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The hard way

[ 2011-08-16 16:27]     字号 [] [] []  
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The hard way

Reader question:

Please explain “he did it the hard way” in this passage:

W. Clement Stone was one of the most successful entrepreneurs in America. And like so many people who achieve great success, he did it the hard way. Born into poverty, at the age of six Stone started selling newspapers to help his mother pay the rent. It was the rough-and-tumble of street-corner competition on Chicago’s tough South Side that taught him the first secrets of selling, and it was those secrets that finally got him off the street corner and made him successful enough to have his own stand by the time he was thirteen.

My comments:

Mr. Stone went through all the hardships (selling newspapers at six to help her mother pay the rent), did the dirty work and took a lot of pain (eking out a survival in the rough-and-tumble streets Chicago’s South Side, where blacks and poor people congregate) before achieving great success.

In short, Stone achieved his success through honest hard work. He did it by himself. Nobody’s given him anything. He had to create everything with his own hand, feet, and crucially, head.

To say “he did it the hard way” is to acknowledge that nothing had come easy for him. He was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth, i.e. he did not inherit a large sum of money to enable him to have a nice education, get a good job or invest in the stock market that is looking up, etc. and so forth.

In other words, no money, no mentors, no helpers and no shortcuts.

Or to use a similar expression, he cut no corners.

To do something the hard way, you see, is opposite to doing it the easy way.

Fresh into a career, for instance, to do it the easy way is to have a mentor take you under his wings, leading the way so that you don’t have to make the same silly mistakes young employees make as they learn the ropes and cut their teeth (to cut their teeth against the proverbial ropes, by the way, is the hard way).

Or better still, you have a father that knows the head of the company and he has you put in a leading position right away. In that position, all you have to do is attend meetings, talk nonsense without having to do any real work.

On the other hand, if you have to go through all the hardships of going through apprenticeship before making a name for yourself through honest hard work, nothing’s come easy for you. That way, you’ll be doing it the hard way.

Doing it the hard way is better, by the way. I won’t elaborate on why this is so because I am sure you’ll find it out by yourself.

Anyways, to sum up, doing something the hard way is a good expression to describe someone who achieves their aim through honest hard work, without cutting corners by taking unfair advantages of people and situations.

Sometimes this is the painful way, as a matter of fact, as demonstrated by the first of these examples culled from the Web:

1. Arria was a woman in ancient Rome. According to legend, Arria’s husband Caecina Paetus was ordered by the emperor to commit suicide for his part in a rebellion but was not capable of forcing himself to do so. Arria wrenched the dagger from him and stabbed herself, then returned it to her husband, telling him that it didn't hurt (“Non dolet, Paete!”). Her story was recorded in the letters of Pliny the Younger, who obtained his information from Arria's granddaughter, Fannia.

Pliny records that Arria’s son died at the same time as Caecina Paetus was quite ill. She apparently arranged and planned the child's funeral without her husband even knowing of his death. Every time she visited her husband Arria told him that the boy was improving. If emotion threatened to get the better of her she excused herself from the room and would, in Pliny’s words, “give herself to sorrow,” then return to her husband with a calm demeanor.

After the rebellion against Claudius led by Lucius Arruntius Camillus Scribonianus in 42. AD, Scribonianus was killed and Caecina was taken to Rome as a prisoner for conspiring with him. Arria begged the captain of the ship to allow her to join him on board. She claimed that if a consular Roman man was allowed slaves to take care of him, then she should save them the trouble and look after him herself. The captain refused, so Arria followed the great ship in a small fishing boat all the way to Rome.

Arria openly attacked the wife of the rebellion leader Scribonianus for giving evidence to the prosecution, crying:

“Am I to listen to you who could go on living after Scribonianus died in your arms?”

It was this sentence which alerted everyone to her intention of dying alongside Paetus.

Her son-in-law, Thrasea, attempted to persuade her to live, asking her if she would want her own daughter to kill herself if he were sentenced to death. Arria insisted that she would if her daughter (also called Arria) had lived as long and happily with Thrasea as she herself had with Caecina.

She was watched very closely from that point onwards but, realising this, Arria said that they could not stop her from dying. Having pointed this out she ran, head first, in to a wall and knocked herself out cold. When she came to, she cried:

“I told you I would do it the hard way if you stopped me from doing it the easy way.”

Arria was eventually permitted to join her husband in a “noble death” (falling on one’s own sword/dagger).

- Definition of Arria, Webster’s Online Dictionary.

2. Ten years ago, the Spanish film-maker Pedro Almodóvar called Elena Anaya and asked to meet. She went to Madrid and immediately the director started to apologise profusely; he had a tiny role in his new project, he explained, but he couldn’t imagine anyone else playing it. The young actor told him to stop: “I said to him I would be a vase or a lampshade if he wanted – facing a wall or whatever,” she remembers now. The film was Talk to Her and Almodóvar was not exaggerating; Anaya’s part is so small that when her father went to the premiere, he didn’t even notice she was in it.

Now Almodóvar said he had another part that would be perfect for Anaya, and this time she would not be required to play a household object. It was in fact the lead female role in an adaptation of a trashy 1984 French novella, Tarantula by Thierry Jonquet, which the director had been working on for years. “My entire blood stopped for a few seconds,” says Anaya. She starts to whisper, and her entrancing eyes – one deep brown, the other lighter – grow wider. “I couldn’t believe it. Everything was part of a dream and I am still inside the dream now.”

“Elena’s main feature is how far she can go in the most compromising scenes, I mean physically,” says Almodóvar. “She is very good at difficulties and tension. She’s very open-minded, the word ‘risk’ is part of her work. This is why I picked her.”


Anaya seems to have been a woman on the verge of a breakthrough for years now. Born in July 1975, a few months before General Franco died, she is the youngest of three children; her father was an industrial engineer and her mother a housewife. Franco was no patron of the arts, closing the national cinema school and forcing many artists and film-makers out of the country, and Anaya believes that Spain has been catching up ever since.

“Even though it was 36 years ago, Franco has been like a big brick,” she explains over drinks in a London hotel. “Ladrillo is a word we have in Spain, it is like a heavy piece of stone in the middle of creation. And it affected a whole generation of people growing up.”

One of the problems, she believes, is that no one could see English-language films – even now original-version cinemas are rare in Spain. Anaya herself learned to speak English the hard way. When she was 13, she was sent for a month to Clay Cross, a mining town in north Derbyshire. In the airport on the way out, her sister had taught her the only words she knew: “I don’t understand you.” Anaya had asked to be billeted with a family with children her age; instead she was allocated to a childless couple, both of whom were 18 years old and who mostly ignored her for the duration of her stay, although they did leave explicit instructions to clean out their rabbit hutch.

“It was a disaster,” she says. “On the first day, they gave me tomato soup in a can for breakfast. I tried to remember what my sister told me, but I could only say, ‘I understand you’. And they said, ‘OK, that’s fine”. I lost a lot of weight that month.”

- - Elena Anaya: Almodóvar's new leading lady, The Observer, August 14, 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.


Call their bluff?

Find your feet?

Goodness knows?

Another false start?

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑陈丹妮)