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Hair-raising time?

[ 2011-01-11 16:17]     字号 [] [] []  
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Hair-raising time?

Reader question:

Please explain “hair-raising’, as in: “hair-raising time.”

My comments:

Hair-raising, meaning scary is derived from the fact that when frightened, we feel our skin gets tight, we get goose bumps and feel a chill up the spine. For others, they feel as if their hair is all standing up straight. For instance, Poole, Dr Jekyll’s faithful butler recalls the moment he saw Mr Hyde (in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson):

“It was but for one minute that I saw him, but the hair stood upon my head like quills.”

Quills, as grown on the back of a porcupine. In other words, Poole is scared, mighty scared.

Anyways, when an experience is described as hair-raising, it is scary, frightening or very exciting, depending on context.

Which brings up to “hair-raising time”.

“Hair-raising time?” These are hair-raising times, don’t you think? In America, for example, people continue to fail to get jobs, more than two years into the recession. Last time I checked, which is actually yesterday, I got these numbers (Jobs: The Crisis Continues, by John Cassidy, NewYorker.com, January 7, 2011):

• 4.4 million—that is the number of workers who have “disappeared” from the labor force since the recession began. If all of these folks were seeking work, the unemployment rate would be about 10.7 per cent.

• 6.4 million—the number of Americans who have been out of a job for six months or more. Long-term unemployment is turning into a massive social problem. (Any unemployment person will confirm that the longer you are out of work, the harder it is to get a job.)

• 26.1 million—the number of people who are out of work or employed in part-time jobs when they would prefer to work full-time. The so-called “underemployment rate,” which includes the unemployed and people working part-time involuntarily, is now 16.7 per cent, or about one in six.

In short, these are hair-raising, scary times if you are young, upcoming but are facing the daunting prospect of finding a decent job, getting married and raising a large family or your own. You can say the same, of course, about any young Chinese person but the point remains, these are hair-raising times.

Yet, depending on your perspective these are also hair-raising, exiting times for others. As F. Scott Fitzgerald so succinctly puts it in The Great Gatsby: The rich get richer and the poor get - children.

Fitzgerald was arguing for another time, in fact, before the original Great Depression, you say. True, but times – even though singers sing “times they are a-changing” all the time – don’t change. Some things never change.

Anyways, do what you’re supposed to do and make sure your life is hair-raising in the right way.

To wit, make sure it’s full of fun times and not scary.



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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