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Push comes to shove?

[ 2011-06-03 15:16]     字号 [] [] []  
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Push comes to shove?

Reader question:

Please explain this sentence, “push comes to shove” in particular: If push comes to shove, we’ll sell the house and move back to China.

My comments:

This means if the situation gets really bad for the family (or whatever), they will have to sell their property and go back to China.

“Push comes to shove” is the idiom to remember here, which essentially means one may have to take drastic measures if the situation keeps getting worse, however drastic the measures may be.

In other words, got to do what you’ve got to do.

If you push something, you use your hands to move it back. If you push the door open, for instance, you pressure it and the door yields back. If you push someone in the chest, for another example, you put pressure on their chest to move them away from you.

Shove, on the other hand, is a push with much stronger force. Hence when a pushing match becomes a shoving match, it means the once gentle pushes are becoming hard-fought shoves. In other words, the situation has escalated and the participants are now more seriously involved.

Hence, figuratively speaking, if push comes to shove, one must get real, stop fooling around, brace up and push your concentration level up a notch.

In other words, time’s come to test your mettle, show your true colors and do the gutsy thing. Do whatever it takes to win a competition or generally speaking accomplish your goal. That is, you’ll perhaps have to do what you have not prepared to do under normal circumstances, you know, when sailing is smooth and the waters are calm.

Near the end of a basketball game, for example, with the score close and the outcome of the game hanging in the balance, players may administer hard fouls to stop opponents from scoring, harder fouls, that is, than perhaps they would’ve committed in the beginning of the match. In other words, at the end of a close game, players play harder when the stakes are higher, when the game might be won or lost on making or missing a layup, a loose ball here or a missed defensive assignment there.

Not to mention a controversial call by one of the refs.

Anyways, in the example from above, the family has not been preparing to move back to China, I don’t think. Moving back to China, in other words, is merely a last resort, the final option after all other alternatives are exhausted.

In other words, they would rather “push” not come to “shove”, i.e. things don’t get completely out of hand.

Anyways, “when push comes to shove” is a most useful idiom to learn. A very widely used one it is too. Here are but a few media examples:

1. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., found himself defending his support for Israel Tuesday while answering a question from a Jewish Democrat from Florida who was concerned about the Illinois Democrat’s support among Muslims and Arab-Americans as well as a pro-Palestinian comment that Obama made last month.

“We are obviously friends with all of them,” Robert Seidemann of West Palm Beach, Fla. told Obama at a conference sponsored by the National Jewish Democratic Council. “However, when it comes to Israel and push comes to shove, how can you make us, as Jews, totally comfortable in addressing the issues in Israel and moving toward what no president has been able to do and that is establish a peace?

On the issue of Israel’s security, Obama said he hasn’t just “talked the talk.” He argued that he has also “walked the walk.”

He also cited the years he spent in Indonesia as a child as preparing him for the diplomatic challenges awaiting the next president.

“If I go to Jakarta and address the largest Muslim country on earth, I can say, ‘Apa kabar,’ - you know, ‘How are you doing?’ - and they can recognize that I understand their common humanity,” Obama said. “That is a strength, and it allows me to say things to them that other presidents might not be able to say. And that’s part of what’s promising, I think, about this presidency.”

- Obama Queried about Support for Israel When ‘Push Comes to Shove’, ABCNews.com, February 9, 2009.

2. Today’s row over new technology apparently threatening the very concept of privacy has its origins in the late 19th century when two American lawyers, Samuel D Warren and Louis D Brandeis (what was it about the middle D?), wrote a hugely influential article in the Harvard Law Review railing against the way “modern enterprise and invention” were being used by the press “to satisfy a prurient taste” for the details of sexual relations.

The pair of young attorneys said newspapers with their “instantaneous photographs” were “overstepping in every direction the obvious bounds of propriety and decency” and argued the press had “invaded the sacred precincts of private and domestic life”.

The article is still cited in US legal argument today and is credited with having paved the way for the country's privacy laws.

Could the row over Twitter and instant messaging do the same for Britain?

The idea that a citizen has “the right to be let alone” became part of American cultural identity and today public disclosure of embarrassing private facts is a civil offence if the details are deemed to be non-newsworthy, private and highly offensive to a reasonable person.

In California the state constitution regards privacy as an “inalienable right” and in Montana personal privacy “shall not be infringed without the showing of compelling state interest”.

It is, of course, the debate over how one should define “compelling” and “newsworthy” that means America’s privacy laws are still evolving.

“Yellow journalism” - celebrity-based tabloid gossip and revelation, is still a huge industry in the United States and there is always going to be a tension between people who enjoy the trappings of a public life and those who demand the freedom to publish details of celebrity private life.

But the US has at least attempted to answer the questions which current debate about injunctions forces us to confront in the UK.

What is private? And, when push comes to shove, who should decide?

The arguments of the last week have exposed an ancient tension between Parliament and the judiciary.

Politicians, including the prime minister, have expressed concern that “unelected judges” are using the Human Rights Act to create a privacy law on the hoof.

Basically, they are saying: “Get your undemocratic tanks off our lawn”.

On Friday two of the most senior judges in England and Wales lobbed the criticism back saying that, by passing the Human Rights Act, Parliament has already effectively created a privacy law, and it was down to the poor old judges to try to make sense of the confusion and mess.

Do we trust judges?

The reason the Master of the Rolls and the Lord Chief Justice took off their wigs, invited 100 grubby hacks into the Royal Courts of Justice and offered the media greater access into injunction hearings is because they know the legitimacy of the judiciary depends on public confidence.

People who make their living from the yellow-tinged end of the news spectrum have been popping up on radio and television to cast judges as doddery, out-of-touch, Establishment figures who are far too quick to protect the rich and famous from having to face the consequences of their transgressions.

Ex-Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie and the publicity guru Max Clifford probably touch a nerve when they suggest the judiciary are the last people the public would want as adjudicators on public morals.

The judges, though, complain that the stereotype is not only unfair, but if people understood the legal arguments underpinning their decisions on injunctions, they would be seen as brave public servants trying to chart a difficult and dangerous course between competing rights.

The government has made it clear it does not want to introduce a privacy law in the UK but hints that legislation might be necessary.

One suggestion is that a commission or inquiry be set up to investigate the issue of where society thinks the line between a right to privacy and a right to freedom of expression lies.

As the journalist and anti-censorship campaigner John Kampfner put it to me: “The current situation is a mess,” with both judges and politicians fearing to tread in the territory.

Plans for a British Bill of Rights might offer an opportunity for clarification on what we mean by privacy and the public interest.

The trouble is that, even if we do define “private”, will the latest examples of “modern enterprise and invention” inevitably mean “what is whispered in the closet shall be proclaimed from the house-tops”?

- The right to be let alone, BBC.co.uk, May 21, 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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