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Britain punching above its weight

[ 2009-12-15 13:06]     字号 [] [] []  
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Britain punching above its weight

Reader question:

David Cameron says reflexively that he wants Britain to “punch above its weight” (The Tiger Under the Table, December 3, 2009, Economist.com). What does that mean?

My comments:

It means that Cameron, Britain’s Conservative Party leader, wants a greater international clout for his country.

In similar jargon, he wants Britain to play a greater international role.

Or, simply, he wants Britain to matter more.

More, that is, than what’s expected from it. More than say, its territorial size justifies.

Once upon a time, of course, Britain was an empire on which the sun never set. And it had the clout to match. Nowadays, territory-wise, it’s reduced to four little British Isles, plus a few tax havens, each roughly the size of a shining pearl, in other oceans.

Yet it still aspires to exert the same, or similar, influence globally. That’s what Cameron means when it comes to Britain punching “above its weight”.

“Punching above its weight” is a term borrowed from boxing. In boxing people are matched up according to weight. A boxer weighing 50 kilos, for example, will not fight someone weighing 60, or 100. That is to say, David will not have to face the Goliath in the ring.

Hence, metaphorically speaking if someone is described as punching above his weight, it means that he throw a punch harder than he’s expected to, as though he were from a heavier weight class.

In other words, one who punches above his weight overachieves.

Conversely, if one punches below his weight, he underachieves, giving an underwhelming performance.

Britain, if you’re a close observer of international affairs, often appears to stand alongside America over wars or other policies in general. By doing that, it perhaps hopes to look like a heavyweight.

Ironically, America, which clearly is a heavyweight, does not always recognize Britain as such, i.e. a shoulder-to-shoulder equal. In fact, Barack Obama a year ago called Cameron a “lightweight” (‘Cameron’s a lightweight’, New Statesman, December 4, 2008).

Going back once again to boxing, a lightweight (at about 60 kilograms) is literally seven WBA (World Boxing Association) classes below the heavyweight (about weighing 90 kilos or more).

Therefore perhaps Cameron and other Brits should be a bit more realistic. They should not be talking about Britain punching above its weight all the time – you know, by always siding with America (even though admittedly that’s sometimes more due to nostalgia about its own imperial past than out of genuine agreement with USA).

Instead, they should try to avoid Britain punching below its weight.

To achieve that, if you ask me, an English language learner, aspiring international politicians may want to quote more Shakespeare than Churchill.



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.


Staying put

Tiger's skeletons

Cheap shot

Sour grapes

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑陈丹妮)