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The usual suspects?

[ 2011-03-04 16:17]     字号 [] [] []  
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The usual suspects?

Reader question:

Please explain “usual suspects” in the following passages (Corruption: TI report calls for more international collaboration, DigitalJournal.com, October 27, 2010):

Transparency International, the global anti-corruption organization has released its 2010 report on corruption around the world and the usual suspects are still on parade.

While countries like Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore did extremely well the usual bad boys - Afghanistan, Myanmar (formerly Burma) and Somalia are way down the totem pole.

My comments:

Yes, the usual suspects. Who are they?

As you may correctly infer, the usual suspects in the above example are Afghanistan, Myanmar and Somalia.

Why, because they are named in the report this year, were named last year, the year before and probably every year before that.

Usual suspects literally are people whose names come to the mind of a policeman first when a new crime is committed. For example, every time a burglary occurs in the neighborhood, local police immediately take a look at past offenders and see if they are at it again. Those past offenders are “the usual suspects” because they are usually suspected of wrongdoing.

Interestingly, according to Gary Martin (Phrases.org.uk):

This expression has a specific and unambiguous origin. It was spoken by Captain Louis Renault, the French prefect of police, played by Claude Rains in the 1942 U.S. film Casablanca. The context was a scene in which the Nazi, Major Strasser is shot by Humphrey Bogart’s character, Rick Blaine. Renault was a witness to the shooting but saves Rick’s life by telling the investigating police to “round up the usual suspects”. The film then ends with the famous exit line:

“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

The screenplay credits list Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch as the film’s writers.

Anyways, figuratively (also humorously) speaking, “usual suspects” can be any persons who are “usually” (often) seen at a party, meeting, or any other occasion. This example, from Freedictionary.com:

“Who did you spend the evening with?”

“Oh, Dan, Yuko, Jayne - the usual suspects.”

For another example, the following headline suggests that financial investors are often blamed for sudden rising commodity prices (FT.com, July 7 2008):

The usual suspects: Are financial investors driving up the cost of commodities?

Alright, here are more recent media examples:

1. Americans die sooner than citizens of a dozen other developed nations and the usual suspects -- obesity, traffic accidents and a high murder rate -- are not to blame, researchers reported on Thursday.

Instead, poor healthcare may be to blame, the team at Columbia University in New York reported.

They found that 15-year survival rates for men and women aged 45 to 65 have fallen in the United States relative to the other 12 countries over the past 30 years.

Such figures are frequently cited by supporters of healthcare reform, and critics often point out that the United States also has higher rates of obesity, more traffic fatalities and more murders than these countries.

Columbia’s Peter Muennig, who led the study published in the journal Health Affairs, said his team accounted for these factors this time.

“But what really surprised us was that all of the usual suspects -- smoking, obesity, traffic accidents, and homicides -- are not the culprits,” Meunnig said in a statement.

“The U.S. doesn’t stand out as doing any worse in these areas than any of the other countries we studied, leading us to believe that failings in the U.S. health care system, such as costly specialized and fragmented care, are likely playing a large role in this relatively poor performance on improvements in life expectancy.”

- Poor healthcare may shorten American lives: study, Reuters, October 7, 2010.

2. The holidays are a difficult time for the pessimist. As holiday cheer proliferates around them, the Schopenhauer-quoting, sky-is-falling type will inevitably have to contend with uninvited advice from perfect strangers every which way they turn: “Why so glum? It’s Christmas! How about a smile?” For the overly cheery and the bah-humbugger alike, a cold, hard dose of perspective may be in order.

Remember the Doomsday Argument? Formulated by the British cosmologist Brandon Carter in 1983, the theory posits a ninety-five-per-cent chance of complete planetary extinction sometime in the next 9,120 years. How (and exactly when) the end will come is, however, up for debate—will it end, as T. S. Eliot believed, “not with a bang, but a whimper”? Richard Horne’s “A is for Armageddon” provides plenty of options. The book, by the author of “101 Things to Do Before You Die” and the illustrator of “The Dangerous Book for Boys,” offers a catalog of potentially life-on-earth-ending catastrophes that will warm a pessimist’s heart. Horne helpfully tells you when and how much you should panic about each (one is entirely justified, for instance, in panicking about Gulf Stream Collapse right now), vital information for defending the practical side of a gloomy outlook on life. To further stress the real-world applications of cataclysmic thinking, the book also includes a handy “apocalist” of items to have on hand (certain of which seem dubiously useful—what good is a compass in a magnetic field reversal?—whereas others, like tin foil, are always a good idea), and a last will and testament to bury in the location of your choice.

Horne takes a decidedly tongue-in-cheek approach to the end of days, reveling, like any good pessimist, in the sheer misery of it all. His compendium is colorfully illustrated and quite exhaustive, with catastrophies ranging from the “biblically stressed” to the “universally doomed.” All the usual suspects are here (global warming, economic collapse, nuclear weapons, terrorism), as well as the surprising (vacuum metastability, magnetic pole reversal, male infertility), the far-fetched (rise of the machines, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse), and the downright questionable. I can hardly see “the brain,” “hackers,” or “the moon” bringing the universe to an end. But perhaps I have too much of the optimist in me.

- Holiday Gift Guide: For the Inveterate Pessimist, NewYorker.com, December 17, 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.


In a different league?

King of bling

Par for the course?

Under the thumb?

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑陈丹妮)