Striking distance?

中国日报网 2013-07-12 10:40



Striking distance?Reader question:

Please explain “striking distance” in this sentence: There are more than 80 beaches on this island, so you are always within striking distance of the sea.

My comments:

This is one of the more striking (unusual but interesting and impressive) examples of how to speak good, idiomatic English, something I always encourage Chinese learners to do.

Here striking distance means simply a short distance, a distance so short it’s as if the sea is within reach.

Yes, within reach.


Reach refers to how far you can stretch your arm to touch something.

Boxers, for example, often talk about things like that, like, so and so having a long reach. That simply means a boxer has particular long arms. A long reach gives the boxer an advantage for obvious reasons, as it enables him to hit an opponent before his opponent can touch him.

Muhammad Ali, for example, has something of a 10-inch reach advantage over Joe Frazier, one of his greatest rivals. Because of that, Ali liked to hit Frazier in the head whereas Frazier always liked to zero his way in and work on the body. Frazier had to – he had to step forward so that his opponent is within striking (hitting) distance, but he often had to suffer a series of jabs and punches to the head on the way in.

Here, you see, within striking distance means simply within reach. Your opponent has to be within your reach, or arm’s length for you to launch an attack, or to strike a blow, as they say.

And vice versa.

So long as your opponent is beyond reach, or out of range, you can’t hit them effectively.

Hence, by extension, to be within striking distance is to be close to the target or goal you want to achieve.

In our example from the top, “you” like the sea, apparently. Therefore, “you” should be happy with spending the holiday on “this island”. With its 80 beaches, you’ll always feel like you’re near the sea, which is the object of your fancies.

In other words, you can make a splash any time.

Anyways, “striking distance” is originally a military term, descriptive of the distance at which a soldier is sufficiently near to be able to attack an enemy, but I think our boxing analogies more than suffice to illustrate the point.

Alright, here are media examples of this useful idiom:

1. It was an advance every bit as rapid and chaotic as the retreat two weeks earlier.

Crammed into pickups, cars and buses, Libya's army of teachers, grocers and students raced westwards on Sunday in a helter skelter advance toward Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s heartland.

They retook Brega, Uqayla, Ras Lanuf and Bin Jawad – oil towns they had been driven out of under intense artillery bombardment – without having to fight a battle. Government forces simply turned tail and fled. By the end of the day the rebels were in striking distance of Sirte, Col Gaddafi’s hometown and power base.

Ali Saeed Ali, 27, who ran a grocery shop before joining the uprising, waved his grenade launcher above his head at the entrance to Ras Lanuf in jubilation. “We are coming to get you Gaddafi. We won't stop until Tripoli,” he said.

- Libya: rebels advance towards Tripoli,, March 27, 2011.

2. NBA owners and players called it an early night on Thursday, with both pointing towards Friday as a decisive day for big moves to end the 119-day lockout.

Or not.

After two days of talks about the salary cap system, they will turn their attention back to the division of revenues, which derailed the negotiations last week.

This time, Commissioner David Stern said the talks had produced enough familiarity and trust “that will enable us to look forward to tomorrow, where we anticipate there will be some important and additional progress - or not.”

“But I think (union executive director Billy Hunter) and I share that view, and we’re looking forward to seeing whether something good can be made to happen.”

The sides again said there was some minor progress on the system issues after about 7 1/2 hours of talks. They decided to wrap it up and get some rest following a marathon 15-hour session on Wednesday, and with union economist Kevin Murphy unavailable on Thursday to discuss finances.

Hunter said he thought the sides were “within striking distance of a getting a deal” on the system, but there’s still no indication either side is ready to make the big move necessary to settling the Basketball Related Income (BRI) split.

Owners have insisted they’re not going beyond 50-50, which means the sides are still about $100 million apart annually, based on last season’s revenues. Players have proposed reducing their guarantee from 57 percent down to 52.5, but they’re unlikely to go much further without some concessions on the system issues.

“I think we’re within reach and within striking distance of getting a deal,” Hunter said. “It’s just a question of how receptive the NBA is and whether or not they want to do a deal.”

Asked when the significant move would happen, Hunter noticed Stern sitting in the back of his press conference and said to ask the commissioner.

“Tomorrow!” Stern yelled out.

- NBA sides eager to get deal in next few days, AP, October 28, 2011.

2. The Air Force developed the B-1 in the 1970s as the B-52’s replacement. President Jimmy Carter killed it, President Ronald Reagan brought it back, and none have been delivered since 1988.

Next up was the stealth B-2 Spirit, which first flew in 1989. Because only 21 were built, they ended up costing a prohibitive $2 billion each. The Air Force is now hoping to upgrade with what it calls the Long Range Strike Bomber, but it’s not clear when it will be ready.

To be sure, all of these aircraft have undergone massive overhauls and updates, and most experts agree the U.S. Air Force remains the best-equipped in the world. Its aircraft aren’t likely to soon start falling out of the sky, either, thanks to intensive, and expensive, maintenance.

Zoellner, the KC-135 pilot, bristled at the idea his Stratotankers aren’t safe. He said they “fly like a champ.”

But Loren Thompson, of the Lexington Institute, a conservative think tank, said the graying Air Force is evidence of how Washington has failed to keep its eye on the ball.

“The reason the fleet is so decrepit is because for the first 10 years after the Cold War ended, policymakers thought the United States was in an era of extended peace,” he said. “Then it spent the next 10 years fighting an enemy with no air force and no air defenses. So air power was neglected for 20 years, and today the Air Force reflects that fact.”

Former Air Force Col. Robert Haffa, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, added that although ground forces were the primary concern in Iraq and Afghanistan, air power will be a key to future security requirements as the United States turns its attention to the Pacific and a strengthening China.

Unlike America’s more recent adversaries, China has a credible air force that could conceivably strike U.S. bases in the region, requiring a deterrent force that is based farther away, out of range. America’s bases in Japan — and possibly Guam — also are within striking distance of a North Korean missile attack.

“As the nation looks to increased focus in the Pacific, these long-range strike platforms will be especially important,” Haffa said. “Planes like the B-52 simply cannot survive.”

- US Air Force struggles with aging fleet, AP, November 4, 2012.

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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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