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No axe to grind?

[ 2011-07-05 15:29]     字号 [] [] []  
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No axe to grind?

Reader question:

Please explain this sentence: “Unlike my critics, I belong to no political party and have no axe to grind.”

My comments:

In other words, “I” am objective, unlike “my” critics who are all biased.

To elaborate: When the said “I” speaks about the political parties, he has no other purpose than just speak out his mind. He wants to tell the truth, what he feels as truth at any rate, rather than to attack one party or support the other.

In other words, he has selfish motivations. He has nothing to gain or lose by criticizing or praising either party, supposing we’re talking about America here, which has two parties, one Republican, one Democratic.

All because he has no axe to grind – he doesn’t run for public office and probably does not even bother to vote. So he can be trusted for his words, and more importantly, his lack of sinister intentions.

If he had an axe to grind, on the other hand, he might very well be saying one thing and meaning another. He would criticize one political party excessively and unfairly simply because he supports the other.

“To have an axe to grind” is the idiom to master here, and a good one it is too. It is American in origin and the “axe” is spelt “ax” in America. Well, that’s just the American way – they like to keep spellings simple. Anyways, according to American Heritage (yeah, even Americans have heritage) Dictionary of Idioms:

This frequently used idiom comes from a story by Charles Miner, published in 1811, about a boy who was flattered into turning the grindstone for a man sharpening his ax. He worked hard until the school bell rang, whereupon the man, instead of thanking the boy, began to scold him for being late and told him to hurry to school. “Having an ax to grind” then came into figurative use for having a personal motive for some action.

Got the point? The man scolded the child to avoid giving him a dime, or nickel or at least a “thank-ya” for his help.

Petty and mean and selfish. And quite frankly these are among the negative connotations associated with this idiom. When you use them, either have an axe or no ax to grind, make sure you use them on the right people.

The wrong people, I mean.

I mean, if they have an axe to grind, they’re probably in the wrong. And if you use the idiom on these people, you’re probably doing it right.

Alright, here are two real examples:

1. have no axe to grind:

THE LEADER of the group behind UEFA’s decision to shut Ibrox for Rangers’ next two European matches last night blasted claims of an orchestrated campaign against the SPL champions.

Fare chief Piara Powar dismissed suggestions of a witch-hunt as UEFA finally confessed their own delegate Geir Thorsteinsson had also shopped the sectarian singers in Holland last month.

Ibrox powerbrokers have been left shellshocked at a double hammering from European football chiefs in the wake of their Europa League ties against PSV.

Rangers supporters are set to be banned for the next two away games and the club face a fine of around £100,000 for sectarian singing in Eindhoven on March 10 unless their appeal is upheld a week on Thursday.

But a second blow came on Thursday with news they will also be forced to play their next two home matches behind closed doors after chanting was reported from the Ibrox return with PSV.

In both cases, FARE (Fans Against Racism in Europe) submitted reports to UEFA chiefs.

But Powar, the London-based executive director of the FARE network, last night insisted there was no agenda against Gers.

And he also scoffed at talk of outside influences driving FARE’s moves, despite Ibrox chief executive Martin Bain saying “this has all the hallmarks of a deliberate and targeted campaign”.

Powar said: “The reports were gathered as part of an ongoing monitoring programme.

“There is debate in some quarters as to the qualification of the FARE observer. He or she has no political, religious or football affiliations that would bring into question their ability to act as a neutral observer.

“There are explicit suggestions emanating from Rangers FC of a deliberate and targeted campaign against them.

“The FARE network is focused only on our core mission of tackling discrimination and encouraging social inclusion through the game. We have no axe to grind with any club.”

- FARE insist they have 'no axe to grind' with Ibrox club, DailyRecord.co.uk, April 16, 2011.

2. have an axe to grind:

Gen. David Petraeus has ordered an investigation into claims that a top Army official instructed a military team to manipulate visiting U.S. dignitaries using “psychological operations” so they would approve more resources for the Afghanistan war.

Rolling Stone reported that the command of Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, who is in charge of training Afghan troops, tried to tap members of the military’s “information operations” unit to use their skills on visiting senators and congressmen, among others. The goal, according to the article, was to convince the officials to provide more troops and money.

A spokesman for Caldwell said the story was “absolutely false.” Asked whether Caldwell or his staff used the psychological tactics against visiting senators, the spokesman said, “absolutely not.”

Two senators also played down suggestions they were manipulated to support the war effort.

But Fox News spoke with the accuser, Lt. Col. Michael Holmes, who stood by his allegations. He said he was “badgered” for months to get information on senators and other visitors.

“It was, ‘What are these people wanting from us? What is it that we can tell them that will get them to give us more resources, more people, more money ... make them vote our way in Congress’ essentially?” Holmes told Fox News. He said he got a written “directive” from Caldwell’s office to find out what dignitaries “did for us” and what “we need to do next time in order to make things better.”

He told Fox News the military has since retaliated against him by putting out “spurious information,” but stood by his claim that the military had asked his unit to do something that was “over the line.” He added that the order did not come from Caldwell himself, but from his chief of staff.

Responding to accusations by military officials that he had an “ax to grind,” Holmes said:

“Do I have an ax to grind? Yeah. But the ax is this. If they can do this to a lieutenant colonel, what are they doing to the sergeants out there? I have a lot of education and training. ... I knew where to go and what the rules were and weren’t.”

Petraeus’ office issued a brief statement Thursday morning saying the Afghanistan commander has ordered an investigation “to determine the facts and circumstances surrounding the issue.”

Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan said Thursday that the investigation will seek to determine whether the actions taken were inappropriate or illegal.

- Petraeus Orders Probe After Accusations Army Commander Tried to Manipulate Senators for Afghan War Support, FoxNews.com, February 24, 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.


Got your goat?

Linear thinking

Open season?

Chosen one

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑陈丹妮)