Fat of the land?

中国日报网 2017-12-12 12:13



Fat of the land?Reader question:

Please explain this sentence, particularly “fat of the land”: Mostly we lived off the fat of the land, but there were lean years.

My comments:

In a strictly farming sense, this means that the people involved lived comfortably enough in those years, when the weather was good and the harvests were bumper; but there were hardships, too, during the lean years when crops die and food became scarce.

Or metaphorically speaking, mostly they lived comfortably without having to do too much due to an abundance of natural resources, except during a few lean years (when, say, people went hungry due to famine caused by drought or some other bad weather).

Or something like that.

Oh, fat of the land.

Fat, as in body fat. If someone has a lot of body fat, you can be sure they have more than enough to eat on a regular basis. “Fat of the land” literally implies rich, fertile soil, or land that grows crops abundantly and easily.

Hence, if someone is described as living off the fat of the land, we may infer that they live a rich and comfortable life on a surplus of money and resources, and therefore don’t have to work very hard – in contrast to the poor who have to toil day and night and yet often go hungry and generally don’t have enough of anything.

The phrase “fat of the land” comes from the Christian Bible, as Freedictionary.com explains:

Note: This is from the story of Joseph in the Bible. During the famine in Israel, Pharaoh invited Joseph’s father and brothers to come to Egypt, where there was plenty of food: ‘Come unto me: and I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and ye shall eat the fat of the land.’ (Genesis 45:18).

There’s another note from the same source:

Note: This expression is often used to criticize someone who is rich because they are exploiting people.


All right, here are media examples of various situations where people are described as living off the fat of the land:

1. Mrs Williams, Mona, later Mona, Countess Bismarck, was married to one of the world’s richest men, a utility magnate with a fortune before the ’29 Crash estimated at $700 million (or $70 billion in today’s currency). She and her husband lived in the house on 94th and Fifth built by Delano and Aldrich for Willard Straight and Dorothy Payne Whitney, and in Palm Beach and Bayville.

Barbara Hutton, known in the press and to the public as the “Poor Little Rich Girl” was the Woolworth heiress who in the late 1920s inherited about a half a billion (in today’s currency) when she was a child, and later owned houses all over the world (including Winfield House in London which is now the American Ambassador’s residence). Famous for her extravagance and multitude of husbands, she was an object of fascination and resentment by the public and the press.

But they were only two of the clamoring crowd who populated the social scene of those times. The term “socialite” was a code word, invented about 1928 by Briton Haddon, Henry Luce’s Yale classmate and partner in their invention Time magazine. The word meant rich, and maybe a little racy. It meant play not work in what was essentially a Puritanical society. They were ostensibly the “leisure class,” gentlemen of leisure, ladies of leisure. They were the babies of the last of the Victorians where people lived off the “fat of the land,” namely their land of banks and stocks and bonds.

Haddon was a wordsmith and the term was breezy and smart-alecky, reflecting the “who cares” economic euphoria America was swimming in in the late 1920s. The automotive age was in full swing; the country was getting out and about drinking bootleg liquor and bathtub gin. It was Prohibition in name (and law) only because people were boozing everywhere and flaunting it (breaking the law), and even killing themselves with it. In Manhattan, the flappers and the jazz babies, dressed to kill, were out on the town, hitting the speaks, celebrating the new freedom, dancing and drinking up a storm.

The socialites were the coolest (a word not yet in the vernacular) of the pack because they had nothing but time and money. They frequented first the speakeasies, and then after the Repeal of Prohibition, the clubs like the Stork and El Morocco. They dressed to the nines—the women in gowns and jewels and the men in white tie or black tie. They mingled with theatre people and movie stars who aped their style, adding dash and glamour to it. They were the “socialites.”

A good many of them were new rich, not listed in the Social Register, the social bible of the first half of the 20th century which would eliminate people from their pages because of their nightlife or their marriages and divorces. But the nouveau riche mainly imitated the manners, if not the mores of the Old Guard, except they flashed their wealth around more publicly.

- Socialites: A History, NewYorkSocialDiary.com, May 11, 2007.

2. David Mallett has traveled this country near and far, and even moved away for the better part of a decade a lifetime ago to write songs in Nashville.

But his heart has never wandered far from his family homestead in Sebec. He lives in a rambling old farmhouse that his parents bought in 1938 and spent the next 40 years fixing up as they raised five kids. All boys.

It’s the same house where Mallett, the youngest of the brothers, and his bride of 32 years raised their own sons and daughter and came back to each summer when they lived down south, so the kids could experience the wonder of running in the woods, swimming in the lake and swatting black flies.

The trees that Mallett climbed as a kid still stand. The old barns are here, too, empty of most farm-related enterprise except a rusty tractor that needs the attention of a mechanic. Otherwise there are a few old trucks and a boat, and not much else.

“This road hasn’t changed at all since I’ve lived here,” said Mallett, 63, who lives in the house with his wife, Jayne. “There are one or two houses that have been added. But it’s a timeless thing.”

Mallett’s latest CD, “Greenin’ Up,” sounds timeless too. The CD is a cooperative effort with Maine Farmland Trust, which approached Mallett with the idea of making a record about rural life in Maine.


“I’ve written country songs. I’ve written pop songs. But this CD, this is the meat of the matter,” he said in an interview at his home, which is full of books, music and lifetimes of memories. “These are my rural songs, and that’s what I like about Maine, its ruralness.”

Henry put in about a mile of beans

He hoed and hoed and he watched ’em turn green

Looked up in the sky and he said, ‘Hey man,

We should be living off the fat of the land.

Mallett wrote “Fat of the Land” after having a vision of a group of young farmers standing in a field holding their bounty in their hands. It came to him in the winter of 2011.

“Fat of the Land” could be an anthem for the farm-to-table movement. It advocates for local food, solar power and everybody working together to feed each other. The song is about living in harmony with the land, taking the best of what it offers and nurturing it.

The line about Henry planting a mile a beans is a nod to Henry David Thoreau, who wrote in “Walden” that his beans, “impatient to be hoed,” would measure seven miles if the rows were laid end to end.

- Musician David Mallett goes back to the land, PressHerald.com, July 13, 2014.

3. Every part of India has its own exclusive natural disaster. Bihar and Assam, for instance, have their floods that arrive punctually every year to give everyone swimming and boating lessons. Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are regularly hit by drought, which they shamelessly use to extract sympathy and funds from Delhi.

Mumbai gets a lot of attention, thanks to the annual monsoon flooding that puts the Spirit of Mumbai on display for everyone to admire. Bengalureans get their annual quota of sympathy from their traffic, which, like the ovum, doesn’t move but keeps growing. Kolkatans in any case don’t need the sympathy of their intellectual inferiors, which is you, if you are a non-Bong from non-Kolkata. As for Chennaivasis, they do deserve everyone’s sympathy, for their lives are at the mercy of animated abbreviations — EPS, OPS, USP, SUPW.

That leaves the Delhiites, which includes me too (no hashtag intended). What do we have? With our wide roads, Lodhi garden, and the largest Metro network in the subcontinent, not to mention the thousands of crores of tribute that flow into our coffers from every corner of the country, we live comfortably off the fat of the land.

Even when the entire nation was reeling under demonetisation – mind you, I am not suggesting it was a calamity or anything – a few phone calls to a few highly placed contacts was all it took. Black became white, and old notes became new, without productive hours being lost in ATM queues. After all, what are drivers and cooks for?

In other words, Delhiites, like Vijay Mallya, have been extremely impoverished when it comes to sympathy-worthy misery. And then, like a godsend, came the smog.

Six days ago, I got a panic attack when I woke up in the morning to find everything a whitish blur, like Mother Dairy milk. My eyes were watering and I thought I was going blind.

- The smog in the living room, by G. Sampath, TheHindu.com, November 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: 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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