Dropping the ball?

中国日报网 2013-12-06 13:47



Dropping the ball?

Reader question:

Please explain this sentence: “The US Senate has again dropped the ball by not passing an energy bill containing a renewable fuels standard that would increase the size of the nation’s ethanol industry.” The Senate “again dropped the ball”?

My comments:

The US Senate failed to pass a bill, the energy bill containing blah blah blah which would increase the size of America’s ethanol industry, etc., etc.

And the gist of the matter insofar as the above argument goes is that the Senate is supposed to pass it. Failing to do so may in consequence cost the country dear. It’s a mistake on the part of the Senate.

“Again dropped the ball” suggests that this is a repeat offense. Apparently the Senate had an opportunity to pass the bill some time before but didn’t. Now it dropped the ball again.

Perhaps members of the Senate have an internal disagreement, or perhaps they all thought it a bad bill.

I mean, the Senate must have its reasons for not passing the bill but either way, it’s not our major concern at present. Our concern here at present is focused solely on the idiom “dropping the ball”.

Dropping the ball is a term borrowed from sports, any sports involving ball playing. In basketball, for example, if a player gathers the ball after dribbling (bouncing the ball up and down the floor) for a distance, he cannot put the ball to the floor again. He may shoot or pass the ball to a teammate, but he cannot drop the ball on the floor and catch it again, which is a violation. If he does, the referee will blow a whistle and terminate the play. The ball will be taken out of his hands and awarded to the opposing team. Then play resumes.

Even if he loses the ball inadvertently he cannot touch the ball before someone else, either a teammate or an opponent, touches it first. Or he’d be whistled for double dribble. Anyways, “dropping the ball” actually happens a lot in a basketball game, and seemingly is a negligible mistake.

Small mistake it is for sure, but at the crucial moment of a game, say the final seconds of a tie game (with both teams scoring the same amount of points), a small mistake like that may prove critical. It becomes a matter of life and death, perhaps turning a potential win to a bitter loss.

Same thing in volleyball or American football, where a careless drop of the ball may lead to a lost point or a touchdown by the opposing team – which all may eventually cost you a game.

Now you see the significance of “dropping the ball”.

Metaphorically speaking, if someone drops the ball – by wearing casual dress for a formal occasion or saying the wrong thing in public or such like – he makes a gaff which may prove very costly. If he repeatedly drops the ball, well, maybe he’s too careless to do his job.

Or he’s simply not the person to be trusted with any responsibility.

I think you’ve fully grasped the idea. Now, media examples:

1. A federal government plan for responding to emergencies will not be ready in time for the approaching hurricane season, officials have told Congress.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which bore the brunt of criticism following the 2005 season when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Gulf Coast, sent an advisory to Congress last week acknowledging it will not meet its June 1 deadline for issuing a new national response plan.

The advisory said development of the new plan had been delayed by unexpected issues, and more time is needed to resolve them. No new target date was set. In the meantime, a modified version of the plan in place during Katrina will be followed.

“Every post-Katrina report cited the enormous flaws with the current national response plan, yet here we are six weeks until hurricane season and FEMA has once again dropped the ball,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. “Failing to have a revised plan in place and relying solely on the previously failed one is irresponsible and unacceptable.”

- FEMA hurricane emergency plan delayed, AP, April 16, 2007.

2. Amazon.com may well be an American retailer, but they have a global reputation for their ability to provide much of the world with a host of products.

When the Australian dollar was at its best, there’s no doubt that many savvy Aussies looking to save a buck or 200 turned to Amazon.com to purchase products that local retailers could not match in price. Product manufacturers work closely with the online retailer to ensure that prospective clientele have access to the right products at the right time, and Amazon.com ensures that there are no slip ups with releasing product descriptions early. That is, until recently.

When news of Microsoft’s BluTrack mouse first got online, it was because of one of Amazon.com’s subsidiary sites, Amazon.de. The new technology mouse was revealed earlier than Microsoft would have liked, albeit minus the title and description. Now it looks as though Amazon.com has dropped the ball again, this time revealing a plethora of product details before another product’s official unveiling.

Adobe’s upcoming InDesign CS4, which was due for its official unveiling on Tuesday, has already been shown in all its glory on Amazon’s website. Quick to amend the error, Amazon pulled the product from their website, but not before it was captured and republished over at Apple Insider.

- Amazon lets slip again, SMH.com.au, September 26, 2008

3. A preacher friend of mine tells the story of his grandmother and her bowling skills. Obviously, even in her older age, this woman puts a hurting on anyone who dares play against her. He goes on and tells how one day he and his family were playing the Nintendo Wii Bowling game. The grandmother, who was so dominant in the bowling alley, struggled greatly playing the Wii. They discovered that grandma had the form, the eye, and the coordination to win, but on the screen, her icon kept dropping the ball. What they soon discovered was that grandma was not operating the controller right. There is a small button at the bottom of the controller that is supposed to be held and released at the right moment. Grandma, was holding on but not letting go when she needed to. So instead of being victorious at a game she should have won, she kept losing. All because she would not let it go.

- Let it go, MySanAntonio.com, September 25, 2010.




About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.



Entrenched interests?

Blind spot?

Slash and burn?

Looking over your shoulder?

Low-hanging fruit?


(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)


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