Twist their arms?

中国日报网 2013-12-10 13:04



Twist their arms?

Reader question:

Please explain this sentence: “We don’t have to twist their arms to get them to come here. They want to come, unlike some events that are mandatory.” Why “twist there arms”?

My comments:

We don’t know exactly what even this is, but fortunately the lack of detail won’t hinder our overall understanding of the situation.

First, paraphrase: We don’t have to work too hard at persuading people to come. They want to come to our event. Ours is actually a voluntary event for a change, unlike many that are mandatory, which is to say they have to come.

And of course, whenever something is mandatory, which means compulsory or obligatory or in other words it must be done, the joy of doing it kills off right away. If your company, for example, is to pay you for a trip to the mountains in the suburb every weekend, in order for you breath a bit of fresh air and be rejuvenated for work on Monday, I know what you’re going to say.

“You’re day dreaming,” you’ll say. “My company will never do a thing like that.” I know. That’s why I am saying this as an example – just as an example, so there’s no need to get worked up like that.

Anyways, suppose your company were doing it and it is voluntary. That is to say it’s up to you. If you feel like going this weekend then you can go, at the company’s travel expense. If you don’t feel like going the next weekend, that’s fine too. You all will be happy to go, I’m sure.

Now, suppose turnout is low. Suppose all employees have to work your socks off, so to speak, during the week and they’re too tired to get out of bed, what will the company do?

The company will more likely make the program mandatory to soothe the collective ego of leaders than cancel the program. It will now say that it is very kind of management to do this for you, that it is good for you and you should be grateful, and that, finally, everyone must go. Now, what do you say to that?

Don’t raise your hand. I already know the answer.

Now, even people who used to go every weekend no longer like the idea. That’s how the human psychology works sometimes. When someone says it’s something that’s good for you and therefore you must do it, we don’t want to do it even though we know it is good for us.

At any rate, that part is easy to understand. Now, why “twist their arms”?

This American expression... Well, any expression that’s extremely simple or straightforward I take for granted that it’s American in origin. I may be wrong but anyways, this expression derives from the fact that when we’re eager to persuade people to do something, we tend to use our hands. We may grab their hand, wrist or arm, wring it, twist it and won’t let go – unless and until they say yes.

It’s not the most pleasant means of persuasion, of course, but you get the picture.

Hence, figuratively speaking, if we twist someone’s arm in order for them to agree with us, we are really at our persuasive best – or rather worst. We force them, we keep putting pressure on them – sometimes to the point of hurting them.

Like I said, it’s not the best means of persuasion but it happens. Figuratively speaking, it actually happens a lot. Here are media examples:

1. Jurors said they wanted to believe that Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling did nothing wrong at Enron Corp., but they couldn’t get past overwhelming evidence — and the testimony of the defendants themselves — that convinced them the two men were guilty of fraud and conspiracy.

“I wanted very badly to believe what they were saying,” juror Wendy Vaughan said after the guilty verdicts against Lay and Skilling were announced Thursday. “There were places in the testimony I felt their character was questionable.”

Lay was on the stand six days, and Skilling, 7 1/2. They argued that others at Enron were responsible for events that led to the energy trading firm’s collapse into bankruptcy in December 2001.

“I think both defendants said they had their hands firmly on the wheel, so they didn’t know what was going on?” said Freddy Delgado, an elementary school principal. “Personally, I can’t say ‘I don’t know what my teachers are doing in the classroom.’ I’m still responsible if a child gets lost.

“To say you didn’t know what was going on in your own company was not the right thing.”

Jurors disputed defense attorneys’ claims that the many witnesses who were former Enron executives and who made plea deals or cooperation agreements with the government were influenced by prosecutors.

“It all led to the same conclusions,” Martin said of their testimony. “It all pointed in the same direction.”

“There was too much evidence interlinked,” Delgado said. “Even if the government persuaded them, twisted their arm, whatever. You cannot get all of them to say the same thing and point to the same evidence.”

- Evidence, testimony convinced Enron jurors, AP, May 26, 2006.

2. The announcement of the U.S. Davis Cup team used to be filled with drama. Would Pete Sampras suit up? Could Jimmy Connors be coaxed into playing? Would frustrated John McEnroe call out the other stars who refused to sign on?

No more. Captain Patrick McEnroe on Thursday reeled off the same four names for a record 10th straight time. Andy Roddick and James Blake will play singles, and Bob and Mike Bryan doubles in next month's quarterfinal with France in Winston-Salem, N.C.

The U.S. has had the same Davis Cup roster since Andre Agassi played for the final time in March 2005. Roddick, Blake and the Bryan twins led the U.S. to its first Davis Cup title in 12 years in 2007. The foursome beat Austria 4-1 in the first round of this year's competition in February.

“I think I'm pretty lucky,” McEnroe said Thursday by phone from Baltimore, where he was testing a quick, indoor hard-court surface for the April 11-13 matches.

France has yet to announce its team. The U.S. and France have split 14 meetings. France won the last time they met, in the 2002 semifinals in Paris. The winner will face Germany or Spain in the semifinals.

Davis Cup is a passion for Roddick, No. 6 in the ATP rankings. He's won his last seven singles matches and is 27-9 overall in Davis Cup singles.

Roddick will make his 21st Davis Cup appearance, nine shy of John McEnroe’s American record. Agassi played in 22 Davis Cup events, Sampras 16 and Connors seven.

“You want players that want to be there, that want to be part of the process, that you don’t feel as a captain like you have to twist their arm to be there,” McEnroe said.

- Familiar sight: Roddick, Blake, Bryans to play for US against France in Davis Cup, AP, March 27, 2008.

3. “Starving Artist Art Sale this weekend. Real oil paintings at bargain prices!” Okay, I’ll admit it. I was sucked in by a television commercial. Usually, I just ignore this stuff. I know the art isn’t really “art,” just cheap imitations.

Besides, all art snobs know you should buy art first and decorate around it --- not buy a painting because it goes with your sofa.

But . . . I’ve really been thinking that I’d like to do something different in the living room. Ever since the great moving episode last summer, one wall has not looked right. I don’t have anything else to do, and it doesn’t cost anything just to look.

“Want to go to the Starving Artist show this weekend?” I asked my honey.


Actually, he likes art, so I didn’t have to twist his arm too hard to convince him.

- The Starving Artist Art Sale,, November 10, 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.



Dropping the ball?

Entrenched interests?

Blind spot?

Slash and burn?


(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)


上一篇 : Dropping the ball?
下一篇 : Herd mentality?



















关于我们 | 联系方式 | 招聘信息

Copyright by All rights reserved. None of this material may be used for any commercial or public use. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited. 版权声明:本网站所刊登的中国日报网英语点津内容,版权属中国日报网所有,未经协议授权,禁止下载使用。 欢迎愿意与本网站合作的单位或个人与我们联系。