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Ali pulling his punches

[ 2010-03-05 11:46]     字号 [] [] []  
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Ali pulling his punchesReader question:

In this sentence – The doctor pulled no punches and told us the facts straight out – what does “pulled no punches” mean?

My comments:

It means the doctor tells the patient and his or her relatives everything, good or bad.

Doctors don’t always do that. They are often known to pull their punches when it comes to reporting bad news to the suffering patient. That means they refrain from telling all the harsh facts about the patient’s critical conditions so as to make the patient feel better and be optimistic. A doctor might say “Take it easy. You’ll be off the bed and running in two weeks” when as a matter of fact, what the patient really faces is the dreary prospect of being bed-ridden for the rest of his life. The doctor does not tell the truth because he understands the weak-minded patient won’t be able to cope with it – he therefore tells a white lie, pulling his punches to soften the blow.

Bosses do that too, when it comes to, say, firing employees. One business friend from Taiwan once told me how he minced words when he had to tell one of his employees in the face that he’d be fired. Instead of telling the man bluntly that “You’re fired and get the hell out of here now”, my Taiwanese friend focused almost exclusively on the positives. First of all, to cushion the blow, he had asked a subordinate to break the news to the person to be fired a day in advance. And when they met, he spoke glowingly about the good times they had together, how cute the man’s little boy was, etc and so forth, only finally pointing out that it is with great regret that he is compelled to remark that it seems “the good fortune of our working relationship has come to an end” and that he was looking forward to exploring other opportunities of working with the man in future. In the end, they shook hands, wished each other well and parted company, literally, in good humor.

Again, he pulled his punches to soften the blow.

Now, definitions. “Pulling punches” is a term borrowed from the game of boxing. Boxers throw punches to hit and hurt. Pulling your punches (before your hands reach the opponent’s head) means you are holding back – in other words, you do not hit as hard as you can.

At least once, Muhammad Ali pulled his punches against an opponent and that time, “The Greatest” did not do it to soften the blow, but to prolong his opponent’s pain. The opponent’s name is Ernie Terrel, who had angered Ali by refusing to call him by his new name, insisting on calling him Cassius Clay (Ali’s old name before converting to Islam). Anyways, during the fight, segments of which I’ve watched many times on DVD, Ali toyed with Terrel, landing punches to the latter’s head and body at will, all the while asking out loud: “What’s my name, Uncle Tom, what’s my name?”

Thus and so Ali administered 15 rounds of brutal punishment but did not knock Terrel out, which would’ve ended the fight, and in Ali’s view, prematurely.

Anyways, that’s Ali deliberately pulling his punches and here are media examples of other people pulling their punches or pulling none at all:

1. Are the top chess-playing computers pulling their punches against one another and saving their real strengths for matches with humans? It certainly looks that way.

In the seventh Computer World Championship in Maastricht, the Netherlands, July 5 to 11, the play seemed to be strangely ragged, the machines beating each other in games that often looked up for grabs. Crude mistakes were rife, games looking as though they were conducted by park bench players of the old school.

When the fusillades finished, the championship went to Deep Junior 7, programmed by the Israeli team of Amir Ban and Shay Bushinsky, which won a playoff by 1 1/2- 1/2 against Shredder. This was the third title for Deep Junior 7, which also won in 1996 and 2001.

Shredder had won a game from Deep Junior 7 in the initial Swiss-system competition, and both players reached a 7 1/2-1 1/2 tie that set up the tie-breaker. But in the tie-breaker, Shredder played a serious theoretical error in the early middle game and never had a chance...

- CHESS: Computers Pulling Punches Against Their Own Kind, New York Times, August 18, 2002.

2. Education Secretary Arne Duncan pulled no punches in a high-profile address Thursday at the annual convention of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, proposing a series of policy changes that he said could rid college sports of the “tiny minority” of bad actors that “stains” its reputation.

Duncan, former co-captain of Harvard University’s basketball team and first-team Academic All-American, criticized the high-stakes recruiting wars that take place in sports like men’s basketball and football. He wants further rules protecting young students from college recruiters.

“We now have universities signing eighth graders to their colleges,” Duncan said. “I’m not sure how an eighth grader who doesn’t yet know where they’re going to go to high school can accurately and thoughtfully and strategically pick the best college program. I think we should slow down a little bit, slow down and think about doing that maybe in the sophomore year. Signing students in the eighth and ninth grade belies any common sense."

Duncan slightly overstated the case; prospective athletes cannot formally commit to play at an institution in the eighth grade. In men's basketball, however, athletes as young as those in the seventh grade are now officially considered "prospective student-athletes" by the NCAA, and sometimes top young players are encouraged by institutions to agree to non-binding commitments during this stage.

- InsideHigherEd.com, January 15, 2010.



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.


Shoot from the hip

Saving grace

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(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑陈丹妮)