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Pedestrian effort

[ 2010-03-16 11:55]     字号 [] [] []  
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Pedestrian effort

Reader question:

Please explain “pedestrian” in this sentence: A rather pedestrian effort is made to achieve this objective.

My comments:

It means people are trying to achieve their goal without exerting themselves, that is, without working too hard.

Pedestrian here is an adjective, not a noun. In other words, it has nothing to do with the pedestrian in the street, someone walking on foot. However, we might as well use the walking analogy to understand “pedestrian” as the adjective.

In comparison with jogging and running, walking takes the least effort. Jogging takes more. Running full speed, on the other hand, you’ll be out of breath in a matter of seconds.

In short, the pedestrian pace is slow and commonplace – after all, pedestrians are the most commonplace scene in the street. Walking is something we do everyday. Walking in the street, unless you’re Brad Pitt or Jennifer Lopez, is nothing special, nothing exciting, nothing to set other people’s pulses racing.

Hence figuratively speaking, anything pedestrian is common, average, dull, ordinary, unexceptional, undistinguished, unimaginative, unexciting, unremarkable, etc and so forth.

In fact, you can replace “pedestrian” with any one or more of the above adjectives in the following examples from the media:

1. a rather pedestrian (ordinary, dull, unexciting) merger game:

With television coverage came an unforeseen bonanza for the NFL team owners; where the survival of franchises had previously depended on gate receipts, television revenues, which the NFL owners agreed would be divided equally among the member clubs, were crucial to the stability of the league. Teams from relatively small media markets such as Green Bay had essentially the same available resources to spend on their teams as did large-market centers such as New York or Los Angeles.

A group of football entrepreneurs who had sought to take advantage of the increases in the growth of football had formed the rival American Football League (AFL) in 1960. It was the merger of this league with the NFL in 1967, initiated by NFL commissioner Pete Rozell (1926–1996) that created the championship known as the Super Bowl. From a rather pedestrian merger game in its first two years, the Super Bowl took its first step as a media event in 1970 when an AFL team, the New York Jets, defeated the heavily favored NFL team, the Baltimore Colts.

By 1990, the Super Bowl was one of the top three rated television broadcasts on North American television; single 30-second commercial spots were sold for over three million dollars each, with the public reaction to the commercials a media subject by itself. The quality of the game, which was often significantly below the level of play during the NFL regular season, was often secondary to the Super Bowl spectacle.

- National Football League (NFL), Faqs.org.

2. a pedestrian (average, ordinary, dull, unimaginative) painter:

If you look up the word “eclectic” in the dictionary you’ll find it refers to a mixing of different styles usually in philosophy, architecture, or interior design. As in mixing various flavours in cooking, the hope is that the chosen styles will complement one another. However, just as too many cooks very often spoil the broth; in art, too many styles are very often just as tasteless. Thus the term “eclectic” has come to have something of a negative connotation. The Victorian era of the late nineteenth century is a prime example of this.

However, in the late sixteenth century there developed an eclectic school of art, perhaps even the first use of the term as related to art. It was founded in Bologna in 1589 by the painter, etcher, and engraver, Lodovico Carracci, and called the Academy degli Incamminati (Academy of the Progressives), taking as its motto, “The school of those who regret the past, despise the present, and aspire to a better future.” The Italian Futurists 350 years later echoed this same sentiment.

Lodovico Carracci was, at best, a rather pedestrian painter. Though he studied under the great Mannerists, Tintoretto, and later Fontana; not only they, but also his fellow students tried to talk him out of a career in art. By all accounts he was a rather dull, “plodding” painter, though he has two or three excellent pieces of work to his credit such as Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes. However, Lodovico was best known by the work of those whom he trained, and particularly by his talented nephews, Annibale, and Agostino. For eleven years, they worked with him, teaching and painting in their popular art academy, establishing what has since come to be known as the School of Bologna in painting. Their students include Albani, Guido Remi, Domenichino, Lanfranco, Spada Riarini, and Bonzi (Il Gobbo)--none of them exactly household names today, but all outstanding practitioners of the painter’s art of their time.

The Carracci school in Bologna had as its eclectic ideal to combine Michelangelo’s line, Titian’s colour, Correggio’s chiaroscuro, and Raphael’s symmetry and grace. Yeah, nice trick if you can do it. Actually, in large part, they did; in effect, “reforming” the Mannerist style and laying the groundwork for the Baroque period that was to follow. Annibale and Agostino left the school around 1600 for Rome, and there were employed by the wealthy and powerful Farnese family in the decoration of their ornate palace. Their work is often considered the seventeenth century secular equivalent of Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling. They took as their theme that of Ovid’s The Loves of the Gods, merging mythological, religious, and tromp l’oeil virtuosity into a magnificent, celestial masterpiece of massive proportions and truly eclectic content.

- The Carracci Academy, May 23, 2000.

3. a pedestrian (ordinary, unimaginative, unremarkable) observation:

It is a pedestrian observation that terrorists are human beings and therefore have a human psychology which we can study and understand. Strangely, that simple observation seems almost heretical, possibly even subversive in our currently political climate. It seems to imply that terrorists are not aberrant monsters, or possibly even that they are normal in some respects.

Maybe it does imply that, but it is certainly true that it also means that we can understand the enemy better if we try to get in his head rather than just demonize him as a sub-human, brain-washed automaton, living only to kill for his cause. There is no greater folly than to fail to use all the civilized tools at our disposal to defeat terrorists. If we dismiss the advantage that truly understanding our enemy can convey out of some ideological commitment to portraying the enemy as a caricature, rather than as full human beings, we only harm ourselves.

- What Terrorists Want, Blogforarizona.com, October 13, 2007.



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.


Lean but mean

Loose cannon

Ali pulling his punches

Shoot from the hip

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑陈丹妮)