Virtual dead heat?

中国日报网 2014-02-18 10:15



Virtual dead heat?

Reader question:

Please explain this sentence: “A new poll shows the margin between the two candidates... has closed to a virtual dead heat.”

My comments:

In other words, the race is too close to call. Have to wait and see, till a clear winner is, well, foreseeable.

The two candidates have garnered more or less the same number of points, according to the new or latest poll. In the earlier polls, the margin between the two were sometimes large, meaning one of them enjoying a big lead over the other, but right now, the margin is very small, so small that it’s a virtual dead heat.

Virtual means, in effect, close or near. Virtual reality, for instance, is not reality but almost – almost for real.

“Dead heat”, on the other hand, is a phrase that needs more explanation. Dead heat is most commonly seen in sports coverage, describing a competition where two runners finish a race in identical time at the finish line, therefore a photo finish, where camera footages are used, or an extra session (playoff) is needed before one man is declared champion and the other mere also-run.

Literally, dead heat means a tied race. When the scores are tied in a basketball game, for example, both teams score the same points, say, 69-69. Dead, in the sense that it has failed to produce a result. Heats, for this purpose, are the preliminary rounds of a long competition. All the first few rounds of the Olympic swimming, for example, are called heats. After the heats, players with the better results advance into semi-finals and the finals, when the champion emerges as winner of the competition and Olympic Champion.

Why are preliminary rounds called “heats”, then? Plausibly, according to some, this expression is inspired from the furnace. When you want to forge a useful tool from a piece of raw iron, you put the iron into the furnace to heat it up, and then strike it while it’s red and hot, emanating lots of heat. You have to strike iron while it’s hot (another useful expression, cliché actually) because when it cools down it becomes less elastic and more inflexible.

And when the iron does cool down, you have to put it back in the furnace to heat it up again, hence the expression heats, meaning you have to do it several times over.

Anyways, dead heat has nothing to do with death or the heat wave. If you Google “dead heat”, as I did, you will see that puts it into Chinese as 热死,which literally means “die by the heat.” That just shows how far off computers can be when it comes to getting ideas across from one culture to another.

Here are recent media examples of “dead heat”:

1. Public opposition to the new health care law has eased in the past month, enough to help level off Barack Obama’s falling popularity - but not to turn it around.

Fifty-five percent of Americans in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll disapprove of the president’s job performance overall, unchanged from last month’s reading as the worst of his career. Forty-three percent approve, a scant percentage point from 42 percent in November.

Better for the president is an easing of opposition to the Affordable Care Act, with attitudes back to a close division on the law; 46 percent of Americans support it, with 49 percent opposed. Opposition is down from a record 57 percent last month amid the new system’s troubled rollout.

The ACA’s impact to date on Americans’ perceptions of the quality of their health care, coverage and costs is less negative than many anticipated when it was signed into law. But while 37 percent in 2010 expected the law to improve the health care system overall, just 19 percent now say it’s actually done so. And far more, 47 percent, say it’s made things worse.

Many Republicans reportedly plan to make criticism of the ACA a centerpiece of their midterm election campaigns, and the approach shows promise. 2014 election preferences have tightened essentially to a dead heat, with 47 percent of registered voters now supporting the Democratic candidate in their congressional district vs. 45 percent for the Republican. That compares with an 8-point Democratic lead in October, just after the unpopular, GOP-inspired partial government shutdown and just before the meltdown.

- Opposition to Obamacare Declines,, December 17, 2013.

2. The race for the biggest prize in Hollywood got a lot tighter on Saturday night. On Sunday night, it got thrown right back into chaos.

“12 Years a Slave” was considered the frontrunner to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards on March 2. Then “American Hustle” took the ensemble prize from the Screen Actors Guild on Saturday night, and the race drew to a virtual dead heat.

But on Sunday, the Producers Guild of America handed out its prizes – and for the first time in its history had a tie. Both “12 Years a Slave” and “Gravity” took top honors from the PGA, beating “American Hustle” and sending the Best Picture chase back to potentially a three-horse race.

The PGA best picture winner has gone on to win the Oscar for six straight years, and a whopping 71 percent of the time overall, making it one of the most accurate indicators come Oscar night. But this year, that particular cheat sheet will be muddled.

While there always is potential for some surprises, predicting the Oscar winners is far from going off of hunches. The film industry, thanks to a plethora of precursor awards shows and honors from various guilds throughout the business, leaves us a wonderful trail of bread crumbs for clues on who we’ll see giving speeches on Oscar night.

Let’s start with the Oscars’ Best Picture. We knew a week ago when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its Oscar nominees that we were essentially in a three-film race between “12 Years a Slave,” “American Hustle” and “Gravity.” Those three were thought to be the frontrunners going in, and they dominated the total nominations haul. “Hustle” and “Gravity” got 10 nods each, while “Slave” is up for nine awards.

- Predicting Oscar winners not always guesswork,, January 22, 2014.

3. In the women's Olympic downhill, what was the difference between finishing in a tie and finishing 0.01 seconds back after a 1 2/3-mile-long course on which the skiers reached speeds of almost 65 miles an hour?

Ten and a half inches.

That’s it.

“It could be just a finger,” said Slovenian speedster Tina Maze. “Or a hand.”

Or it could be nothing at all, which is what the clock said it was between the run of Maze and an earlier run by Dominique Gisin of Switzerland.

And that was history — the first time an Olympic alpine ski race had ended in a dead heat for the gold medal — or gold medals, in this case.

When Maze, who started 21st, attacked the early part of the course with abandon, it looked like she might overtake Gisin, who started eighth, as the leader. But when she crossed the finish line, there were two 1s on the board, with identical times of 1 minute, 41.57 seconds.

- Tina Maze, Dominique Gisin tie for gold; no magic for Julia Mancuso,, February 12, 2014.




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.



Hat in the ring?

Right of way?

Never really cut out for life in the battlefield?

Smell the coffee?

Stared him in the face?


(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)


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