Finest hour?

中国日报网 2014-06-20 11:01



Finest hour?

Reader question:

Please explain “finest hour”, as in this sentence: It’s drama; it’s comedy; it’s theater at its finest hour.

My comments:

Theater at its best.

In other words, this drama or comedy is the best play you’ll see in any theater, anywhere, any time.

Literally, “finest hour” means the best hour. There are 24 hours in a day, and the finest hour has to be the best hour, the moment when something happens that, well, makes your day.

“Finest hour” is believed to be a term popularized by Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister during the Second World War. Known, among other things, for his oratory skills, the war-time Prime Minister used these words in a speech (June 18, 1940) to rally British troops in face of invasion by Nazi Germany.

Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’

Well, the rest, as they say, is history.

That was Churchill at his own finest hour, we must say.

Anyways, Churchill is credited for making “finest hour” a common expression. People must have been using that phrase before, judging from its simplicity, but when someone like Churchill puts it that way, people remember – and repeat.

In short, someone at their finest hour means they’re at the best moment of their lives in terms of achievement, success and so forth. It’s the moment when they look the most impressive.

Just like a flower in full bloom.

Alright, here are more examples, old and new:

1. To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me. But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars. The rays that come from those heavenly worlds, will separate between him and what he touches. One might think the atmosphere was made transparent with this design, to give man, in the heavenly bodies, the perpetual presence of the sublime. Seen in the streets of cities, how great they are! If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.

The stars awaken a certain reverence, because though always present, they are inaccessible; but all natural objects make a kindred impression, when the mind is open to their influence. Nature never wears a mean appearance. Neither does the wisest man extort her secret, and lose his curiosity by finding out all her perfection. Nature never became a toy to a wise spirit. The flowers, the animals, the mountains, reflected the wisdom of his best hour, as much as they had delighted the simplicity of his childhood.

- Nature, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882).

2. It was her finest hour. In the kitchen of the little restaurant called Nutshell that she had fashioned with her own toil and sweat, squatter Arabella Churchill Barton, 27, granddaughter of Winston Churchill, went about her business as usual. (“The maxim of the British people is ‘Business as usual’,” her grandfather once said.) Outside, the enemy—the Greater London Council—marshaled its vastly superior forces. The council plans to redevelop the decaying neighborhood, Bristol Gardens, and takes a dim view of squatters—people who move in and take over empty premises.

“I will fight any eviction proceedings,” said the former debutante and half sister of Conservative M.P. Winston Churchill (their father was the prime minister’s son Randolph, who died in 1968), after the council applied to county court for a possession order. “It annoys me that the council can spend money and employ staff to try to create communities,” she says, “but when they find one running without their help they try to stamp it out.”

Squatters—there are now an estimated 25,000 in London—are of two kinds, those who can’t afford any other housing and those who squat on principle. Arabella, who is married to but living apart from James Barton, a Welsh sheep farmer, is the second kind. With a $320 gift from her mother and the help of four friends, she fixed up the Victorian terrace house in north London. Then with her 3-year-old son, Jason, she moved into rooms above the restaurant in October.

Arabella had just begun dishing out beef and wine stew, pizza, quiche Lorraine and salad to her squatter clientele at $1.50 a plate when the council decided to give her the heave-ho. Arabella protests that she pays the council $16 a week in property taxes and says she obtained the council's informal consent for her project. The council denies it. “This is one place where I have been accepted and not thought of as a Churchill,” says the beleaguered restaurateur. As for grandfather Winston and Nutshell, she says, “I think he would have liked it.”

- Churchill’s Granddaughter Endures a New London Blitz, People magazine, November 22, 1976.

3. Why was the Reykjavik summit so special?

Today, on the 10th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s passing, we can now realize his exceptional leadership and how Reykjavik was his “finest hour.”

Indeed, his son Michael has said that “you'll get insights into my dad -- his negotiating skills, his sheer grit, his leadership skills -- in a new way. I urge you all to read the book, ‘Reagan at Reykjavik’ soon. I know you will enjoy the book and learn from it, as I have.”

What made Reykjavik special were three elements. First, it was a real drama -- something right out of an Agatha Christie thriller, where two vivid characters meet over a weekend, on a desolate and windswept island, in a reputedly-haunted house with rain lashing against its windowpanes, where they experience the most amazing things.

The summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev on October 11 and 12, 1986 was like nothing before or after—with its cliffhanging plot, powerful personalities, and far-reaching consequences.

- Reagan at Reykjavik: What made 1986 summit so special?, June 5, 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.



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(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)




















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