In David I see a very determined character who loves playing football and he is an exceptional trainer. "

"All players are different. Alan Shearer is different to David Beckham who is totally different to Paul Scholes and Emile Heskey. They are all individually different. What makes one tick is different to what makes another tick. "

"David Beckham has to live under slightly different pressures than some of the other players and I think they understand that as well."

- Keegan keeps faith with Beckham, wldcup.com, February 21, 2000.

3. What is required in the dating process and what is often so sorely lacking is an authentic curiosity for another. Curiosity is such a powerful relationship builder! To show infinite curiosity of another's life, work and interests, what makes one tick or what "ticks one off" is to experience awe and reverence on the deepest level. Curiosity allows the other to reveal his/her inner self without feeling subjected to an interrogation, without a feeling of defensiveness.

With this mindset, we enter into an exciting adventure, a process which cannot be rushed or concluded after a date or two. Getting to know a person from the inside out, allowing their neshama to shine will usually result in a far more positive view of the purely physical aspect of that person.

- Jewish dating: Inner beauty is the real beauty, sawyouatsinai.com.



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.

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