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Taking on a life of its own?

[ 2009-07-07 16:40]     字号 [] [] []  
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Taking on a life of its own?Reader question:

Please explain this sentence – the story is so captivating it seems to have taken on a life of its own – particularly, what does “taken on a life of its own mean?

My comments:

It means the story keeps growing and spreading seemingly without the author, the publisher or someone else pushing it. It’s like a plane flying on autopilot.

In short, if an idea, a theory or a rumor starts to “take on a life of its own”, it begins to grow out of control of the original author. Take rolling a snowball for example. At first, the small thing refuses to go and you have to push it from behind. Then it grows bigger and rounder and rolls more easily down a slope, gathering force and pace by itself, and before you know, it rolls galloping down the slope leaving you standing there in awe.

Robert Louis Stevenson, in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, describes how a rumor can take on a life of its own, or in this case, how asking a mere question may get out of hand:

Now Mr. Utterson asks if Mr. Enfield knows whether or not the stranger lives behind that door, and Mr. Enfield says that although the building seems a likely place for him, he noticed the man's address as being in some other square. When Mr. Utterson asks if he never asked about the place with the door, Mr. Enfield says he hasn’t, because he has a rule about never asking questions. He says that starting a question is like starting a stone rolling down a hill; the next thing you know, it’s hit some unlikely old person sitting in his back garden, and all of a sudden the family has to change its name. The stranger the circumstances, Mr. Enfield says, the less he asks.

Alright, here are media examples of things taking on a life of their own:

1. It’s amazing how much excitement a little wit and some basic computer artistry can generate. My satire of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon as a man of principle and courage took on a life of its own as scores of websites and blogs posted it, debated it, and translated it.

- In a corrupt world, nothing succeeds like satire! Usa.mediamonitors.net, June 16, 2009.

2. Suddenly this summer, Sister Lotus is all over China.

Hotly debated on Chinese-language Web sites, her saucy photos get millions of hits. National magazines dote on her, and China’s television crews are taping away. Late to catch on, Communist Party censors now officially frown on her. Some sociologists warn that Sister Lotus cannot be good for China’s teenagers; others smile and predict her fame will be fleeting.

But nobody, including Sister Lotus, appears to know what this is all about.

“I think it’s crazy,” she said in an interview.…

For reasons that, as is customary, they did not explain, Communist Party censors recently barred the broadcast of a Sister Lotus program prepared by China Central Television, the government-run network. They also made it clear to Web site operators that the fun had gone on long enough. By then, however, the phenomenon appeared to have taken on a life of its own.

- In Chinese Cyberspace, A Blossoming Passion, Washington Post, July 19, 2005.



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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