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At large?

[ 2010-11-30 14:18]     字号 [] [] []  
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At large?Reader question:

Please explain the idiom “at large”, as in “a critic at large”, “society at large”.

My comments:

The New Yorker Magazine has a column called “A Critic at Large”. That implies that the writer or writers is free to comment on anything and everything instead of always on one fixed subject, such as books, arts, music, medicine and so on.

And when you talk about “society at large”, you’re talking about issues that concern everyone rather than a small, specific group, such as children, soldiers, teachers, retirees and so forth.

The word “large” is significant (and shall help you remember this phrase). Large is, well, not small. And so, just remember that anyone at large is not confined to a small, specific place.

For instance, a murder suspect is often described as being “still at large”. That means he’s still free, on the run, not captured (and confined to a small prison cell). And so long as he remains there (at large), no-one knows exactly where he is. He can be anywhere, or as a farmer puts it (in reply to a question about the whereabouts of his son, a murderer on the run) in Truman Capote’s book (In Cold Blood) on a true murder case in the 1960s America:

“Open a map. Point your finger. That’s where he may be.”

Anyways, whenever you talk of someone being “at large”, they’re free, not restricted to any fixed place. Similarly, when you address some issue at large, you are talking about a situation “in general”, “broadly speaking”, “as a whole”.

To firmly drive home the point, let’s go through these examples:

1. I was so struck by the horror of this idea, which had weighed upon me from the first, and the working out of which would make me regard myself, in some sort, as his murderer, that I could not rest in my chair but began pacing to and fro. I said to Herbert, meanwhile, that even if Provis were recognized and taken, in spite of himself, I should be wretched as the cause, however innocently. Yes, even though I was so wretched in having him at large and near me, and even though I would far rather have worked at the forge all the days of my life than I would ever have come to this!

- Great Expectations (Chapter 41), by Charles Dickens.

2. Centralization of control over financial resources was far advanced by 1910. In the United States, there were two main focal points of this control: the Morgan group and the Rockefeller group. Within each orbit was a maze of commercial banks, acceptance banks, and investment firms. In Europe, the same process had proceeded even further and had coalesced into the Rothschild group and the Warburg group. An article appeared in the New York Times on May 3, 1931, commenting on the death of George Baker, one of Morgan’s closest associates. It said: “One-sixth of the total wealth of the world was represented by members of the Jekyll Island Club.” The reference was only to those in the Morgan group, (members of the Jekyll Island Club). It did not include the Rockefeller group or the European financiers. When all of these are combined, the previous estimate that one-fourth of the world’s wealth was represented by these groups is probably conservative.

In 1913, the year that the Federal Reserve Act became law, a subcommittee of the House Committee on Currency and Banking, under the chairmanship of Arsene Pujo of Louisiana, completed its investigation into the concentration of financial power in the United States. Pujo was considered to be a spokesman for the oil interests, part of the very group under investigation, and did everything possible to sabotage the hearings. In spite of his efforts, however, the final report of the committee at large was devastating:

Your committee is satisfied from the proofs submitted ... that there is an established and well defined identity and community of interest between a few leaders of finance ... which has resulted in great and rapidly growing concentration of the control of money and credit in the hands of these few men....

- Excerpt from G. Edward Griffin’s book, The Creature from Jekyll Island.

3. When the banking system behaves the way it is supposed to—as Pandit says Citi is now behaving—it is akin to a power utility, distributing money (power) to where it is needed and keeping an account of how it is used. Just like power utilities, the big banks have a commanding position in the market, which they can use for the benefit of their customers and the economy at large. But when banks seek to exploit their position and make a quick killing, they can cause enormous damage. It’s not clear now whether the bankers have really given up their reckless practices, as Pandit claims they have, or whether they are merely lying low. In the past few years, all the surviving big banks have raised more capital and become profitable again. However, the U.S. government was indirectly responsible for much of this turnaround. And in the country at large, where many businesses rely on the banks to fund their day-to-day operations, the power still isn’t flowing properly. Over-all bank lending to firms and households remains below the level it reached in 2008.

- What Good Is Wall Street? John Cassidy, New Yorker, November 28, 2010.

4. Politicians have become less representative of society, with more than a third educated privately and almost three in ten being graduates of Oxford or Cambridge, research shows today.

Analysis of MPs’ background shows that the new House of Commons is more socially exclusive than it was in 2005. The study found information on the education of more than 600 of the 650 newly elected and re-elected Members of Parliament. Nine in ten were university educated and nearly one in six went to Oxford. Fewer than half of MPs went to comprehensive schools, with the remainder taught at grammar or independent schools. Thirteen schools — 12 of them fee charging — produced a tenth of all MPs.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, an educational equality charity that conducted the research, said: “These results show clearly that the educational profile of our representatives in the 2010 Parliament does not reflect society at large.”

“There are many factors that determine the make-up of Parliament, but one major obstacle to ensuring talented people from all backgrounds reach public office is the educational inequality that continues to hold back social mobility in this country.

“Every newly elected MP would surely hope that the chances that bright children in their own constituencies have of becoming an MP, does not depend on how much their parents earn and where they happen to go to school.”

The proportion of MPs who went to independent schools has reversed a downward trend in recent decades, the study claims, rising from 32 per cent in 2005 to 35 per cent of this Parliament. About 7 per cent of the school population is privately educated.

One factor behind the increase is the higher number of Conservative MPs, who are more likely than their Labour peers to have been privately-educated. While 15 per cent of Labour MPs went to independent schools, this was the case for 40 per cent of Liberal Democrats and 54 per cent of Tories. There are 20 Old Etonians serving as MPs, a rise of a third on 2005.

Nearly two fifths of Conservative MPs were educated at Oxford or Cambridge, compared with a fifth of Labour’s and 28 per cent of the Liberal Democrat representatives.

- Newly-elected Parliament ‘does not reflect society at large’, The Times, May 10, 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.


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(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑陈丹妮)