Please explain “walked the plank” in this quote: “Whether Greece has walked the plank to an economic and political collapse is still unknown.”
In other words, the speaker thinks that Greece has embarked on a road to economic and political ruin, although he will not say so outright.
But the situation is pretty dire, that we can be certain, or the speaker would not have used the expression “walked the plank”.
Only unruly pirates who have committed capital crimes are or, as it were, were forced to walk the plank and fall over – into the bottomless sea.
According to legend, captains of pirate ships used to carry out executions this way, centuries ago actually. To do it, they install a plank, a narrow long wooden board, by the side of the ship protruding out over the water. Then they have their prisoner, often bound and blindfolded, walk onto the plank and walk toward the far end.
And when the prisoner reaches the end, he fall off the plank and into the waves – to drown or to be eaten alive by fish.
It is conjectured that pirates sometimes did this to entertain themselves. You can imagine how dire and dull their lives were on a pirate ship, but anyways, the long and short of it is, he who walks the plank is doomed.
That’s the essential idea conveyed by the phrase “walk the plank”.
In our example, since the plank is invoked, the image it evokes is unmistakable. Greece is in big trouble, and probably on a road to inevitable ruin.
That means economic growth would be shot, and the government may be toppled – be voted out and replaced.
All right, here are media examples of people who are forced to walk the plank, i.e. embark on a road to ruin, defeat or doom, in one form or another:
1. In a warning of the partisan warfare that lies ahead, leading congressional Democrats on Sunday urged President-elect George Bush to convene an economic summit on slashing the nation’s budget deficit, and to put “everything on the table,” including proposals for new taxes.
Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.), a strong candidate to become the next Senate majority leader, charged that Bush's election-year support for increased defense spending and new social programs such as child care is not “mathematically feasible” without new revenues. Bush, he said caustically, should admit that he “over-promised” during the campaign.
However, Republican congressional leaders dampened speculation about a quick economic summit, saying that a bipartisan solution to the nation’s budgetary ills would not come before July or August at the earliest.
Although Bush has said he intends to work with the Democratic-controlled Congress, party leaders indicated that they expect the new President to make the first moves, especially on the thorny issue of cutting the nation’s $155-billion budget deficit. In particular, they served notice that Bush would have to join them in advancing any politically unpopular solutions.
Sen.-elect Charles S. Robb (D-Va.), appearing with Johnston on ABC-TV's “This Week With David Brinkley,” said that “if the chief executive isn’t willing to walk the plank with the Congress” (on the need for new revenues), “few members are going to get out and simply watch the commander-in-chief standing on the side as they go over.”
“President Bush,” he added, “is going to have to provide leadership.”
- Democrats Urge Economic Summit: Want Bush to Call Meeting on Deficit, Revenue Proposals, Los Angeles Times, November 14, 1988.
2. It’s big news in Europe right now. Monday morning, before a British Parliamentary committee, a top official with the Bank of England is testifying.
But will it hop the Atlantic and take root here at home?
“It” is the news that Barclays – and perhaps other big banks as well – were playing fast and loose with the rules of the road that govern “LIBOR” or the London Inter-Bank Offered Rate, that affects everything from adjustable mortgage rates to car loans. Barclays has already paid some $450 million to settle charges, and the bank’s chairman and CEO have walked the plank.
It’s a huge, complicated story: was Barclays fudging the numbers to fatten its profits? To prevent widespread panic during the financial crisis of five years ago? Both – and that’s why I’m skeptical that this story will really rivet the attention of the broader public. When it comes to financial scandal, it’s much easier to stir interest – and, especially, indignation – if the story involves numbers small enough for us to grasp.
- Will the LIBOR Scandal Jump the Atlantic? by Jeff Greenfield, WNYC.org, July 9, 2012.
3. Arkansas Republican U.S. Senator Tom Cotton, appearing on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos Sunday, urged House GOP leadership to not “walk the plank” by passing a bill that doesn’t fully repeal Obamacare and therefore has no chance of passing in the U.S. Senate.
“I would say to my friends in the House of Representatives with whom I serve, do not walk the plank and vote for a bill that cannot pass the Senate and then have to face the consequences of that vote,” Cotton advised.
Cotton said that the bill, labeled by principled conservatives across the board with such derogatory nicknames like Obamacare-lite, RINOCARE, Ryancare or Obamacare 2.0, reminded him of a similar situation in the early 1990’s that cost Democrats their majority in the House.
Remembering that Stephanopoulos was a former Democrat operative for Bill Clinton at the time, Senator Cotton said:
“George, you were in White House in 1993. You remember when House Democrats voted for a BTU energy tax, not only did that not become law, it didn’t even get a vote in the Senate. And those Democrats lost their next election because they voted on that tax, getting BTU’d.
“I just do not think that this bill can pass the Senate. And therefore, I think the House should take a pause and try to get as close as we can to a good result before they send to it the Senate.”
Not beating around the Bush, Cotton predicted that passing the House GOP leadership’s American Health Care Act, or AHCA, the supposed repeal and replacement of Obamacare, could very easily cost Republicans their majority in Congress.
“I’m afraid that if they vote for this bill, they’re going to put the House majority at risk next year,” Cotton warned,” referring to the 2018 mid-term elections. “And we have majorities in the House and the Senate and the White House, not only to repeal Obamacare and get health care reform right but to reform our taxes and our regulations and build up our military and to accomplish many other things.”
- Tom Cotton to House GOP: ‘Don’t Walk the Plank’ With Only Partial Obamacare Repeal, Politistick.com, March 12, 2017.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.