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Sitting duck

[ 2011-02-01 12:13]     字号 [] [] []  
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Sitting duck

Reader question:

Please explain this sentence (“sitting duck” in particular): “Your PC is a sitting duck for hackers”.

My comments:

That means your personal computer is vulnerable to attacks from hackers – program-savvy people who break into your computer to, say, steal information – and you’re often unaware of such attacks and remain helpless, unable at all to prevent it from happening.

“Sitting duck” essentially means that you’re in a defenseless position, just like a duck sitting on her eggs. A duck hatching her eggs will not move, hence becoming an easy target for hunters.

Indeed it is those early hunters in North America and other places who invented this phrase some one hundred years ago – when they found that sitting ducks are easy for them to fire at and kill.

Pretty mean, you say. Yes, I agree. There was a great lack of sportsmanship and fair play on the part of hunters. I mean, to have the cheek to fire at hatching ducks for fun and to talk about it later?

Well, hunters would say that “sitting ducks” were not actually wild ducks or geese sitting on eggs. “Sitting ducks” merely stood for any birds sitting on water – hence the meaning of a stationary target becoming an easy target.

Either way, sitting ducks or swimming ducks, it was still mean – and unfair – for hunters to shoot at birds when they are not in flight. Birds sitting on water may just be there killing time. Unlike people, especially those in today’s workforce, ducks are not always hurrying to accomplish this and that. Sitting on water, they’re just having a good time, completely unaware of lurking hunters taking aim at them.

Why can’t people leave them alone? Ah, well, thankfully duck hunting is no longer a popular sport in most parts of the world and, today, when we mention “sitting ducks”, no real ducks, sitting or swimming, are involved. Instead, we are often speaking of people – those folks who have put themselves in a defenseless position, where they are vulnerable to criticism, harm or being cheated.

Or “sitting ducks” may sometimes refer to places. This headline, for instance, from ibnlive.in.com (November 29, 2008):

Mumbai sitting duck for terror attacks

Or “sitting ducks” may refer to things, as evidenced by the example from the top of this page, in which case the PC is seen as a sitting duck – to potential hacker attacks.

Here are media examples of many a various “sitting duck”:

1. Let me count the ways that Rep. Merrill Cook, R-Utah, is walking like a sitting duck, quacking like a sitting duck -- and may be targeted as a sitting duck:

A. The week after he won re-election last year, he forced out two of his top aides.

B. The ousted aides, plus another former chief of staff, accused Cook of acting like a delusional tyrant. They said that days after the election, he still didn't realize it was over and that he had won -- and was ordering harder campaign work.

C. Aides’ credibility seemed bolstered when it was revealed that days before the election, Cook was temporarily banished from Utah GOP headquarters after a profanity-laced tirade complaining about a get-out-the-vote recording that didn’t mention him.


Cook needs to find a way to fix his image problems quickly, or he will face a party challenge that threatens to convert him from an apparent sitting duck into a dead duck politically.

- Cook looks like a sitting duck - or maybe dead duck, By Lee Davidson, Deseret News, September 15, 1999.

2. Top seed Rafa Nadal pummelled Croatia’s Marin Cilic into submission with a brutish 6-2 6-4 6-3 victory to reach the Australian Open quarter-finals on Monday.

Nadal’s win under the Melbourne floodlight kept alive the world number one’s bid to become only the third man, and first since 1969, to hold all four grand slam titles at once.

The Spaniard looked far sharper than in his first three matches, hustling to chase down balls and rifling them back past 15th seed Cilic, before striking his trademark gunslinger’s pose with a bellowing cry of “Vamos!”

The first set was over in a blur for Cilic, a sitting duck for Nadal as he attempted to slug it out toe-to-toe, only to get passed time and again by the 2009 champion.

- Nadal nails Cilic to reach Australian Open quarter-finals, Reuters, January 24, 2011.

3. The sinking of the RMS Laconia marked a major turning point in World War II.

When war broke out, the ship was commandeered by the British Government for use as a troopship and fitted with eight six-inch guns.

However, on 12 December 1942, it was torpedoed by a German U-boat off the coast of West Africa.

The rescue of its survivors by the crew who had attacked it is told in a BBC drama by Liverpool writer Alan Bleasdale.

German U-boats were patrolling the Atlantic to disrupt supplies being sent to Britain from the United States.

When the Laconia was hit, there were 2,725 people on board: 463 officers and crew, 286 British military personnel, 103 Polish guards, 80 civilians - mainly women and children - and 1,793 Italian prisoners of war.

However, as the ship went down, the German U-boat captain Werner Hartenstein immediately ordered the rescue of as many survivors as possible, taking 200 people on board, with another 200 in lifeboats behind.

A short time later, an American aircraft spotted the U-boat and launched an attack. Many of those rescued by the Germans died.

1,104 survived the incident.

As a result of this episode, U-boat commanders were instructed not to rescue survivors in future as it jeopardised the safety of German crews.

The story of the Battle of the Atlantic is told at the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool.

The museum’s Stephen Guy explained that most of the U-boat commanders were not Nazis.

“They were professional sailors,” he said. “They understood the problems with seafarers.

“They had compassion. The commander of this U-boat was not a Nazi fanatic. He tried to help these people.”

Adding: “But as a result of this, Admiral Doenitz, head of the German navy, changed policy.

“He issued an order not to save people, because the rescue had made the U-boat a sitting duck.”

- The sinking of the RMS Laconia in World War II, BBC.co.uk, January 6, 2011.



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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