His right hand man?

2012-02-28 14:04



His right hand man?

Reader question:

Please explain “right hand man” in this sentence: Smith has served as the long-time special assistant to Davis and was basically his right-hand man.

My comments:

This settles one thing, for sure, that Davis is right handed. May be not (we’ll deal with that later).

Smith being the right hand man means that Smith, as an assistant, is someone Davis cannot do without, just as one couldn’t do anything without one’s right hand.

If one is right handed, that is. People who are right handed have their right hand as the good hand, as they say.

Or the better hand. Or the working hand. I am right handed, for example, and in my case, I cannot use a pair of chopsticks properly with my left hand.

I said Davis is right handed, and that’s taking it literally. He might be dexterous with both hands but that’s also beside the point here. The point is “right hand man” must have derived from the fact that most people are right handed. Hence they say that their assistants, who help them in every way, are their right handed men, likening them to their right hand.

Which raises an obvious question, of course, what about the left hand?

Well, yeah, quite obviously left-handed people are often left out in the cold when it comes to custom-molding and language-forming.

Left-handed people, as we know now, are just as good as right handed people in performing household chores or playing sports. They might be even better in ping pong, badminton and tennis than their right-handed opponents. But as they are relatively small in number, they’re often neglected, as minority interests are often ignored in society at large.

In the old days at least, it is safe to say, people were even less sensitive to such issues than we are today. The word dexterous, for example, means originally quick and nimble, skilful with the right hand, dexter being originally from Latin (meaning on the right hand). Today, however, if you say someone is dexterous, people understand that he is good with his hands, both left and right (I have said earlier that Davis might be “dexterous with both hands.” That’s me, trying to keep to the right, oops, I mean, safe side).

Anyways, in this day and age, it is prudent to be sensitive to minorities, be it a matter of race, gender, physical shortcomings or whatever.

Alright, media examples:

1. Right-hand man, gentleman’s agreement and whiter than white are the latest phrases to fall foul of the political correctness lobby.

Government quangos have issued fresh lists of phrases they are seeking to ban to avoid causing offence.

Staff at the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission have been advised to use “miserable day” instead of “black day”. The Commission claims that certain words carry a “hierarchical valuation of skin colour”.

It also cautions that the term ethnic minority can imply “something smaller and less important” and should be used with care.

The examples of political correctness emerged in answer to a series of Freedom of Information requests.

Some institutions have urged workers to watch out for gender bias or sexism in language.

The Learning and Skills Council wants staff to “perfect” their brief rather than “master” it while Newcastle University reckons “master bedroom” can be problematic.

The National Gallery in London says the phrase gentleman’s agreement may be considered offensive to women and suggests using “unwritten agreement” or “agreement based on trust” instead.

The phrase right-hand man is also considered taboo, with “second in command” thought more suitable. Advice issued by the South West Regional Development Agency says: “Terms such as black sheep of the family, black looks and black mark have no direct link to skin colour but potentially serve to reinforce a negative view of all things black.

“Equally, certain terms imply a negative image of black by reinforcing the positive aspects of white.

“For example, in the context of being above suspicion, the phrase whiter than white is often used. Purer than pure or cleaner than clean are alternatives which do not infer that anything other than white should be regarded with suspicion.”

- Right-hand man, gentleman's agreement and whiter than white: PC quangos ban common phrases to avoid causing offence, MailOnLine.co.uk, August 24, 2009.

2. Rupert Murdoch, who pushed out his longtime No 2 Peter Chernin earlier this year, has lured another former News Corporation stalwart back to the media conglomerate to be his right-hand man.

Chase Carey, who currently runs DirecTV, the US satellite broadcaster that was part of Mr Murdoch’s empire until last year, was last night confirmed as News Corp’s new deputy chairman, taking over when Mr Chernin moves on at the end of this month.

The elaborately-moustached Mr Carey has been a Murdoch lieutenant for almost all of the past 15 years, and helped develop the company’s Fox Sports channel, as well as its satellite operations across Europe and Asia.

He is returning at a time when News Corp, in common with most media giants, is suffering from the slump in advertising. The company’s businesses span book publishing, cable news and network television in the US, the Twentieth Century Fox film studios and satellite and newspaper businesses around the world.

- Murdoch appoints Carey as News Corp deputy, Independent.co.uk, June 4, 2009.

3. James Walston, professor of political science at the American University of Rome, said Berlusconi’s time is quickly running out, even though elections are not due until 2013.

“He could go tomorrow. He could go next week. The sort of pressure that he is under, coming from his own people, will make it sooner than later,” he said.

But Berlusconi has remained defiant, insisting he still commands enough support in Parliament.

“I don’t understand how rumors of my resignation are circulating,” Berlusconi was quoted as saying Monday by Libero newspaper.

Only the loss of a confidence vote can force a government to resign. Opposition leader Pierluigi Bersani said lawmakers are planning exactly that. Political analysts say a vote could come as early as Tuesday, when parliament is expected to approve the state's balance sheets, a routine measure that failed by one vote last month.

Other analysts say should Berlusconi step down, he would seek to have his right-hand man, Gianni Letta, named to succeed him as premier until early elections can be organized. It is not known whether the Italian president, Napolitano, would agree to that.

- Berlusconi rejects pressure to resign, AP, November 7, 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.


Linmania: The perfect storm

Status quo?

Hot point?

Went to the grave with him?

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑陈丹妮)

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