Stick out like sore thumb?

中国日报网 2017-09-01 10:47



Stick out like sore thumb?Reader question:

Please explain “stick out like a sore thumb” in this sentence: Several buildings of seventeen storeys or more will stick out like a sore thumb on the local skyline.

My comments:

Obviously, buildings in this area are predominantly flat houses or low rises, buildings with only a few storeys.

Hence, amongst these, buildings of seventeen storeys or more will stand out, i.e. become outstanding looking in an odd and incongruous way. They will be too conspicuous to ignore while at the same time contrast sharply with the local skyline – in an unpleasant way.

Anyways, that’s why the said several buildings are described that way, that they “will stick out like a sore thumb”.

If you play basketball regularly, you’ll have no problem understanding what a sore thumb, or for that matter a middle finger, feels like. Your get a thumb injured by inadvertently having it hit straight on by the ball, of course. The resulting pain can be excruciating and unbearable, and that’s what a sore thumb feels like, literally.

Now that the thumb is injured and sore, you have to protect it from being re-injured. Therefore, you begin to favor other fingers, making sure the injured thumb, from now on, makes as little contact with the basketball as possible.

And that feels awkward.

Hence and therefore, metaphorically speaking, if something feels like a sore thumb sticking out, it is, for starters, obvious for everyone to see. For another, it feels awkward and out of place. It is prominent and attracts attention in a negative way. Like a real sore thumb, it is really unpleasant.

Likewise, if we say some person sticks out like a sore thumb, we mean to convey the same idea, that he, or she, is odd and different, commanding particular attention because he is excessive in some way or other.

To use our original example, he would be like a seventeen-storey building standing among flat houses. He would be like Gulliver standing among Lilliputians, or a giant among dwarfs.

But he would be a giant among dwarfs in an odd and uncomfortable way, sort of like an ugly elephant in the room, obvious and yet immovable.

Got it?

All right, here are media examples of people and things that stand out like a sore thumb:

1. Whether you’re trying to get chosen to hang backstage with Taylor Swift at Loft ’89 or you just want to make eye contact with your fave member of One Direction, you want to look FAB and slay the fandom with an epic sign.

Here is a sure-fire way to stick out like a sore thumb among 60,000+ concert-goers: create a humongous, blown-up poster of a famous face. You’ve probably seen it done before at graduations and sporting events -- where they’re actually pretty obnoxious. But they’re also hysterical, eye-catching and super easy to make.

All you need is a printer (with a full ink cartridge), scissors/large paper cutter, a lot of tape, time and stamina for a little do-it-yourself crafternoon.


2. For the first time, scientists have studied the eyes and skin of a group of shy sharks that live deep in the water, in a dark blue realm of low light. The team discovered that the secretive, little-known animals use biofluorescence, or glowing, to become more visible to each other, presumably so they can mate.

The team also found new evidence of the evolutionary history of biofluorescence in fishes, suggesting that the phenomenon is more widespread and more important than previously believed. In fact, biofluorescence in fishes was only discovered a few years ago, and scientists are only starting to figure out how it works. It is thought to be used in more than 200 species of sharks and bony fish, as well as marine turtles.

New research published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports described biofluorescence in two species of catsharks, the chain catshark (Scyliorhinus rotifer) and the swell shark (Cephaloscyllium ventriosum).

These small sharks grow no more than three feet (one meter) long and spend much of their time on the bottom, to a depth around 1,600 to 2,000 feet (500 or 600 meters). They are shy and nocturnal and often hide in crevices.

“The cool thing about this research is it literally shines a light on animals that are often overlooked,” says David Gruber, the study's lead author and a National Geographic Emerging Explorer, who is also a researcher at Baruch College, City University of New York and the American Museum of Natural History.

“These two species are often caught by fishermen as bycatch and we studied them not far from San Diego’s best surfing beaches, but no one had looked at them,” says Gruber.

The catsharks generally live deep enough that they are bathed only in blue light, since the rest of the wavelengths of light are blocked by the water above. The sharks have a special, as-yet-unidentified pigment in their skin that absorbs blue light and re-emits it as the color green, in a process called biofluorescence. This is different from bioluminescence, where animals either produce their own light through a series of chemical reactions, or host other organisms that give off light.

To better understand how the biofluorescence works, Gruber and team examined the sharks’ eyes. They found really long rods, which help the animals see in low light. They also found one visual pigment for color detection, which lets them see in the blue and green spectrum. Humans, in contrast, have three color pigments—red, green, and blue—allowing us to see a wider range of colors. At the high end, mantis shrimp have 12 pigments and can see an even wider array of colors.

Once the scientists worked out how the sharks likely see, they created a “shark-eye” camera to approximate the vision. They did this by adding filters in front of a lens of a Red Epic camera to restrict the wavelengths of light passing through, mimicking the shark's eye. To enhance the effect of fluorescence, they also sometimes shined blue lights. The team donned scuba gear and swam into Scripps Canyon, off San Diego, to find catsharks.

Under the natural, dim lighting, the sharks were hardly visible against the walls of the canyon to the human eye. But through the shark-eye camera, they appeared to glow a bright green, thanks to their biofluorescence. Their glowing patterns really “popped” against the background, thanks to the high contrast, Gruber notes.

“Imagine being at a disco party with only blue lighting, so everything looks blue,” says Gruber. Some things will look lighter blue and others will look darker blue. “Suddenly, someone jumps onto the dance floor with an outfit covered in patterned fluorescent paint that converts blue light into green. They would stand out like a sore thumb. That’s what these sharks are doing.”

- Through a Shark’s Eyes: See How They Glow in the Deep,, April 25, 2016.

3. John Oliver closed the final Last Week Tonight of 2016 by stating the obvious: “[It’s] been an uncommonly shitty year” – from the Syrian refugee crisis to the draining election cycle. He capped off the episode by blowing up a giant “2016” sign, as celebrities like “Weird Al” Yankovic, Jeffrey Tambor and Larry Wilmore flipped the bird to the depressing past 12 months.

“Fuck 2016,” grumbled Larry David in trademark style, pissed off over mayonnaise on his sandwich. “Go punch yourself in the dick,” offered Megan Mullally. Between the celebrity spots, ordinary Americans vented about tragedies both massive (the Flint water crisis) and small (being denied a selfie with Bruce Willis).

Oliver spent most of the episode processing the presidential election of Donald Trump. “Instead of showing our daughters that they could some day be president, America proved that no grandpa is too racist to become leader of the free world,” he cracked, admitting he’s suffered “wave after wave of nausea all week.”

The host vented his fears of a Trump presidency – and cautioned against blind optimism. “Optimism is nice if you can swing it, but you’ve got to be careful because it can feed into the normalization of Donald Trump,” he said. “And he’s not normal. He’s abnormal. He’s a human ‘What is wrong with this picture?’ He sticks out like a sore thumb, and, frankly, he even looks like a sore thumb.

“Maybe you’ve tried to make yourself feel better, fantasizing that he might Google ‘How much does the president get paid?’ get depressed and then resign,” he continued. “But that is when you remember Mike Fucking Pence, who might be even worse – because he looks like he’s from the 1950s, but he thinks like he’s from the 1960s.”

- Watch John Oliver Become Nauseous Over Trump, Say ‘F--k 2016’,, November 14, 2016.


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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