Off and on?

中国日报网 2012-09-14 09:41



Off and on?

Reader question:

Please explain “off and on” in this sentence: He worked for CBS News, off and on, from 2001 to 2008.

My comments:

Another great question on small words – and it’s no fuss to me.

First, to paraphrase: He worked for CBS News on many occasions from 2001 to 2008 – but only occasionally and irregularly, not continuously throughout the years.

He may have worked for that news outfit for three months in, say, 2001, fives more weeks in 2002, 16 consecutive months from 2003-04, another six weeks in 2007, plus one month in 2008.

In other words, their working relationship was sometimes on, sometimes off during that period.

On, of course, means it’s there – the light is on, for instance and it’s there. You see the light.

Off, on the other hand, means it’s gone. For example, if you turn off the light, then light goes out. The room is filled in dark.

Anyways, a relationship that is on and off means it’s sometimes heated, sometimes cool; people sometimes see each other often, daily for instance for a period of time, sometimes not so often during other periods of time, for instance once several weeks or months.

Have you ever heard of some celebrity figure’s marriage plans being described in the newspaper as “on again, off again”?

Of course, you have. And that means the said celebrity, a male rock star, for instance is fickle, and can never make up his mind whether he’s going to marry that woman or not. On Friday, he announces to the media that he is madly in love with her and that they are going to get married this very Christmas. But by Tuesday, a tabloid paper has revealed that the couple quarreled with, say, unchristian ferocity in a bar the previous night and that the marriage thing appears definitely “off”. Two weeks later, however, the same tabloid says it again can confidently reveal that the couple has patched up their differences, and that their wedding is going ahead, as originally planed.

So the marriage is “on” again.

Then, sure enough, next month, the same tabloid reveals in another sensational scoop that the male star is seeing someone else...and that the marriage plans are, once more, “off”.

See, this is how a relationship is “on again, and off again”. In a case like this, you can describe their relationship as off and on. In other words, the couple have been going out together now and then for some time. During this time, they are often together, but do stop seeing each other from time to time.

Oddly enough, you can also describe this as “on and off” – “on and off” and “off and on” basically mean the same thing.

Alright, without further ado, let me find you a media example of each phrase:

1. on and off:

A defiant Herman Cain tried to turn the tables on his growing legion of critics and accusers Wednesday, blasting them for allegedly engaging in gutter politics and giving no indication of any immediate intent to abandon his embattled presidential campaign. “They have been trying to do a character assassination on me,” Cain told an enthusiastic crowd in West Chester, Ohio. “They are attacking my character, my reputation and my name in order to try and bring me down.”

“I don’t believe that America is going to let that happen,” he declared.

His fund-raising took a hit, Cain acknowledged later Wednesday, after a woman said Monday she had engaged in a long-term affair with the former Godfather's Pizza CEO.

“The day that this latest one (allegation) hit, fund-raising went way down,” Cain said. “But here’s the good news. As the week has gone on and this woman who has made these accusations is basically starting to contradict herself, our fundraising is going back up. It’s not to the level where it was but a lot of people are saying -- you know what? They don’t believe it.”

Cain, who is dropping in Republican presidential polls, urged his audience to “know the facts” and “stay informed because ... stupid people are running America.”

Cain’s unorthodox campaign has been under siege in the wake of a string of accusations relating to alleged sexual harassment. On Monday, it took a new hit with allegations from Ginger White.

“This was not a consistent love affair,” White told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” It was “on and off” for about 13 years.

- Cain blasts critics for ‘character assassination’, November 30, 2011.

2. off and on:

Given all of the setbacks Serena Williams shrugged aside over the years — on tennis courts and, more daunting, away from them — she probably shouldn't have been worried when she stood two points from losing the U.S. Open final.

And yet, she explained afterward, “I really was preparing my runner-up speech.”

No need for that. When the going gets toughest, Williams tends to shine.

Finally tested, and even trailing, at Flushing Meadows, Williams suddenly found her composure and her strokes, winning the last four games for a 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 victory over top-ranked Victoria Azarenka on Sunday night, collecting a fourth U.S. Open championship and 15th Grand Slam title overall.

“I never give up. I never, never quit,” Williams said after the first three-set U.S. Open women’s final since 1995. “I have come back so many times in so many matches...”

Forget what the rankings say. Williams, who was seeded fourth, is dominating the game right now. And she’s been dominant, off and on, for more than a decade.

- Serena Williams comes back to win US Open, AP, September 9, 2012.

3. on again, off again:

Sarah Palin’s on-again, off-again appearance at Monday night’s gala GOP fundraising dinner is off — again.

After being invited — for a second time — to speak to the annual joint fundraiser for the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Palin was told abruptly Saturday night that she would not be allowed to address the thousands of Republicans there after all.

The Alaska governor may now skip the dinner altogether, and her allies are miffed at what they see as a slight from the congressional wing of the Republican Party.

The reason given for the snub, said a Palin aide, was that NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions was concerned about not wanting to upstage former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the fundraising gala’s keynote speaker.

“A great deal of effort has been put into this fundraising event, and Speaker Gingrich has gone above and beyond the call of duty,” said NRCC spokesman Ken Spain. “It is our hope that Gov. Palin will attend the dinner and be recognized, but we understand if her busy schedule doesn’t permit her to do so.”

The disinvitation from speaking, said a campaign committee official, was done “out of respect” for Gingrich.

“You dance with the one who brung ya,” said the official, who stressed that event organizers were still happy to have Palin appear and be introduced.

Ironically, Palin was originally supposed to be the headliner for the dinner. NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas wanted the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee to speak. And officials with the two party committees thought earlier this spring that she had committed, even going so far as to issue a press release announcing her appearance.

But after public uncertainty as to whether she had actually accepted and would attend, the NRSC and NRCC decided to invite Gingrich instead.

- Sarah Palin in, then out, back in - and now again out of fundraising dinner,, June 7, 2009.



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.


Moral fiber

Always on the outside looking in?

Rubbing it in

Proven track record?

Go to the 'piggy bank'?

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)



















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