King’s ransom?

中国日报网 2015-11-20 11:53



ReaderKing’s ransom? question:

If someone steals “a king’s ransom’s worth of paintings”, what does it mean?

My comments:

It means the stolen paintings are worth a lot of money.

Or literally they’re worth the amount of money to pay the ransom of a captured king.

Ransom, you see, is the amount of money that kidnapers demand for the return of someone they’ve kidnapped. If the kidnaper abducted a king, then obviously he would demand a large sum of money for the release of his highness.

Hence the expression, king’s ransom, meaning a large sum of money.

Why is a king worth so much money?

We’re talking about olden days here, the expression “king’s ransom” itself dating back to the 15th century, according to The American Heritage Idioms Dictionary. Today, in most democracies at least, the role of a king is by and large symbolic but in days long gone by, kings and queens were dictators ruling a land. Obviously in those days, a king was worth a whole lot of money. He was worth his whole kingdom, as a matter of fact.

Well, obviously kings and queens have seen better days.

Anyways, a king’s ransom means an unusually large amount of money, perhaps unreasonably so.

Unreasonably so, yes, and that’s a point to make about this expression. After all, kidnapping is not the normal way to conduct business with a king, or anyone else for that matter. Therefore, if someone actually does resort to kidnapping and demanding a ransom in return, then it’s logical that they would demand a very large sum, however exorbitantly large that sum is.

When you want to use a king’s ransom, therefore, remember to use it in situations where the amount involved seems exorbitant to the point of irrational. If for example, you buy a house that costs you seven or eight years worth of work, as the case is in some Western countries then it’s not perhaps unreasonable. If you pay your lifetime’s worth of salary plus that of your parents’ combined, as is the case in some Chinese cities, then it is a king’s ransom.


All right, here are media examples of king’s ransom:

1. Mike D’Antoni spent the summer pouring over game tapes of the Knicks’ 23-win season last year, a task no one would wish on his worst enemy.

The fact that the Knicks’ new coach isn't already working on an exit strategy and that he still intends to show up for work on Tuesday when training camp opens at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs is an encouraging sign. But who’s to say there haven’t been moments of self-doubt for the former coach of the year.

When D’Antoni was asked Friday if, during the Olympics in Beijing, his mind wandered to the job that awaits him in New York, he replied: “Yeah, you mean when I was on top of the Great Wall ready to jump off?”

D’Antoni’s decision to leave Steve Nash for Stephon Marbury and Amare Stoudemire for Eddy Curry was made easier by the lucrative contract he received to become the Knicks’ fourth coach in five seasons. Lenny Wilkens, Larry Brown and Isiah Thomas also were paid a king’s ransom to revive the Knicks and none produced so much as a .500 record.

- Donnie Walsh: Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni will deliver,, September 30, 2008.

3. Prince has to pay a king’s ransom to the makers of his failed fragrance, the New York Post reported yesterday.

The pint-sized pop star has been ordered to pay almost $4 million to Revelations Perfume and Cosmetics for failing to promote their Prince-inspired 3121 perfume, a Manhattan Supreme Court referee said.

Referee Louis Crespo came up with the figure after the Purple One defaulted on Revelations’ suit against him.

The amount is how much the company said it shelled out to make the “xotic” and “xquisite” fragrances before Prince's indifference resulted in the product going down the eau de toilette.

- $4m stink over Prince’s perfume,, September 4, 2011.

3. Snooker’s Dafabet World Championship is set for a facelift, in plans to be announced next week.

The tournament at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre has been played under a format that has been barely changed since 1982.

Although World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn has repeatedly stressed he does not want to make any drastic changes, plans are afoot to introduce some alterations.

Hearn has shed no further light on the upcoming developments, which will be announced in a press conference on Wednesday afternoon.

There have been calls from players including reigning world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan to reduce the length of the 17-day tournament. Hearn could even act to introduce a flat 128-player draw, having until now protected 16 seeds by handing them automatic entry to the last-32 stage, with all other players entering through qualifying rounds.

“I’m going to discuss changing formats for next year’s World Snooker Championship,” Hearn said on Saturday as he explained his plans for the press conference.


Hearn has again ruled out the prospect of the World Championship moving to China, providing the BBC and Sheffield City Council continue to back the event.

There’s no question the people of China would pay a king’s ransom to get the World Championship in China,” Hearn said on World Snooker’s YouTube channel.

“But for once I’m not looking at the balance sheet – I’m looking at the history. So I’m staying, but it is down to those people’s support and I’m quite sure over the next few months we will announce a new long-term deal with Sheffield to make sure this great tournament carries on here.”

- Hearn to discuss format change,, April 19, 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.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)

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