Large shoes to fill?

中国日报网 2013-02-22 12:00



Large shoes to fill?

Reader question:

Please explain this headline: Dean’s departure leaves large shoes to fill.

My comments:

To paraphrase: The dean’s left his post and it’s hard to replace him.

In other words, the dean’s done such a good job that it’ll be difficult for his successor to emulate his success.

“Large” in “large shoes” doesn’t mean that the dean has a large pair of feet. He may or may not have big feet but it’s not supposed to take the adjective literally here. “Large” instead points to the dean’s accomplishments – they were outstanding.

To have a pair of shoes to fill, you see, is a variation from the more commonplace phrase to fill someone’s shoes, that is, to do what they do.

People are different in stature; their shoes are in consequence different in size. It is therefore often uncomfortable for one to wear another person’s shoes, let alone walk a mile in them, as they say. Hence, by extension, whenever a person is required to do the job of another person, they’re described as being asked to fill that somebody’s shoes.

If the shoes are large, that means the person in question is an outstanding personality, someone who’s achieved a lot, someone who’s difficult to replace – because it’s hard to imagine anyone else doing the job as well as he’s been doing.

For example, when Jerry Buss, the owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, died Monday at age 80, he apparently left a pair of outsized shoes for his sons and daughters to fill. Jerry won 10 titles for LA and it’s hard, if not downright impossible, to imagine that his second son Jimmy, who control’s the Lakers basketball operations and Jeanie, Jerry’s oldest daughter in charge of the Lakers business operations, can emulate that success.

In other words, dad is a tough act to follow.

To say the least.

Alright, here are more media examples of people having to fill other people’s shoes:

1. Last Friday an icon up and walked away. Fred Stickel, publisher of the Oregonian, left his office, rode down on the elevator, walked through the main lobby and out the front doors. He continued down the sidewalk to his car. Got in and drove away. Waiting for him along his exit route were an emotional staff and well-wishers. Almost all will miss him. Though not a face in that crowd, I’ll miss him too. He’s the kind of person you try to emulate — even more so if you’re a publisher.

I met Fred at a publisher’s meeting over 25 years ago. We were listening to a major account discuss how they would like to be billed on the success of their advertising. When I asked the account the definition of success and by whom, he answered, but not really. Feeling foolish, I didn’t press for the answer. Then Fred piped up, “Answer his question.” That’s the kind of no-nonsense yet gracious person he was to do business with.

At another function, we were having dinner together. I was lamenting to Fred some editorial staff problems. His simple answer, “Editorial problems are the toughest battles you’ll fight.” He was right and taught me to take a deep breath before swinging from the heels. Sometimes — don’t swing at all.

Over the years I learned much from Fred Stickel. Mainly how to be a gentleman, have integrity and respect your associates. And through some very tough situations, nowhere does it say — be rude.

Which brings me to this. At looking at the man’s accomplishments and the respect he commanded — how is anybody going to fill his shoes? They aren’t. Fred walked those shoes out of the building and out of the newspaper business at probably the right time. He’s the reflection of a powerful industry at its peak. It never went to his head. He used his position to promote, defend and watch over Oregon and more succinctly, Portland.

Today people have more choices for their news and information. They also have less time. Our society has teched up and dummied down. News isn’t as important as it once was. Everybody wants to be entertained. In that are some dangerous consequences for society as a whole.

- Nobody Could Fill Those Shoes,, September 22, 2009.

2. Who in the world could possibly replace Sharon Osbourne as a judge on America’s Got Talent?!

Host Nick Cannon has a certain celebrity someone in mind.

“Madonna!” Cannon told us while promoting tonight’s TeenNick HALO Awards on Nickelodeon. “Why not?”

“See, that’s a good one right?” he laughed. “Howard stern next to Madonna? Come on!”

A Madonna-Stern face-off sounds like good television to us!

While we wait to see if the Material Girl has time in her busy schedule for a gig on reality TV, Cannon says he’s “absolutely” going to miss Osbourne on the next season of the hit NBC show.

It’s gonna be tough to try to fill her shoes,” he dished. “I’m interested to see who they’re gonna [pick]. I hear rumblings of all types of people, but these competition shows are big moneymakers these days for celebrities so I’m pretty sure they’ll write the check to get someone.”

- Nick Cannon: Madonna Should Replace Sharon Osbourne on America’s Got Talent!, November 19, 2012.

3. Boston Celtics star point guard Rajon Rondo will miss the rest of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

The news came during Boston’s 100-98 double-overtime win over the Miami Heat on Sunday in which Ray Allen returned to his old home court for the first time.

“New guys are going to get an opportunity now,” Boston forward Paul Pierce said. “These guys haven’t had a chance to really showcase what they can do.”

For the past five seasons, Pierce, Allen and Kevin Garnett made up the Big Three. After Allen signed with the Heat as a free agent in the offseason, Rondo joined that group - and became the team leader with his ability to run the offense.

He was chosen as the starting point guard for the Eastern Conference in the All-Star game in Houston on Feb. 17.

Now the Celtics hope he can be ready for the start of next season….

Rondo was averaging career highs of 13.7 points and 5.6 rebounds along with 11.1 assists this season.

Still, the Celtics are struggling to remain around .500, finishing the day with a 21-23 record, 2 1/2 games ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers for the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Celtics have no true point guard behind Rondo. Rivers said he didn't know if they would try to add one.

Jason Terry, known for his outside shooting, Courtney Lee, Leandro Barbosa and Bradley are the other guards. Each played at least 25 minutes Sunday with Lee starting in Rondo’s place.

“We knew something was up at the beginning, but we didn’t know how serious it was,” Lee said. “Nobody can fill his shoes. That’s what makes him great. So the only thing we can do is work as hard as possible and keep the momentum going from this game and have no letup.”

- Celtics’ Rondo out for season with torn ACL,, January 27, 2013.




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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