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Learn the ropes?

[ 2010-01-08 14:27]     字号 [] [] []  
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Learn the ropes?

Reader question:

What does “learn the ropes” means in this passage: The best way to learn the ropes about politics is to do volunteer work for a candidate for city office. You'll do everything from passing out campaign leaflets to arranging political rallies.

My comments:

If you don’t know the ropes, you’ve got to learn the ropes.

This idiom is said to have originated from seafaring mariners, to whom the skills and knowledge of how to tie knots and which rope hauls up which sail is of, obviously, vital importance – if they want to sail far and be able to weather many a potential storm along the way.

New recruits have to learn them, the ropes, that is. Hence “the ropes or rope” becomes synonymous with the basics or fundamentals if you prefer the big word, of a particular trade or job.

In the above example, it’s suggested, quite correctly, that you learn the best about politics by getting involved. It is the same to say that the best way to learn to swim is to plunge oneself into the water.

Hopefully they reemerge unscathed – and can then declare themselves a swimmer, or one who knows the ropes of swimming (although this is a bit awkward sounding).

Frederich Nietzsche, the German philosopher, once said: We learn the rope of life by untying its knots.

Wise man.

Anyways, here are recent media examples:

1. If I were starting out in journalism today, I’d probably opt to work for a Web-based publication — or start my own — rather than learn the ropes at a newspaper. Because those ropes are becoming increasingly frayed.

- Transitioning to a digital news world, by JD Lasica, December 17, 2009, Socialmedia.biz.

2. Prince William is to fly to New Zealand, on his first overseas trip for the Queen, “to learn the ropes” of being a working member of the Royal Family...

Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, private secretary to Prince William, confirmed next month’s trip to the most far flung outposts of the Queen’s realm would be the first of many.

“It is a progression. The priority is still his military career as a search and rescue pilot. As he gets older he will do more of it inevitably. It is an instance of Her Majesty seeing an opportunity for her grandsons to learn the ropes,” he said.

- Prince William to ‘learn the ropes’ on first overseas trip for the Queen, December 14, Telegraph.co.uk.



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.


Cannot have too many?

Necessary evil?

Take no prisoners?

Life in the fast lane

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑陈丹妮)