Sounding board?

中国日报网 2018-03-13 11:15



Sounding board?Reader question:

Please explain “sounding board”, as in this sentence: He was Einstein’s old friend and admirer, and his sounding board for scientific ideas ever since the early days of special relativity in Berne, Switzerland.

My comments:

Here, it means that Einstein, Albert Einstein that is, used to talk to this old friend of his about scientific ideas – no surprise, either – to seek advice and mostly to see how well the ideas sound, whether they’re any good and worthy and so forth.

Literally, Einstein used his old friend and admirer as a soundboard to bounce ideas off.


The soundboard, or sounding board, you see, originally refers to the belly of a violin or cello, onto which the strings are attached. The soundboard, together with the hollow inside magnifies the vibrating sound when the strings are stroked, magnifies it and makes it loud, clear and sonorous, i.e. rich, deep and full.

The sounding board is something that’s also placed in the auditorium, behind or over the podium or rostrum. This type of sounding board serves the same purpose, making the speaker’s voice sound distinct, full and sonorous.

If a person is somebody else’s soundboard or sounding board, we can then safely infer that this person talks to that somebody quite a lot. It’s as if this person uses the other as a sounding board, to see how his voice echoes back – how his ideas sound to the other person, so to say.

Or some people may just want to talk to the other person and not for any advice seeking. He or she may just want to offload their emotional troubles and worries onto that person.

No doubt, the listener as the sounding board gets to hear a lot – for better or worse.

Now, let’s see how “sounding board” works in real life via more media examples:

1. He was the muscle-bound and buffed, heavily accented star of action films; she was the TV news anchor, and a member of American “royalty”. Theirs was to be a marriage made in, er, Hollywood, which they later moulded into First Coupledom. But this week, California’s recently departed governor and erstwhile “Terminator”, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Maria Shriver, a member of the Kennedy dynasty, announced they were terminating their union after 25 years, though for perhaps two years their partnership had appeared to friends to have been terminal.

As parting statements go, theirs was typically anodyne, the couple committing to jointly parenting their four children: Katherine, 21, Christina, 19, Patrick, 17, and Christopher, 13.

“They are the light and the centre of both our lives,” the Schwarzeneggers announced. “We consider this a private matter, and neither we nor any of our friends or family will have further comment.”

But an array of “sources” appeared eager to explain the split and Shriver's simmering torment in a curious pairing undermined from the outset by “Arnie’s” alleged womanising and which in recent years had usurped her identity and thwarted her career.


Personal experience told her that politics rarely came without cost - and often meant loss.

She is the daughter of Eunice Kennedy Shriver (who was the sister of the slain Democrat president John Kennedy) and of Sargent Shriver, the first head of America’s Peace Corps and vice-presidential candidate in 1972.

“I’d learnt early on that political life was about constant travel and being surrounded by 50 people in the house and either you lose or you get assassinated,” she once told Oprah Winfrey.

But she now faced loss of identity, too. “One day, out of nowhere, my movie star husband announced he was running for governor of California. Just 60 days later, he was elected … Just like that my career was gone, and with it the person I’d been for 25 years,” she recalled in her book.

Shriver adjusted to her role as California's first lady, championing women’s rights, social welfare and other programs that dove-tailed with Shriver family interests, such as the Special Olympics.

She became his sounding board, despite their political polarity. In the 2008 presidential election she had backed Barack Obama: he supported his friend, John McCain.

Their partnership had faced sterner tests before they morphed into California’s first couple. After Schwarzenegger announced his candidacy in 2003, the Los Angeles Times published accusations by six women over unwanted sexual advances made in studio offices and elsewhere in the preceding decades. Eventually, 16 women spoke out, with Schwarzenegger issuing ultimately a blanket apology, though never fully addressing the allegations.

Shriver’s strong support throughout the controversy was seen as critical to her husband’s victory. Though it surprised some, she told an election crowd: “I know I would not be where I am today without his support.” And in 2003, her brother, Bobby Shriver, who is now a Santa Monica councillor, warned: “You cross Arnold and Maria will cut your head off.”

- Terminator: And this time it’s personal,, May 14, 2011.

2. If John Appleseed’s name doesn’t ring a bell, let us do some jangling for you. He’s the face you saw demoing the original iPhone, and in demos of subsequent iPhones, too. His face beamed out from the dashboard when Tim Cook showed off iOS in the car, and it’s his name you often see when Apple demos new software.

Appleseed’s connection with Apple goes back to the start of the 1980s. Apple then was a very different company than it is today: it became a public company in 1980 but wasn’t a buttoned-up, blue-suited corporation like IBM; it was a blue-jeaned, open-necked shirt, bearded kind of company out to make a difference. Apple was Steve Jobs’ and Steve Wozniak’s baby, but the firm’s CEO back then was Mike Markkula, who Jobs had lured out of retirement with the promise of Apple’s potential.


Take a look at the TextEdit icon in OS X. If you blow it up or zoom in on the graphic to read the writing on the pad, you’ll see that it's a note to Kate from John Appleseed. “Here’s to the crazy ones,” it says. “The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers.”

“Everybody thinks Apple’s ad agency came up with the ‘crazy ones’ spiel,” an Apple insider told us. “But they didn’t. It was Appleseed’s idea, and Steve ran with it. The icon’s a nod to Appleseed, an inside joke.”

As our source tells it, the real story is this: Appleseed and Jobs were talking about Jobs’ personal philosophy, and the philosophies of Apple’s rivals. “You think different,” Appleseed told him. “You’re crazy enough to think you can change the world.” Maybe Jobs felt guilty for taking the credit, but shortly after the “Think Different” campaign began he sought Appleseed’s opinions more often, using him as a soundboard not just for Jobs’ ideas, but for actual products too. Appleseed may not have been an Apple employee, but he was an Apple insider.

- The Appleseed legend: the story behind Apple's unofficial mascot,, December 24, 2013.

3. Throughout Donald Trump’s campaign and relentlessly chaotic presidency, the single constant presence at his side, outside of his family, has been the 29-year-old former Ralph Lauren model and White House communications director Hope Hicks.

While aides and advisers fall in and out of favor, Hicks has remained Trump’s Oval Office gatekeeper, companion and sounding board, offering consistent loyalty.

But now Hicks has herself been cast into two plotlines currently playing out in the presidential daytime reality-soap.

In one, Hicks features as a likely target in the special counsel Robert Mueller’s effort to acquire cooperating witnesses in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Hicks has reportedly been interviewed by Mueller’s investigators.

In the other, her prized judgment is being called into question over Rob Porter, the senior White House aide accused of physically abusing two ex-wives and whom Hicks has reportedly been dating.

- Trump’s confidante Hope Hicks finds herself center stage in scandal,, February 11, 2018.


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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