Till the coast is clear?

中国日报网 2014-01-03 13:54



Till the coast is clear?

Reader question:

Please explain “the coast is clear” in this sentence: Pedestrians at the junction are caught in the chaos at the junction and have to wait patiently till the coast is clear.

What coast?

My comments:

In other words, pedestrians must wait till the cars are gone before safely crossing the street.

Waiting patiently till the coast is clear?

That sounds like a good advice for Chinese pedestrians, who are often seen competing hurriedly with all sorts of vehicles at crossroads. Chinese pedestrians, we have to admit, are kind of hard done by these days. With more and more vehicles crowding the streets and even sidewalks, their walking routes are limited. They often have to compete at crossroads because, for one thing, the coast is never clear here. If they wait, they have to wait, like, for ever.

Still and all, it’s a good advice for pedestrians to watch the traffic lights and any unruly vehicles coming their way.

Anyways, for pedestrians to wait till the coast is clear is to wait till all the cars are out of sight, so that they can walk leisurely and safely to the other side of the street.

Literally, “the coast is clear” means just that - there’s nobody in sight and so you can do whatever you want to do.

Again, we cannot expect to take this phrase literally during rush hour traffic in Beijing but that’s the idea.

Originally, you see, the “coast” in “the coast is clear” refers to the seaside beach, the coastline that is. This expression is said to have been popularized by pirates on the high seas. Each time they come back ashore with their loot, they have to see if the beaches are clear – that is, no patrol man or anyone else around to observe their wrongdoing.

If you have been to the sea, you’ll understand that the one thing we’re all impressed with the see is its open vista, a vast openness with endless water, sky and coastline. Hence, if the coast is clear, it means nobody’s around at all, far or near.

In other words, it’s very safe for everyone to proceed.

Take away the criminal connotations, and you’ll understand in our example, “the coast is clear” means pedestrians can walk across the street freely, unimpeded and in stride.

Again, not any time soon for pedestrians in Beijing’s rush hour traffic, but, never mind, we’ve gotten one more vivid expression under the belt.

All clear?

Alright, let’s proceed to media examples, all recent:

1. The police car turns off its flashing lights and drives up the Summit Connector. An unsuspecting student thinks the coast is clear and crosses, scurrying quickly across the road right past a sign warning jaywalkers will be ticketed.

“They’ll cross right where the sign is,” says Cpl. Brian O’Callaghan, conducting pedestrian safety enforcement at TRU this week in Kamloops. “It’s ironic.”

The student is handed a $121 fine for disobeying — one of 24 students caught and ticketed in one day this week.

- How to cross the street, InfoTel.ca, November 15, 2013.

2. Throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, Kansas was known for its open expanse of land, cattle trade and horse thievery. “Bullets, Bridles and Badges: Horse Thieves and the Societies that Pursued Them” examines the state’s seamier legacy – the theft of horses and the vigilante groups that surrounded them. The book’s author, John Burchill, a professor of history at Kansas Wesleyan University, will speak at Watermark Books and Cafe.

Soon to be released in paperback, the book digs into the underbelly of Kansas life through letters, pictures, ledgers, reports and oral accounts. Through painstaking research, Burchill uncovered never-before published information on this sometimes-brutal enterprise.

“This is the first attempt to do a comprehensive book on horse thieves,” Burchill said.

The horse was integral to the livelihood of pioneers.

“Horses for the pioneers were their tractor, equivalent to their car,” Burchill said.

Because horses were essential commodities to farmers and ranchers, they became valuable to thieves, and a black market developed. Thieves would steal the animals and hang out in the woods until the coast was clear. They would also transport horses across state borders in the hopes of avoiding arrest.

- Author examines Kansas’ horse-thief past, Kansas.com, December 20, 2013.

3. Steve Nash walked toward the trainer’s room, opened the door and asked a question sprinkled with gallows humor.

Is the coast clear in there?” he said dryly.

An hour before the Lakers tipped off against the Milwaukee Bucks, Nash wondered aloud about the latest injury/illness/epidemic to touch the Lakers, an apparent bout of stomach flu that prevented Wesley Johnson from playing Tuesday.

Somehow it got worse for them.

The Lakers sputtered and crashed in a 94-79 loss to the Bucks before an uninspired Staples Center crowd that booed as the final seconds ticked down.

The Bucks were an NBA-worst 6-24 before Tuesday but it was the Lakers (13-19) who lost a sixth consecutive game and started an inconceivably high 17th different lineup.

They were down to eight healthy players after Jordan Farmar left in the third quarter because his hamstring tightened up. He will consult with a doctor on Wednesday.

- Lakers’ losing streak is at six games after 94-79 loss to Bucks, LATimes.com, December 31, 2013.




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.



After the fact?

It’s yours to lose

In the same boat?

High and dry?

Herd mentality?


(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)




















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