Don't expect anyone to cut you any slack

2012-07-13 13:27



Don't expect anyone to cut you any slack

Reader question:

Please explain “cut you any slack” in this passage:

Don’t expect anyone to cut you any slack – you have to earn it. And whatever you do, don’t call in sick. Bosses don’t equate having a cold with being sick.

My comments:

This sounds like a father figure giving counsel to a youngster fresh, say, at a job.

Anyways, if people tell you not to expect anyone to cut you any slack, they are telling you not to expect anyone to make special allowances for you. Don’t expect them to hand anything to you on a plate, as your ma and pa might have done. You have to earn it.

Hence, if you do anything wrong, expect yourself to be scolded, criticized and punished accordingly. Do not expect anyone to be lenient on you. Above all, do not call in sick all the time. First of all, “bosses don’t equate having a cold with being sick”. To bosses, being sick is something much more serious. To bosses, being sick is, for example, you being bedridden and too weak to lift your cell phone to even make the sick phone call. In other words, to bosses, having a cold means if you’re perfectly all right to come in to work.

Different perspectives, you see. But the advice given in the example from the top is, by and large, plausible. If you expect anyone to cut you any slack, you’ve got to give them a good reason to. To call in every now and then sick, for example, is simply not going to cut it, so to speak.

Anyways, to cut someone some slack means to make additional allowances for them, give them a little more freedom, relax the usual rules, give someone a second chance, etc.

This saying is perhaps nautical in origin, deriving from using ropes to tie a ship to a pier. “Tying a ship to a pier”, according to, “was no easy feat and took two teams of men armed with mooring lines. As one line was pulled to haul the ship closer the other line was released or ‘given slack’. The process would go on until the ship was properly aligned.”

Slack, you see, is opposite to tight. In order for the rope to be tightened at one end, the rope need be slack on the other end.

Perhaps this is how it should be with everything. If you’re tight and strict with yourself, it’s perhaps good for you to relax a bit once in a while. If you stay intense all the time, you may snap like a rope.

If, for example, you are what they call a model worker who never misses work, you may call in sick once or twice in a year. Your boss might allow you to stay home no question asked because he knows, for one thing, you’re not lying. In this case, he’s able to cut you some slack.

If, on the other hand, you call in sick every week, your boss may not be so sympathetic. In this case, the extenuating circumstances are gone. Thing is, you’re already as slack as a flimsy rope on the floor, how can you expect anyone to cut you any more slack? I mean, how much more relaxed do you want to be?

Alright, here are examples of people cutting some slack for others and see whether they have a good excuse to do so:

1. President Obama said GOP presidential hopeful Rick Perry has “to be a little more careful” with his rhetoric and says he’ll cut the Texas governor some slack for suggesting the Federal Reserve is almost “treasonous.”

In an interview with CNN airing tonight, Obama was asked if he thought Perry’s comments during an Iowa event on Monday night were disrespectful.

“I think that everybody who runs for president, it probably takes them a little bit of time before they start realizing that this isn’t like running for governor or running for senator or running for Congress, and you’ve got to be a little more careful about what you say,” Obama said.

But I’ll cut him some slack. He’s only been at it for a few days now.”

- Obama: Perry has to be ‘more careful’ with his words,, August 16, 2011.

2. The presidential primary season is upon us, and the Super Bowl isn’t that far off. Small business owners may find productivity dipping as employees talk about the candidates and this weekend’s game.

How much chatter is OK when there’s work to be done? And, what if the discussions get a little heated?


If your staff is generally hard-working, but gets a little sidetracked because of all the news, cut them some slack — as long as the company isn’t under pressure to get a project done or an order completed right away.

If you have few employees, or it’s just a small group of employees doing the chattering, it’s easy enough to say, “Hey, let’s have this conversation later. We need to get the work done first.” Think about the approach: you’re not forbidding the discussion. You’re reminding everyone of the priority, which is work.

With a larger group, you may need to use e-mail, but keep that same tone. For example: “We're all interested in the Super Bowl, but let’s save the conversation for break time or lunch.”

The key is to prevent a work atmosphere that’s unpleasant or oppressed. Allowing your staff to socialize on the job is a morale builder and, in the end, helps them work better together. And remember, when the job market eases and more people are able to find work, you don’t want to lose your best employees because they’d rather work for someone who seems more humane.

- Small Talk: How much chatter is OK when there’s work to be done? AP, January 7, 2012.

3. It is summit season again. In just over a week we have had three. The Nato summit was held in President Obama’s home town Chicago; the G8 met in a display of conspicuous parsimony at Camp David rather than in the usual grand resort; and yet another EU summit took place in Brussels.

Summits happen so often now that leaders see more of their foreign colleagues than they do of their cabinet colleagues or even their families. Prime ministerial and presidential entourages criss-cross the skies in their planes. Aides scurry in the wake of world leaders, clutching bulging piles of agenda papers.

Of course, summits have existed as long as leaders have. Think of Henry VIII’s Field of the Cloth of Gold, the Congress of Vienna or Yalta. Those were once-in-a-lifetime events that took leaders weeks or months to get to. But in the 1970s a new sort of summitry began, fuelled by easy air travel and an increasing role for leaders in foreign policy, at the expense of diplomats.

The argument for summits is that it is important to build personal trust between leaders so they can do deals with each other. Former foreign secretary David Miliband argues: “If you’ve got a personal relationship with someone, if you’ve been able to show that you’ve respected them, helped them, they’ll look to cut you some slack.”

- The secrets of political summits,, May 27, 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.


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(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)

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