Fast and loose with facts?

中国日报网 2017-08-25 10:30



Fast and loose with facts?Reader question:

Please explain “fast and loose” in this sentence: Our Tweeter in Chief Donald Trump is known for playing fast and loose with facts.

My comments:

This is another way of saying Donald Trump lies a lot.

Trump, the American President, tweets a lot. That’s actually an understatement. Trump tweets so much and so often that it sometimes appears that he treats Twitter, the online social media service as a better propaganda tool than the mainstream media, including the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN.

In fact, Trump has often called the latter fake news.

Anyways, let’s get back to “fast and loose”. Literally, “fast and loose” means now you FASTen it, then you LOOSEn it. Originally, it is the name of a trick game involving knotting a rope or string up and then loosening it. This explanation, from

This derives from an old deception or cheating game in which something that appears stuck (fast) easily becomes loose. It is nicely defined in James Halliwell’s A dictionary of archaic and provincial words, obsolete phrases, proverbs and ancient customs, from the fourteenth century, 1847:

“Fast-and-loose, a cheating game played with a stick and a belt or string, so arranged that a spectator would think he could make the latter fast by placing a stick through its intricate folds, whereas the operator could detach it at once.”

Now, if you play “fast and loose” with facts instead of a rope or belt or string, what does it mean?

Metaphorically speaking, of course, it means you’re not reliable with facts. You treat them as if they were a rope you can fasten round a stick at any moment, thinking you can loosen up any moment later.

In our example involving Trump, that means, in plain truth, that he lies a lot, thinking he can do whatever he wants with truths and facts as if he were playing a cheating game with them.

In short, the Tweeter or rather Commander in Chief is fickle and capricious when it comes to calling a spade a spade.

In other words, you can’t take him seriously.

All right, here are more examples of people playing fast and loose with facts or other objects:

1. The BBC adaptation of And Then There Were None is right to show drugs, murder and “fruity language”, its writer has said, as she argues it is “absolute rubbish” to claim they did not exist in Agatha Christie's day.

Sarah Phelps, who has adapted the Christie novel for BBC One, said her television version did not play “fast and loose” with the original novel, with everything she put on screen “there in the book”.

The adaptation, which is due for broadcast on Boxing Day, was criticised after a preview screening after experts took issue with bad language and violent onscreen deaths.

Then, Dr John Curran, who has written books about Christie, told a newspaper: “If her work has stood the test of time for almost a hundred years, I can’t see the point of tinkering with it like this.”

Speaking on Radio 4’s Front Row, Phelps has now defended the dramatic choices of the 2015 adaptation, saying she had been “shocked” at how “brutal, remorseless and stark” the book was.

When asked about the criticism, which also focused on one character taking drugs on screen, she said: “I don’t think it plays fast and loose with it at all. All of it is there in the book.”

- BBC’s And Then There Were None does not play ‘fast and loose’ with Agatha Christie, writer says,, December 23, 2015.

2. Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD has said that he told the British Prime Minister Theresa May she was playing fast and loose with the Good Friday Agreement in a desperate attempt to cling to power.

A Sinn Féin delegation led by Gerry Adams, which included Mary Lou McDonald, Michelle O’Neill and Foyle MP Elisha McCallion, met with the British Prime Minister in London today.

Following the meeting the Sinn Féin President said: "We told Prime Minister May and she and her government are in default of the Good Friday Agreement and that they have turned a blind eye to the disruptive actions of the DUP over a long time.

“Both the government and the DUP have refused to implement key agreements on language and equality rights and dealing with the legacy of the past.

“We told the British Prime Minister that in our view she is playing fast and loose with the Good Friday Agreement in a desperate attempt to cling to power.

“We challenged the British Government to fully implement the outstanding aspects of the Good Friday and subsequent agreements.

“The Good Friday and subsequent agreements changed the relationship between our two islands. It is a beacon of success for conflict resolution throughout the globe.”

- Gerry Adams accuses Theresa May of ‘playing fast and loose with Good Friday Agreement in bid to cling to power’,, June 16, 2017.

3. Jeremy Corbyn has called on the US president, Donald Trump, and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, to “wind down the war of rhetoric”.

The world leaders have been engaged in a war of words, with Trump threatening to rain “fire and fury” on the communist state after Pyongyang said it was “carefully examining” a plan to hit Guam with missiles.

Corbyn has urged the prime minister, Theresa May, not to commit any of Britain’s armed forces to military action in the Korea crisis.

Writing in the Sunday Mirror, the Labour leader said: “Trump and Kim must immediately wind down the war of rhetoric, as the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has demanded.

“The risks of an unintended escalation into full-blown conflict are too great for the whole world. We cannot play fast and loose with nuclear weapons and nuclear threats. Our government must press for measured responses to bring the temperature down.

“Our government must not drag our country into any military action over the Korea crisis, including joint exercises.

“There can be no question of blind loyalty to the erratic and belligerent Trump administration. US-led regime-change wars and the threat of more to come have made this crisis more dangerous and difficult to resolve.”

He said any future Labour government would be committed to remove nuclear weapons from the world and “global pressure for dialogue and diplomacy must be overwhelming”.

- Jeremy Corbyn tells Trump and Kim to stop the ‘war of rhetoric’,, August 13, 2017.


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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