Earn your keep?

中国日报网 2015-12-08 10:58



Reader qEarn your keep?uestion:

Please explain “earn their keep” in this sentence: “It’s written in the Holy Bible one must earn their keep in order to eat.”

My comments:

In other words, one must earn one’s living.

I am not sure if it’s written in the Bible, which I read for language purposes, and being non-religious, I usually keep clear of anybody’s holy business but generally speaking it is perfectly correct to say that one must earn their keep in order to eat.

Everyone, that is, no matter who – no matter who they are, high or low.

Earn one’s keep means one must work to make a living instead of being a parasite. We almost always see “keep” as a verb, and that’s perhaps the reason why “earn their keep” sounds weird to the foreign language learner’s ear. Understand “keep” in “earn their keep” as what keeps one alive, and you’ll be alright. Understand “keep” as what keeps us fed and clothed.

This expression is often used when people want to urge others to work hard and make an active contribution to justify their food and drink, especially when we are talking about physical work, especially in the old days.

Some Buddhists in ancient China also advocated a similar idea, that one must support themselves rather than living entirely on receiving food and tributes from society. They planted their own crops and worked daily in the field. Their motto: “Any day you don’t work is the day you don’t eat.”

All right, earn your keep and make your contribution to society felt. In other words, don’t just sit there. Do something.

Here are media examples of “earn one’s keep”:

1. Helen Greer spent her career climbing down the corporate ladder, but that’s OK by her.

Greer, now 70, was one of the Henry County Water & Sewerage Authority’s original employees. Having been a clerk for the Superior Court, she applied for a job at the fledgling department in 1971, only 10 years after it was created.

Describing herself as a “Jill” of all trades, Greer did a bit of everything when she first started: accounting, procurement, clerking for the water authority board, you name it.

“I didn’t have a course in bookkeeping, but I got a crash course in accounting,” she said.

Greer retired in August, one day after her 70th birthday, having spent her career shedding responsibilities as the Authority grew – what she calls climbing down the corporate ladder.

Her last duties with the Authority were in special projects, where she snooped out broken meters and looked for other cash-draining conditions in the department, such as late-paid impact fees, and correcting them.

“I earned my keep,” she said.

These days, Greer keeps herself busy caring for her husband, Melton, who turns 76 next week, and has Alzheimer’s. “I keep myself busy with housekeeping,” she said. “Which pretty much suffered over the years.”

Greer also enjoys reading and crossword puzzles.

- A successful climb down the corporate ladder, HenryHerald.com, September 30, 2005.

2. Put this one up on the shelf of shame, right next to Henry Kissinger’s, or the peace prize they gave to Kofi Annan and the entire UN in 2001, sandwiched between the UN’s okay for the bombing of Serbia, the killing of untold numbers of Iraqis, many of them babies and children in the years of sanctions, and its greenlight for the bombing of Baghdad in 2003. In 1998 the Nobel crowd gave the prize to Medecins Sans Frontieres, whose co-founder Bernard Kouchner is now France's foreign secretary urging the bombing of Iran. Like Gore, Kouchner was a rabid advocate of the dismemberment of the former Yugoslavia and onslaughts on Serbia.

The UN often has an inside track on the “Peace” prize. The UN Peace-Keeping Forces got it in 1988. In 1986 another enthusiast for attacking Iraq and Iran, Elie Wiesel, carried off the trophy. Aside from Kissinger, probably the biggest killer of all to have got the peace prize was Norman Borlaug, whose "green revolution" wheat strains led to the death of peasants by the million.

When Gore goes to get the prize he shares with the pr hucksters and falsifiers at the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Gore should be forced to march through a gauntlet of widows and orphans, Serbs, Iraqis, Palestinians, Colombians, and other victims of the Clinton era.

Back in Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign Gore was told to earn his keep with constant pummeling of George Bush Sr for having been soft on Saddam. Gore duly criss-crossed the country yoking Saddam and Bush in fervid denunciation, his press aides passing out speeches flatteringly footnoted with references to the work of the journalists covering his campaign. Gore charged that Bush had given Saddam “one of those milquetoast routines George Bush is so famous for”. “The cover-up of Bush’s arming of Saddam was”, Gore shouted, “bigger than Watergate ever was.” Right before the 2000 election Gore called for expansion of the no-fly zones in Iraq and said that any Iraqi plane venturing into such zones should be shot down.

- Alexander Cockburn: Al Gore's Peace Prize ... It’s As Ridiculous As If They’d Given Goebbels One in 1938, HistoryNewsNetwork.com, October 13, 2007.

3. Artists on the French Riviera are dismayed by a decree from the far-right town hall of Frejus, obliging them to give free workshops for schoolchildren or lose their low-rent accommodation.

David Rachline, one of 11 Front National (FN) mayors elected in France last year, has decided to strong-arm a collective of 15 painters and designers known as Lastrada, who for more than 20 years have worked out of subsidised studios in the centre of the historic town.

Enemies of the far-right see the move as evidence that after a year of acting cautiously in the municipalities under its control, the FN is reverting to its old book-burning instincts.

Supporters say it is husbanding scarce resources and asking for a reasonable quid pro quo.

The row erupted at the end of July when Rachline told a council meeting that he was going to adjust the artists’ contracts with the town, to require them to spend 90 minutes a week taking in classes from local schools.

Until now, members of Lastrada have had only to make certain unspecified contributions to Frejus’s cultural life in order to justify their subsidies and Rachline said these were no longer sufficient.


Since the municipal elections in March last year, the French press has been waiting to swoop on any hint of a far-right kulturkampf.

But so far they have been disappointed, with FN mayors under strict instructions from Marine Le Pen not to court adverse publicity.

So is this “earn your keep” campaign the first sign of a reversion to type?

Rachline’s critics note that last week also saw a concert in Frejus by the controversial band In Memoriam - who play nationalist punk. Police had to intervene after there was fighting in the crowd.

In normal times in France, there is little mileage to be had in taking on the arts establishment.

Culture enjoys a huge level of protection by comparison with other countries (the rent subsidies in Frejus are typical) and the mainstream parties all staunchly defend the status quo.

But these are times of financial hardship, and Rachline has carefully calibrated his move.

Asking artists for a “contribution to the community” will be seen by many as a cynical FN provocation.

But others will be saying, why not?

- French right-wing tells artists: Earn your keep, BBC.com, August 14, 2015.


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.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)



















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