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Unforced error

[ 2010-06-22 13:23]     字号 [] [] []  
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Unforced errorReader question:

Please explain “unforced error” in the following passage (Warren Buffett’s Portfolio, Now Within Reach, WSJ.com, June 24, 2009):

Mr. Buffett liked oil giant ConocoPhillips (COP) enough to invest $7 billion in the stock through the end of last year, at an average price of $82.55, according to the Berkshire Hathaway annual report. Anyone buying today can get it for about $41.

Mr. Buffett has conceded an ‘unforced error’ in buying this oil stock when oil prices were booming. But that doesn’t mean he has given up on it. In his last comments on the subject a few months ago, he reiterated his belief that demand for energy would remain strong.

My comments:

It simply means that Warren Buffet made a mistake. A mistake Mr. Buffet, of all people, could’ve avoided.

At least that’s what an “unforced error” is about. I’m not getting into why Mr. Buffet, of all people, failed to avoid it, though. I know better.

And so we’ll just deal with “unforced error”, which is originally a sporting term, and most popularly seen in the game of tennis.

In tennis, people talk about serves and volleys, you see, and aces, winners as well as unforced errors. These are basic elements of the game that are kept as statistics – a sum up of a match in numbers – for analytic purposes. People who are good at these elements tend to be good players.

An ace, for example is a point won on service, that is, when the opponent fails to touch the ball you serve out (let alone return it). Winners, similarly, are shots that the opponent fails to reach (and return) in rallies. If you hit a lot of winners, you’ll probably win the match.

On the other hand, if you commit lots of “unforced errors”, you’re likely to lose – unless, of course, the opponent concedes even more unforced errors than you. Win or lose, if you commit many unforced errors, you’re not playing well – this much is for sure.

And so, an unforced error is?

Yes, you guessed it. It is an error that appears to be unforced. That is to say, a mistake you make on your own, without being forced (pressured) by good shots of an opponent.

For example, if the ball comes at you faster than you could run to the right spot for, then it’s not an unforced error if you miss the shot. On the other hand, if the ball is slow and you’re well positioned to hit it back and yet you miss it, that’s an unforced error.

In other words, unforced errors are seemingly manageable situations that are allowed to go awry.

Or, still in other words, avoidable mistakes.

Avoidable, but a mistake nonetheless, which might prove costly.

Not in the case of Mr. Buffet, though. I think he, of all people, can afford some unforced errors – at least on money matters.

Anyways, here are examples from remote as well as recent media:

1. Is it panic time yet? Losing as badly as she did in Wisconsin really puts (Hillary) Clinton’s campaign in as precarious of a position as it has ever been. The likelihood she can beat Obama as badly as she needs to in any remaining state -- let alone Ohio and Texas -- is very remote at this point. She no longer controls her own destiny, but now has to hope for an unforced error by Obama. And a big one. The good news for Clinton, the next six days provide two opportunities for unforced errors: debates. But how negative can Clinton go at this point? According to NBC’s Andrea Mitchell and Newsweek’s Howard Fineman, there’s a divide inside the campaign about how negative to go. On one side is Mark Penn, who is ready to go all out (and who comes from the Bill Clinton school that there is no tomorrow, fight today); on the other is Mandy Grunwald and Howard Wolfson, who are worried about Clinton’s legacy. After all, there has to be a point where Clinton says to herself, “there might be a next time.” Isn't it possible Obama blows this as the nominee? And if so, who’s going to be asked to pick up the pieces in 2009?

- First thoughts: Obama goes 10-0, Firstread.msnbc.msn.com, February 20, 2008.

2. Roger had to accept a 6-3, 6-7(4), 4-6 defeat against Lleyton Hewitt today.

Roger showed a strong start in Halle today. He took a 40-0 lead on Hewitt’s serve during the second set, but did not manage to use the chance given. From that point on he was no longer able to score on the important points, eventually losing the final in three sets. “We’ve known each other for years and once played doubles together in Wimbledon and I always looked up to him,” Roger said going into the match. “It is something special to play against him.”

Roger had not lost a match at Halle since 2002, winning the title five times, and had beaten Hewitt in their last 15 showdowns. But he simply committed too many unforced errors today. Nevertheless, Roger profited from an entire week of preparation on grass and is ready for Wimbledon starting in a week.

- ATP – Roger defeated by Hewitt, RogerFederer.com, June 13, 2010.

3. Andy Roddick has defeated fellow American Rajeev Ram in straight sets to advance to the second round at Wimbledon.

Roddick, who lost an epic final last year against Roger Federer, beat the No. 92-ranked Ram 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 Monday.

Seeded fifth, Roddick never faced a break point and committed only 10 unforced errors. The three-time Wimbledon runner-up will play Michael Llodra for a berth in the final 32.

- Roddick advances to 2nd round at Wimbledon, AP, June 21, 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.


Pot shot?

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(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑陈丹妮)