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[ 2011-03-11 16:53]     字号 [] [] []  
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Reader question:

In the following dialogue, what does “preoccupied” mean exactly?

Woman: What’s wrong with Sarah? She seems a little preoccupied.

Man: Her husband lost his job a couple of months ago and they are desperately trying to make ends meet at the moment.

My comments:

Well, the confusion may have arisen because the woman speaker never gives a list of things that Sarah is occupied with – she does not know.

For example, when Sarah and her companion talked (say, over the phone), Sarah sounded absent-minded. She could not focus on their conversation. She forgets her companion’s words and had to ask “What did you say?” “What’s that again” over and over. Mentally she was not there – her mind was apparently somewhere else.

That got the other woman to suspect that Sarah was “preoccupied” with something, something wrong.

Her husband lost his job, as the man explains. That’s what’s been on Sarah’s mind. Bills are piling up. He’s looking for but has yet to find a new job. She does not know when he will, if ever, find another job. You know, the way her husband is, “Said he’s too old for working, but he’s too young to look like he is” (from Fast Car lyric, by Tracy Chapman).

Alright, I’ll spare Sarah any more unpleasant and understandably unwelcome speculations on her husband and their current family difficulties, but the long and short of it is if someone is preoccupied with something, they have something to worry about. Something’s bothering them. Something’s distracting them. They want to have it dealt and done with before they can engage in any other activities.

In other words, if they’re preoccupied with something, it’s uppermost on their mind and reigns supreme on their agenda, supposing they still manage to keep an agenda.

Still in other words, it’s their top priority to eliminate whatever it is that they’ve been preoccupied with. In Sarah’s case, she wants her husband to get a new job so that they can pay the bills and get their life back on track again.

Anyways, preoccupied means pre-occupied, as if they’re already fully engaged (occupied) in some earlier event and no longer have time, attention, care to spare for anything else.

“Pre-” stands for “before”, pointing to anything that pre-exists (in existence before another event). To predict for example is to announce something happening before it actually does. To prevent, on the other hand is to stop something from happening by doing something first - prevent comes from the Latin praeventus, meaning (for one event to) “come before” (another). Or to the thinking of George W. Bush, to prevent something bad from happening is to take some pre-emptive action, hence his pre-emptive attacks on Iraq. In other words, harm them before they can harm me.

It is precisely that type of logic that has led the world to no-end of troubles. One action leads to another. Violence begets violence. Only non-action begets non-violation but you can’t expect people in positions of power to understand this.

Anyways, to prevent us from rambling off the point, let’s examine what other people are up to, or I mean, preoccupied with:

1. Life expectancy is around forty. Infant morality is common and is experienced by every family. People are fully preoccupied with death.

The dominant theology rules that everyone from the time that they are born is damned to hell (pardon me) and needs to be saved through the Church. One who is not sufficiently pious may purchase salvation from the Church. This arrangement does not encourage the wealthy to lead noble lives.

The Church has fixed ideas about the world. They are based on the Aristotelian philosophy and rules of nature. The Earth is flat. Anyone who says to the contrary risks being burned at the stake. Scientific freedom and discovery are therefore non-existent. Knowledge is dangerous. New ideas are dangerous. Innovators are burned at the stake.

The mystics hold sway, in part because of the ignorance and in part out of necessity, as a form of escape. In the twentieth century, a person who claims that a snake spoke to him would wind up on a couch and be asked to talk about his childhood. During the Medieval years, the person’s neighbors would hold him in awe.

- Medieval European Life, JewishAmerica.com.

2. In the latest list of the world’s billionaires, published by Forbes, no fewer than six made their money from Facebook. As members of the world's richest club, the Facebook six have become an elite within the super-elite.

Top of the list is Mark Zuckerberg, the social networking site’s CEO and president, who helped to create it while at Harvard University. He ranks 52nd in the Forbes list, with a fortune estimated at $13.5bn.

His wealth, along with the other five, massively increased this year when Goldman Sachs arranged an injection of $1.5bn (£926m) in capital into the site, valuing the company, which remains private, at $50bn.

Next among the six comes Dustin Moskovitz, a co- founder. He is at $10.8bn – behind Zuckerberg – although he has the satisfaction of having knocked Zuckerberg from his perch as the world’s youngest billionaire. Moskovitz, a newcomer to the list as a result of the Goldman deal, was born on 22 May 1984, eight days after the Facebook supremo.

The remaining six include Sean Parker (played by Justin Timberlake in the film), who is put at $1.6bn, Peter Thiel ($1.5bn) and a Russian investor in the company, Yuri Milner ($1bn).

The final member of the group is Eduardo Saverin, whose falling out with Zuckerberg and the eventual lawsuit and settlement provided the dramatic core of The Social Network. Forbes estimates that the agreement that was reached makes Saverin worth $1.6bn.

“Shed no tears for Eduardo,” says Steve Forbes, editor-in-chief of the business magazine that bears his name. “If you do get to be thrown out, a billion dollars isn’t a bad severance package.”

Some features of the list remain comfortingly stable in a rapidly changing world. The top three names are unchanged, with Carlos Slim Hélu, the Mexican telecoms tycoon, unrivalled in the No 1 slot with a personal value of $74bn, an increase of more than $20bn.

The next two in the list – Microsoft's Bill Gates and the investor Warren Buffett – can only muster a lacklustre $56bn and $50bn respectively, but then they are both preoccupied with giving away most of their wealth to charitable causes.

Overall, Forbes reckons there are 1,210 billionaires in the world today, 214 more than last year. Another steady theme is the rise of Asia, particularly China. Asia has more billionaires (332) on the list than Europe (300).

- Forbes rich list: Facebook six stake their claims, Guardian.co.uk, March 9, 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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(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑陈丹妮)