Manufacturing hits brick wall

2012-06-05 13:38



Manufacturing hits brick wall

Reader question:

Please explain “brick wall” as in this headline – Manufacturing hits brick wall as economy slows.

My comments:

To save a word, manufacturing has hit a wall, getting blocked in progress in the same way as a car may come crashing into a wall and get stopped in its tracks.

If wall is sufficient, then why brick wall?

Traditions, I suppose.

We can imagine that before the advent of cement, concrete and steel, bricks had been one of the most durable and commonplace building materials everywhere for many centuries. A brick wall is tougher than a wall made of, say, mud, and therefore, over time, “brick wall” became a fixed term standing for something strong and tough.

Literally if a person runs into a brick wall headfirst, he or she (mostly he, I am sure) would get lump in the forehead and possibly sustain injuries to the torso and limbs also. Same thing for a car to be crashing headlong into a wall – carcasses of the car will be seen and the brick wall remains the same, strong, tough and immovable.

Figuratively speaking, therefore, to say the manufacturing hits a brick wall is to say that manufacturing is stagnating – not making any progress because, as the economy slows, people stop ordering as much manufactured goods as before. Brick itself as a commodity may hit a wall as well, as people stop buying bricks because they’ve stopped building new houses.

Not in China, of course where house building is concerned but you get the point. A brick wall stands for an insurmountable obstacle, too great a hindrance to remove.

In the NBA, they talk of young players hitting a rookie wall. That means that often, in midseason, many of these rookies (those who are playing pro basketball for the first year) suddenly stop making the normal progress they are expected to make as they continue to learn the ropes. You know, they’ve been making steady progress but all of a sudden, for example, they are missing shots they normally make. A lot of this is mental, as some players begin to think ahead of themselves while others are weighted down the burden of huge expectations.

Anyways, a rookie wall is a wall that stops a player in their tracks, rendering them impossible to move further ahead.

And it is also proof that a brick wall is, well, just a wall. However, “brick wall” is a fixed phrase. Though often overused and sounding trite, it is still very commonplace in everyday language (even though brick as a building material has become rather brittle in contrast to other later inventions).

Vive la brick wall! In other words, I suspect this trite cliché is probably here to stay. Here are media examples:

1. Jenny Gregson is answering David Cameron’s call for more people to create businesses in parts of the country hit by public sector spending cuts.

But her expansion plans have hit a bureaucratic brick wall and, frustrated, she has joined The Daily Telegraph’s red tape campaign.

Her fledgling Beachcomber Livery and Horse Holidays venture sits on land adjacent to the sand dunes that border Lindisfarne’s beaches, south of Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Helped by Katie Ross, Ms Gregon is tempting holiday makers with horses from across the UK to her family’s existing campsite next door with its access to miles of sandy beaches. “One of the visitors last year said she had never had her horse at a full gallop before,” says Michael Ross, Katie’s father.

The livery has paddocks for grazing that border the Lindisfarne dunes, which are a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), and they have suffered from wind erosion.

Ms Gregson said: “With our position so coastal the erosion hits us quite hard. We are limited how many horses we can have based on the amount of grazing we have.”

To tackle the erosion they planned to fill the holes with soil from local gardens and repair the fencing.

Mr Ross contacted Natural England, who tried to help but advised that “importing” soil would not work because of the risk of “contaminates” like piri piri seeds.

Instead it advised them to use “horse manure”, which Mr Ross said would blow away in the wind.

The livery could apply for a waste permit but they would have to pay for several surveys and hire a “technically competent manager to manage the site”.

The Environment Agency said any works would require “quote costly” planning permission.

Ms Gregson said: “I can see that it is part of the SSSI and they have to be careful but they have not met us halfway or advised how we can do it in a way that is sustainable. We have hit a brick wall. Our fields are right behind the dunes and we are trying to protect the fields and dunes from erosion.”

- Red tape Britain: Horse holidays hit a brick wall as paddocks classed as waste site,, March 11, 2011.

2. Newspapers typically include a section on local happenings or local news. Frequently, traffic accidents are reported within the local section. Sometimes, an old article from a newspaper is an excellent source of information if you were a victim in the accident. For instance, the article may include the name of a witness to the accident or provide a description of the other driver or the vehicle in the case of a hit and run. If you have hit a brick wall trying to investigate an accident that happened weeks, months or even years ago, old newspaper articles may provide crucial information.

Gather as much information as possible regarding the accident itself, for instance, the name of anyone involved, the date, the location or the type of vehicle involved. Most newspapers will require you to search archives to find the article you are looking for, so the more information you have the better.

Locate the name of local newspapers. A simple Internet search should turn up the names of any newspapers that report on the city or town where the accident took place.

Contact the newspaper offices or locate the newspapers online. For relatively recent accident reports, you should be able to search the newspaper online by finding the “archives” section of the website. For older accident reports, you may need to search the newspapers’ archives or microfilm. When you speak to the newspaper office, ask how far back its online search option goes in order to decide which avenue to take. Keep in mind that you may be required to pay a fee to access older archived articles.

- How to Find Old Traffic Accident Reports in a Newspaper,, undated.

3. Mistakes in the budget had left the government “ploughing into a brick wall”, the prime minister has admitted as he defended successive U-turns, but he insisted the government overall was showing “resolve, strength and grit”.

David Cameron’s frank assessment of the budget errors came as fresh reports emerged of policy disputes on the eve of the budget that reflect poorly on chancellor George Osborne’s judgment.

Osborne, feted over the past five years as the key Conservative political strategist, has seen his stock take a precipitous tumble over the budget. It was reported that his parliamentary aide personally urged him to drop the “granny tax” and “pasty tax” on the eve of the budget, saying they would be wildly unpopular.

Cameron, speaking on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show, said it took courage for an administration to admit it was “ploughing into the brick wall” and change course on unpopular policies...

Cameron said: “We’ve taken difficult decisions on the deficit, which we’ve cut by a quarter in two years, difficult decisions on public sector pay, reforming public sector pensions, standing up to public sector strikes. Nobody thinks this government lacks resolve, strength and grit.

“It has all of those things and it also has the courage to say, ‘Look, if we’ve got something wrong, let’s change it; let’s not keep ploughing into the brick wall.’”

- Cameron: budget errors left government ‘ploughing into brick wall’,, June 3, 2012.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


Get it out of your system

All comers?

Victory lap?

Deer in headlights?

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑陈丹妮)



















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