After the fact?

中国日报网 2013-12-31 13:56



After the fact?

Reader question:

Please explain “after the fact” in this sentence: There were many problem signs, as a matter of fact, but they ignored them when they were in love only to see so clearly after the fact.

My comments:

After the breakup. “The fact” in “after the fact” refers to this fact.

Fact, you see, refer to a piece of information or situation that is true. Here, as a matter of fact, the fact that the couple broke up goes unmentioned, but it is a fact we can safely infer from the flow of the text.

To paraphrase the above sentence again: There were signs they had problems, signs that they were not right for one another. But when they were in love, they ignored the problems. Now that their love for one another is diminished, they began to see.

In other words, they’d come to their senses too late.

They “ignored them” or perhaps they didn’t see anything at all. When people are in love they tend to be “too much in love”, as Sarah Vaughan used to sing. They get misty, “never knowing my right foot from my left, my hat from my glove”, and all that jazz.

It’s a good feeling to have, of course, but it is pretty crazy too.

Anyways, “after the fact” is a colloquialism derived from the legal Latin term Ex Post Fact, literally “from after the fact”. The legal term usually refers to some laws that are adopted after certain significant events but are effective regarding those events. In other words, they’re retroactive.

In everyday conversation, though, people use “after the fact” only to point out that certain things have come after the event, meaning they’re too late or unhelpful.

In our example, for example, the couple’s realization that they aren’t meant for each other came too late. Otherwise, many unpleasant quarrels, among other things, might’ve been spared. It may help them individually in future, but as far as their past relationship is concerned, it did not help. What’s done cannot be undone.

Alright, let’s examine media examples of real-world situations where certain things come after the fact, i.e. too late and hence not as useful or helpful (as they might well have been if they’d come before):

1. Federal agencies will provide better and more accessible information about matters such as long-term weather prospects and soil moisture levels under a program designed to help communities prepare for future droughts and respond more effectively when they happen, Obama administration officials said Thursday.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will lead the initiative, which grew out of a series of regional forums held in response to the 2012 drought, the most severe and widespread in more than 70 years. It covered more than two-thirds of the continental U.S. and caused more than $30 billion in losses from crop failures, wildfires and other ripple effects.

“We were very aggressive in responding to the drought but all of it was after the fact,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We made money available for technical assistance after the fact. We provided disaster loan assistance and extended grazing aid after the fact. We purchased surplus product after the fact.”

With droughts likely to become more frequent and widespread as the climate warms, “we have to adjust to this new normal and we have to understand what it means to be proactive instead of just reacting,” he said.

- Program designed to help prepare for droughts, AP, November 15, 2013.

2. Thomas Pickering, the 81-year-old retired diplomat who headed the State Department’s investigation into the terror attacks in Benghazi, told CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday that he didn’t believe it was necessary to ask then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton any questions, because “we had questioned people who had attended meetings with her.”

Pickering said the Accountability Review Board, which he headed, already knew “where the responsibility rested,” because Clinton “had already stated on a number of occasions she accepted, as a result of her job, the full responsibility.”

Moreover, Pickering said he sees no reason to question Clinton now: “I don’t think that there was anything there that we didn’t know.”


Pickering said his review board had no interest in the controversial aftermath of the Benghazi attacks -- changes made to the “talking points,” which Ambassador Susan Rice relied upon to give the false impression that what happened in Benghazi began as the result of a spontaneous protest in Egypt over an obscure anti-Muslim video:

“I just don’t understand why you wouldn’t have checked into that as part of this investigation,” Schieffer said to Pickering.

Because the talking points came after the fact,” Pickering responded. “They made no difference at what happened at Benghazi...”

- Pickering: No Need to Ask Clinton About Benghazi,, May 13, 2013.

3. A study of more than 16,000 European mothers offers some of the strongest evidence yet that breast-feeding makes babies healthier.

Babies whose mothers participated in an intensive breast-feeding program had significantly fewer intestinal infections and eczema.

Other studies have linked breast-feeding with similar benefits and a host of others, including fewer earaches, colds and asthma. But most, if not all, of those studies were after-the-fact research: Doctors looked at data on babies whose mothers had or had not breast-fed them.

For this study, published in today’s Journal of the American Medical Association, hospitals were assigned at random to institute a breast-feeding program.

Researchers have been reluctant to do a randomized breast-feeding study because of concerns about the ethics of withholding a treatment or practice that is widely thought to be beneficial, such as breast-feeding.

Dr. Michael S. Kramer of McGill University in Montreal and colleagues sought to avoid that conflict by essentially comparing women who breast-fed a lot with women who breast-fed but switched to bottle-feeding early on.

Participants gave birth at 31 hospitals or clinics in the Eastern European republic of Belarus. Half of them implemented a breast-feeding program in which doctors and midwives gave instruction and counseling. The other hospitals served as a control group and provided the usual obstetric care.

By 12 months, nearly 20 percent of the infants who were part of the breast-feeding program were still nursing, while 11.4 percent of the control group were.

About 9 percent of the infants who had been in the breast-feeding program had at least one intestinal infection in the first year, compared with about 13 percent of the control group. About 3 percent of the breast-fed infants developed atopic eczema, a scaly, allergy-associated skin irritation, compared with 6 percent of the other babies.

“The real and clear message is that breast-feeding, especially prolonged breast-feeding, affects child health,” Dr. Ruth A. Lawrence of the University of Rochester Medical Center said in an accompanying editorial.

- Study: Breast Feeding Better for Babies,, January 6, 2006.




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.



It’s yours to lose

In the same boat?

High and dry?

Herd mentality?

Twist their arms?


(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)




















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。