Last word?

中国日报网 2013-07-02 10:57



Last word?Reader question:

Please explain “last word” in this sentence: “It’s funny how so many parents absolutely insist on having the last word.” What last word?

My comments:We’re talking about Chinese parents, aren’t we?

Well, at any rate let’s talk about Chinese parents, whom we all know a great deal about. In the event of an interfamily debate or argument (or quarrel, if you will), “the last word” does usually come from our parents, or grandparents, for that matter. And “the last word” must be, literally speaking, an order – or just something that reminds you who the head of the household is.

The point being, of course, you as a child should obey your parents. Therefore, you should quit arguing, stop talking back and start learning how to do as you’re told (even if you don’t disagree).

Only then can you see the end of the matter – whatever it is that’s being argued (or quarreled) about – and the family will have peace for a few moments.

The last word, you see, originally refers to the last point made in an argument which is so well said and convincing that it effectively puts the end to a debate. In other words, the last word is what clinches the debate.

He who has the last word, therefore, wins because the opponent, realizing the cause is lost, gives up.

Hence, the last word is also synonymous to the best, the final and the most authoritative type of thing that stands out from the rest. If a book has the last word on climate change, for example, the book is considered the best on the subject.

On the other hand, if you hear someone say: “We haven’t heard the last word on healthcare reform yet.” That means the debate is inconclusive and will go on.

Back to our example from the top. I must point out that, in a debate between family members, the one who has the last word doesn’t always win on merit, i.e. win by rhetoric with good reasoning and fine judgment. Often the winner has merely demonstrated his or her authority over others. In other words, they have won by pulling out their trump card – of being a parent. In China, especially in feudal times but still by and large true in a lot of families today, that trump card still reigns supreme.

Or similarly in the office or any organization. We all seem to understand that the boss has the last word because we’ve been told for thousands of years that our bosses and officials are parental figures and should thus be treated as such.

Sure, we often hear the father of a family ask the child, after a few minutes of back and forth in debate: “Who do you think you’re talking to?” That’s usually when the child becomes mute. The child gets the message: He or she is but to obey instead of talking back. They give up. Hence the end of the argument – The father has had the last word.

In times like this, the father has demonstrated his authority. He may or may not have been convincing in the argument itself, but he still has the last word, like the judge who has the last word in a court case. Again, he may not have been convincing in the arguing process itself and he knows it. The son knows it. Other members of the family may have noticed it. All neighbors who happen to be present certainly have noticed it. But no matter, so long as he is still the supreme authoritarian figure, the father is happy. And when he’s happy, the family should be happy – according to his beneficent, generous and magnanimous thinking.

Come to think of it, it is funny (strange, that is) indeed how so many parents still insist on having the last word in this manner – in this day and age.

Alright, here are recent media examples of people or things that have the last word:

1. Countries in the eurozone must accept that Europe “has the last word” and need to work together more closely if the continent is to avoid going into decline, German chancellor Angela Merkel has warned.

In the latest signal that Germany backs stricter Europe-wide controls over national budgets, the chancellor said that eurozone members had to be prepared to surrender authority to European institutions.

Speaking at an event hosted by Deutsche Bank in Berlin alongside Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Mrs Merkel said: “We seem to find common solutions when we are staring over the abyss.

“But as soon as the pressure eases, people say they want to go their own way.

“We need to be ready to accept that Europe has the last word in certain areas. Otherwise we won’t be able to continue to build Europe.”

- Angela Merkel: ‘Europe has the last word in certain areas’,, April 22, 2013.

2. THE International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which was set up 20 years ago, is winding down amid controversy. Recent judgments have shocked supporters of the tribunal and left many in the former Yugoslavia stunned. Refik Hodzic, a Bosnian and former spokesman for the ICTY, says that it is no longer “our court” and that it is now undergoing a “baffling self-destruction”.

On May 30th the tribunal in The Hague acquitted the former head of Serbia’s secret police and his right-hand man. The judgment offered great detail about the various militias they had formed, trained and financed and the crimes these had committed, but argued that there was no evidence that the accused had ordered these crimes. A day earlier six Bosnian Croats were convicted. Direct links between them and their crimes had been established.

Eric Gordy of London’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies says that the standards for convictions have changed in the last few months compared with earlier judgments. It is no longer enough “to have provided the resources to have committed a crime…you needed specific knowledge of it”. According to a court insider, some people already jailed would not have been convicted under the court’s new doctrine. He added that the latest judgments will have consequences for the future of international justice because they have weakened the criteria for holding political leaders accountable, especially if the crimes were committed abroad.

The tribunal did not convict a single person who was an official of the Serbian or Croatian governments for a crime committed in Bosnia. Only four members of the Yugoslav armed forces were convicted of atrocities perpetrated in Croatia and no Croats for crimes committed against Serbs in Croatia. So the judicial record does not match the historical record, according to Mr Gordy.

In all, the tribunal indicted 161 people. So far, 69 have been convicted, 18 acquitted and 13 sent home for trial. Proceedings are unfinished in 25 cases. Three of them are particularly prominent ones: those of Radovan Karadzic, the wartime leader of the Bosnian Serbs, Ratko Mladic, his military chief and Goran Hadzic, a former Croatian Serb leader.

One thing the tribunal has done will be of lasting value. It has created the most complete archive of witness testimonies of any war that has ever been fought. Its archive contains 1.6m pages of transcripts. That of the prosecutors has 9m pages of documents, orders and intercepts. The testimonies of some 4,500 witnesses have been preserved for history. So the tribunal’s verdicts will not be the last word.

- Balkan war-crimes: Winding down with a whimper, The Economist, June 8, 2013.

3. The world certainly has changed since 1996. When a Republican Congress passed and a Democratic president signed the Defense of Marriage Act, few people thought it ever would be challenged. After all, no states at the time allowed same-sex marriage.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court knocked down the law as unconstitutional. The ruling was one of the last hurdles at the national level against same-sex marriage. Public attitudes have been changing rapidly. Delaware is one of 13 states that recognize same-sex marriage.

The Supreme Court now gives same-sex married couples in those states the same federal benefits and legal protections heterosexual couples receive. The decision would seem to reflect changing popular ideas about gay rights. Most polls show that opposition to or support of same-sex marriage is divided predominately along generational lines. In that case, it would seem to be a matter of time before the issue is settled by law in all 50 states.

But that is not likely to happen soon.

The Supreme Court’s decision rightly puts the question of marriage law back into the hands of the states. The majority ruled that Congress did not have the power to interfere with what is essentially a state duty.

On the same day, in a separate, but related case, the court sent an appeal of California’s Proposition 8 back to the state. Proposition 8 forbids same-sex marriage. It is state law, but state officials refused to defend it. The court therefore ruled that those bringing the case did not have the proper legal standing to do so.

A lower court ruling that invalidated Proposition is now in effect. California is likely to become the 14th state to recognize same-sex marriages.

When that happens, 30 percent of the nation’s population will live in states that recognize same-sex marriages. But if you look at a map, those states are generally considered blue states.

Thirty other states have constitutional provisions that limit marriage to a man and a woman. The next big court battle likely will be fought over the rights of same-sex couples to have their marriage recognized in other states.

The cultural war in the nation is not over.

Wednesday’s majority decision was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy. As with most of his decisions, analysts will be spending a lot of energy deciphering exactly what he meant. How far did his federalist approach go? In the court’s view, will the states always have the last word on what defines marriage? Will this lead to problems between the states? Will this affect businesses, for example, that transfer employees from one state to another?

- Same-sex marriage decision is step forward, DelawareOnline, June 26, 2013.

Related stories:

Short leash?

Gamut of emotions?

Head start?

Gut reaction?

Hot seat?

Off color?

Go to Zhang Xin's column


About the author:

Zhang Xin(张欣) 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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