Off base?

中国日报网 2015-08-11 10:36



Reader question:

Off base?

When they criticize someone for “making some totally off base remark”, what does it mean?

My comments:

This someone said something that's out of place and inappropriate, and he/she is duly criticized for it.

In other words, people point out that the off-base remark is totally wrong.

Off-base, you see, is originally a baseball term. In baseball, a base runner often takes a few small steps away from the base plate in order to take advantage of any potential mistake by opponents. If he succeeds, that few small steps he takes may prove crucial in stealing or running to the next base. However, taking too many steps away from the base becomes risky and dangerous. He's “out” if the opponent launches a sneak attack and throw the ball back to the base before he gets back to the plate.

Hence and therefore, to venture too far “off base” is a risky and dangerous move in baseball – even idiotic. Definitely not a smart move.

Anyways, metaphorically, if someone's remark or behavior is deemed off-base, it is similarly regarded as idiotic and, even, crazy. explains the “crazy” part:

This phrase is believed to have originated with baseball, where base runners could be deemed crazy for leaning too far off the base plate, risking the chance of being picked off. The term looks to seperate itself from the sport of baseball around the end of the 19th century.

The Piqua Miami Helmet, printed in 1880, uses the expression in the ‘crazy' sense, when a man is criticized for spending his money in wildly irresponsible ways:

“Yet today he is almost penniless. I saw him last night on his semi-weekly spree. As he said ‘the old man was off his base again.' I have seen him bet $50 on ‘faro' when so drunk he could not see the cards.”

Alright, here are a few recent media examples of off-base remarks and behavior:

1. For those of you too young to remember (or too old to recall), Quayle was President George H.W. Bush's vice president. In 1988, he was selected by the Bush camp as running mate because of his youth, his good looks and his conservative values. My show, “Murphy Brown,” debuted just as this new administration was settling into the White House.

It quickly became apparent that Quayle was a comedy writer's dream. He was the Sarah Palin of his time, minus the wit. His nonstop malapropisms were gifts from the comedy gods. For instance, in attempting to quote the United Negro College Fund's famous slogan, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste,” the veep said: “What a waste it is to lose one's mind. Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is.” I'm not making this up. For more of this, just Google “Dan Quayle quotes.”

This would all have been very amusing had it not been so frightening. Quayle was a heartbeat away from the presidency, and so I decided to include a Dan Quayle joke in every episode of “Murphy Brown.” After four years of statements like “I love California; I practically grew up in Phoenix,” it was like shooting fish in a barrel.

In the third season of “Murphy Brown,” Murphy became pregnant after a one-night stand with her ex-husband. The point was that even an educated, well-off famous person could make a mistake. Murphy's dilemma was clear: have the baby or have an abortion. In a particularly sensitive episode, Murphy agonized over her decision. So did the father. But in the end, he made it clear that his mission as a globe-hopping environmental activist trumped fatherhood. Murphy was on her own.

On May 18, 1992, Murphy Brown gave birth to a baby boy, and the millions of Americans who watched made it the No. 1-rated sitcom episode of the week. A day later, Quayle was making a campaign speech at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco. He was well on his way toward making an important statement about the serious responsibility of childbearing and its impact on society when suddenly, he took a hard right turn and squared off against his longtime fictional nemesis by saying that Murphy was “mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it ‘just another lifestyle choice'.” Hardly!

Judging by his wildly off-base remark, the vice president had not seen the episode. I was told his staff tried to get him to delete the sentence from his speech. They had followed the fourth season and watched the final episode and knew there was nothing trivial about Murphy's choice. But Quayle was loaded for bear. And he sensed that by taking aim at one of America's most popular characters, he was sure to call attention to his message promoting “family values.”

As we all know, the tactic failed. Asked at the time to comment, I said that if the vice president thought a woman was incapable of adequately raising a child without a father, he ought to make sure that abortion remained safe and legal. That was the tipping point in a debate that raged on throughout the summer, pitting liberal ideas of an ever-evolving notion of family against the traditional concept of mom, dad and 2.5 kids.

Whenever President Bush appeared before the media, he was asked about Murphy Brown's baby. Quayle was boxed in by his own anti-choice views. Why condemn Murphy for having the baby? What was her alternative? Abortion? Women who loved and identified with Murphy could feel the disingenuousness. Family values? Whose family were they talking about? Why was the whitest man in America lecturing black people on the disintegration of the family unit when half of all white marriages were failing? Why did his speech not address the underlying issues of poverty, lack of opportunity and underfunded schools? Why was the GOP waging an unrelenting attack on organizations like Planned Parenthood that tried to prevent unplanned pregnancies in the first place?

After 12 years of Reagan-Bush “trickle down” economics, two Americas emerged -- one living in a split level with a white picket fence, and the other living in its car. The rich got richer and the poor got blamed for the fall of Western civilization. The poor and Murphy Brown.

And Quayle's response? “I am not part of the problem. I am a Republican.”

- Speaking of Dan Quayle and ‘Murphy Brown'... By Diane English,, March 27, 2013.

2. While giving Republicans some constructive advice in his column in The Patriot-News on July 17, national columnist Thomas Sowell went off-base in suggesting that President Obama might “pack the federal courts with judges who share his contempt for the Constitution and his goal to impose a far-left agenda at all costs.”

Going beyond the rhetoric, what Mr. Sowell is really saying is that he thinks the president should not nominate judges who are intelligent enough to recognize that corporations are not flesh-and-blood people, and that only human beings are citizens entitled to vote and to hold religious views.

Frank D. Davis, Upper Allen Township

- Thomas Sowell's advice to Republicans was off-base on one point: PennLive letters,, July 22, 2014.

3. Donald Trump is continuing to defend his remarks about Megyn Kelly following Thursday's Republican presidential primary debate.

After Trump told CNN's Don Lemon on Friday that Kelly had “blood coming out of her wherever,” Trump called in to CNN's State of the Union on Sunday to say that criticism of his comment is off-base.

“I cherish women,” Trump told host Jake Tapper. “I want to help women.”

Trump dismissed the idea that his “blood” comment was referring to menstruation, instead claiming he was suggesting blood was coming out of Kelly's ears and nose. “Only a deviant would say that what I said was what they were referring to,” he said. “You almost have to be sick to put that together.”

When Tapper asked Trump why some people have assumed that Trump was referencing menstruation, Trump asserted that most of the flak is coming from his opponents in the presidential race. “That's a stupid question, Jake, in all due respect, because they're running against me,” Trump said. “Some of them, like Carly [Fiorina], are very low in the polls.”

- Donald Trump to CNN on Why “Blood” Remark Has Been Criticized: “That's a Stupid Question”,, August 9, 2015.


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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