A shot across the bows?

中国日报网 2014-10-21 16:27



A shot across the bows?Reader question:

Please explain “shot across the bows” in “…but said his real purpose was to send a shot across the bows of all employees.”

My comments:

First, let me try to complete the sentence for you.

Suppose the boss of a fast food restaurant finds out that an employee has taken boxes of napkins home without permission, what does he do?

He probably will punish that employee with a small fine, or something like that. Then he will have a meeting with all employees, giving them a warning that all future violations of company policy will be dealt with much more severely.

In this situation, the boss might say that in informing everyone of the punishment he has administered, his purpose was not to humiliate that particular employee in front of others, but to warn everyone against similar misconduct.

His real purpose, then, is to “send a shot across the bows of all”.

Shot across the bows? What shot, and what bows?

Well, that “shot” is a cannon shot originally. The bows refer to shoulders, so to speak, of a ship which are shaped in the form of a bow, the weapon for shooting arrows. Bows, plural, refer to both sides of the ship but in this phrase, bow, singular, works just as well.

Anyways, according to Phrase.org, this phrase derives from “naval practice of firing a cannon shot across the bows of an opponent’s ship to show them that you are prepared to do battle.”

Literally, a shot across the bows is a warning shot, signaling that worse will come if the warning is ignored.

That is, if the warning shot across the bows are ignored, the next shots will be aimed at the ship itself.

Hence, metaphorically, when people send such shots across the bow of other people, they mean to warn them to stop doing what they do or face serious consequences.


All right. Here are media examples:

1. If a “shot across the bow” is a warning to someone to stop what they are doing or face potentially serious action, I would say Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services certainly fired one this week.

The phrase originated centuries ago when ships meeting at sea might have difficulty determining whether the approaching vessel was friend or enemy without benefit of high-powered communications or optics. One captain would order that a cannon ball be fired harmlessly over the other ship as a sign that colors should be shown or action would be taken. Even now, such shots might be fired in military confrontations if attempts at radio contact fail; they typically imply the intention to shoot to kill.

Earlier this week, Standard & Poor's, the nation’s pre-eminent agency monitoring the default risk associated with debt of various kinds, issued a clear warning that Congress should get its act together and make real progress toward a long-term solution to the inextricably linked problems of debt and deficits. Specifically, S&P affirmed the AAA long-term and A-1 short-term sovereign credit rates on the U.S., but revised its outlook on the long-term ratings from “stable” to “negative.” The ratings agency went on to note strengths including a high-income, highly diversified economy, and track record of supporting growth while containing inflation. These strengths were judged to outweigh the nation's economic and fiscal risks as well as large debtor position.

- Standard & Poor’s move on U.S. debt is ‘shot across the bow’, by Ray Perryman, MRT.com, April 20, 2011.

2. Google is moving into broadband. And, as is the company’s way, it’s not doing things by halves. It’s offering a quite ridiculous 1Gbit/sec, TV services, and a terabyte of cloud storage, all under the name of Google Fiber.

It’s firing a warning shot across the bow of Apple, Comcast, Virgin Media, Sky, BT, and anyone else with designs on your lounge. The phrase ‘game changer’ is used way too much nowadays, but in this case we feel it’s justified.

Google Fiber promises to be a different kind of internet. And with 1Gbit/sec download speeds, it does seem miles ahead of the competition. You can see just how much faster it’ll be than your current broadband by clicking the ‘Race Against Fiber’ button on the website. Downloading an HD movie, game, or 100 songs will all take just three seconds each over Fiber, compared to around a minute on a 50Mbit/sec connection.

There’s no option to compare it with 100Mbit/sec, which Virgin Media offers. And downloading is unlikely to hit these top speeds all the time. But still, you get the point.

- Google Fiber: Why this changes everything, Electricpig.com, July 27, 2012.

3. Dreaming of having one of those glossy, shiny, paparazzi-filled celebrity weddings with 300 of your closest A-List friends and their manicured lapdogs?

Well, if you’re planning on staying married for more than a decade, you may want to watch what you wish for – because the chances that your celebrity marriage will reach its 10th anniversary is significantly higher if you marry someone who reads People magazine, rather than someone who is featured in its pages.

At least, that’s according to a new report from UK-based The Marriage Foundation, which looked at nearly 600 celebrity marriages – everyone from Barry and Linda Gibb, to Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries – and found out that the divorce rate among celebrity hook-ups is 40%, compared to 20% for everyone else.

It’s a disconnect that The Marriage Foundation’s founder Sir Paul Coleridge says is a wake-up call for anyone – but especially young people – to look elsewhere for their marital role models.

“The picture [these statistics] paint to those who regard the celebrity life style as something to be admired and copied for its own sake,” commented Coleridge. “These are, after all, the role models upon which many, especially young people, fashion their lives. Aspiration for happiness built on celebrity lifestyle is, it seems, dangerously flawed.”

The report, Hello? Goodbye! Marriage and Divorce amongst Celebrities, was deliberately entitled as such to send a shot across the bow towards what Coleridge, who is a High Court Judge, calls society’s deeply flawed Hello! Magazine approach to marriage.

“There is still, or maybe more than there was, a completely unrealistic expectation about long-term relationships and marriage in particular, that if you find the right ideal partner that’s all that matters and things will just carry on from there and you will be divinely happy.”

- Celebrities Twice as Likely to Divorce, DivorceMag.com, December 08, 2012.



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.


Count your blessings

Pie in the sky

Pulling out all the stops?

Fall in line?

Take a bow?

Stealing a march?

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:祝兴媛)

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