Damp squib?

中国日报网 2017-09-22 11:12



Damp squib?Reader question:

Please explain this sentence: “His last film was a damp squib at the box office.”

My comments:

The film bombed at the box office, failing to sell as many tickets as it was expected to.

Here, bombed means it flopped or failed, i.e. it failed to explode like a good bomb should. Strange is the English language you may say but it is correct to say that a film bombed at the box office.

That is similar to saying that the film was a damp squib.

A squib is a piece of small firecracker or dynamite tube. People who’ve played with firecrackers during the Spring Festival in this country have no problem understanding what a damp squib is and feels like. That is, instead of giving a sharp and resounding explosion, a cracking sound as a matter of fact (which is why they’re called firecrackers), a damp squib either fails to ignite at all or lets out a feeble fizz or a faint whisper of “purr”.

This piece of failed firecracker is a dud, or what people call a “damp squib”, metaphorically a disappointment, a damper of hopes and excitement, an anticlimax.

Damp squibs are, in the main, the result of storage in, yes, damp (wet) conditions. Dynamics are traditionally made of black gun powder, consisting of, among other things, charcoal. As we all know, you cannot lit a fire if the charcoal is wet. Hence, squibs that are damp won’t explode.

Hence and therefore, damp squibs become synonymous with anything that fails to work properly, anything that’s not up to expectation and anything that turns out to be a disappointment especially after much fanfare has previously been raised about it.

For example, if you lead a large group of friends to see the famous sunrise at Mount Taishan but, in spite of favorable weather forecast, during the middle of the night it starts to drizzle and the rain continues in the morning and all the way to noon. Your sunrise-watching extravaganza, in short, is washed out and the whole trip may feel like a damp squib, leaving everybody in disappointment and yourself slightly in shame and embarrassment.

Well, weather forecasts cannot always be right, can it?

Anyways, you get the point about “damp squib”. Here are a few more media examples:

1. Many phrases we use are often misquotes from Shakespeare and other traditional sayings – and people do not realise they have made mistakes.

Now a new poll has revealed a top ten of the most misquoted phrases in Britain.

Top of the league is a “damp squib”, a term for failure named after a dud 19th century explosive mining device, which is often mispronounced as “damp squid.”

Others in the chart include “one fell swoop” which was originally uttered by MacDuff in Shakespeare’s Macbeth but which is often mistakenly repeated as “one foul swoop”.

Another favourite is the Shakespearean quote from Merchant of Venice “all that glisters is not gold” which we misquote as “all the glitters is not gold”.

The misquote is so common it is now even used in the play itself.

- Damp Squid: The top 10 misquoted phrases in Britain, Telegraph.co.uk, 24 Feb 2009.

2. Auction of brands and trademarks of the long-grounded Kingfisher Airlines turned out to be a damp squib on Saturday as lenders failed to attract a single bidder for sale of these pledged assets at a reserve price of Rs 366.70 crore in their efforts to recover unpaid loans from beleaguered businessman Vijay Mallya.

This is the second failed attempt by the 17-bank consortium, led by State Bank of India, to recover some money from Mr Mallya, after an earlier auction of Kingfisher House - the erstwhile Kingfisher Airlines headquarters - met with a similar fate with no bidder coming forward.

The items on sale in Saturday’s online auction included the Kingfisher logo and also the once-famous tagline ‘Fly the Good Times’. Other trademarks on sale included Flying Models, Funliner, Fly Kingfisher and Flying Bird Device.

The reserve price for the trademarks was kept at Rs 366.70 crore - not even one-tenth of the price at which it was pledged as collateral for the loan. Sources, however, said the reserve price was “too high” for any bidder to come in.

“There were no bids, possibly because the reserve price was considered very high. Though the reserve price was set much lower than its original valuation at the time of taking the brand as collateral, people still found it to be high,” a banking source said.

- Kingfisher auction proves to be damp squib as no bidder turns up, OneIndia.com, April 30, 2016

3. British proposals to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in Britain would cast “a dark cloud of vagueness and uncertainty” over the lives of millions of Europeans, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator said.

Writing in the Guardian newspaper, Guy Verhofstadt said the differences between proposals made by the European Union and Britain to guarantee the rights of people living away from their home countries were striking, the latest sign that what should be a relatively easy part of Brexit talks is far from agreed.

The EU and Britain have agreed they must first deal with the rights of citizens and a financial settlement before discussing a future trade deal after Britain leaves the European Union - something Prime Minister Theresa May wants to happen quickly.

Verhofstadt said while he accepted Britain’s vote to leave the EU, the European Parliament was not convinced that Brexit would help either the European economy or its citizens.

“The UK proposal only confirms this belief – falling short of its own ambitions to ‘put citizens first’. If implemented, it would cast a dark cloud of vagueness and uncertainty over the lives of millions of Europeans,” he wrote.

It was a damp squib, proposing that Europeans obtain the status of ‘third-country nationals’ in the UK, with fewer rights than British citizens are offered throughout the EU.”

May’s deputy, Damian Green, told BBC radio the government would preserve the basic rights of EU citizens in Britain, but reiterated that those rights could not be guarded by the European Court of Justice - a sticking point for the two sides.

- ‘A damp squib’ - EU parliament reacts to UK proposal on citizens, Reuters, July 10, 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: 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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