Breathing down the neck?

中国日报网 2018-04-13 11:26



Breathing down the neck?Reader question:

“What does “breathing down my neck” mean exactly in this quote: “If one of you wants to drive, let me know, otherwise quit breathing down my neck.”

My comments:

It appears that the speaker is driving a car and he (or she) is asking passengers not to keep bothering him (or her).

Literally, “breathing down my neck” means that some of the passengers are getting so close to the driver that he (or she) can feel their breaths blowing like tiny gusts of wind down the neck area.

Clearly, the passengers are getting too close to the driver and making it impossible for the driver to concentrate on driving – without any unwanted attention and distraction.

What the speaker means to tell the passengers is this: “If anyone wants to drive, take my seat. Otherwise, keep clear of the driving area. Don’t touch me on the shoulder. Don’t talk to me.”

“And, above all, stop giving me directions or instructions.”

Actually, this last may be what the speaker really wants to say to the passengers. He’s probably been told to drive this way or that way, to take this route or that route, to make a left turn or a right turn.

Or to drive straight ahead.

This maybe happening again and again and finally the driver gets annoyed. He snaps and says what he says – “quit breathing down my neck”.

Conjecture aside, that’s what “breathing down the neck” means. It means, first, that someone is getting too close to us otherwise we won’t be able to feel their breaths. Second, it means they’re giving us constant attention, so much so that their attention becomes annoying.

In the first case, if someone says a pack of wild wolves are breathing down their neck, it means the wolves are getting dangerously close – snapping at their heels, to use another similar expression.

In the second case, one of your teachers at school or a boss at work may be breathing down your neck from time to time. When that happens, it means they’re constantly looking over your shoulder and asking a lot of questions, how you’re getting along, etc. mostly needless questions.

Or giving advice, suggestions, orders and instructions. All needless and unnecessary.

In other words, they turn themselves into a nuisance, a bore, a bother, a burden, a pest, a plague.

You wish they’d get out of your sight.

Get lost.

Alright, here are a few media examples of real situations where “breathing down the neck” happens, both literally (being physically too close) and in the metaphorical sense (offering constant, excessive, discomfiting attention):

1. In these exclusive photographs, Anthony Marshall and his wife, Charlene, are shown breakfasting on a central battlefield of the epic Astor trial: the Maine estate that prosecutors say the couple pressured Brooke Astor to give up.

After a two-week relaxing break at Cove End in Northeast Harbor, Maine, their idyll comes to an end tomorrow, when Anthony Marshall, 85, is due back in court in Manhattan.

The trial, which began April 27 and was supposed to last about 10 weeks, will enter its 19th week of testimony - and the second week of Marshall's defense.

However, Marshall is not expected to present a lengthy case, and court watchers say closing arguments might begin as soon as next week.

Marshall and lawyer Francis Morrissey stand accused of stealing $60 million from his mother, the beloved New York philanthropist, as her health declined before her death at age 105 in 2007.

Among the charges is that Marshall swiped $600,000 from Astor to pay for renovations at the $5.5 million summer home, while she was left to languish in New York.

Cove End, Astor’s beloved 7-acre vacation home shown in these photographs, was a source of bitter family strife.

According to testimony at the trial, Astor began talking in 2000 about leaving the property to her grandson Philip Marshall with a stipulation that his father be allowed to live there until he died.

Brooke Astor’s lawyer Henry Christensen testified that Anthony Marshall was having none of it.

I won’t have him breathing down my neck and waiting for me to die,” Anthony Marshall allegedly said about his son.

- Marshalls have breakfast deluxe on Brooke Astor’s old estate in Maine,, September 6, 2009.

2. Hillary Clinton considered telling Donald Trump “Back up, you creep!” during one of the presidential debates, adding, in the first extract from her new book, that “my skin crawled” when he invaded her personal space.

In the comments, broadcast by MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Wednesday, Clinton recounts how uncomfortable she felt being on stage with Trump just two days after his infamous “pussy-grabbing” tape had been made public.

“This is not OK, I thought,” Clinton writes. “It was the second presidential debate, and Donald Trump was looming behind me. Two days before, the world heard him brag about groping women. Now we were on a small stage and no matter where I walked, he followed me closely, staring at me, making faces. It was incredibly uncomfortable. He was literally breathing down my neck. My skin crawled.”

Clinton continues: “It was one of those moments where you wish you could hit pause and ask everyone watching: ‘Well, what would you do?’ Do you stay calm, keep smiling and carry on as if he weren’t repeatedly invading your space? Or do you turn, look him in the eye, and say loudly and clearly: ‘Back up, you creep, get away from me! I know you love to intimidate women, but you can’t intimidate me, so back up.’”

Instead, she describes how, “aided by a lifetime of dealing with difficult men trying to throw me off”, she chose to stay calm, “biting my tongue, digging my fingernails into a clenched fist, smiling all the while determined to present a composed face to the world”.

- ‘My skin crawled’: Hillary Clinton recalls dealing with ‘creep’ Trump,, August 23, 2017.

3. As an investor, it's always easy to know you made the right move when you look back. Hindsight is always twenty-twenty, CNBC’s Jim Cramer said.

But the “Mad Money” host knows that it’s much harder to get things right in the moment, when things are emotional and you’re trying to predict how something will turn out in the moment.

One of the benefits of being an individual investor is that they don’t have clients breathing down their neck who get angry when money isn’t made every quarter. Unlike a hedge fund manager, individual investors can take their time waiting for a story to play itself out.

“If you think that a stock deserves to go higher, whether because of a re-rating or a takeover or anything else that will produce greater returns, then wait. No one is looking,” Cramer said.

- Cramer Remix: The virtues of do-it-yourself investing,, September 1, 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)



















关于我们 | 联系方式 | 招聘信息

Copyright by All rights reserved. None of this material may be used for any commercial or public use. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited. 版权声明:本网站所刊登的中国日报网英语点津内容,版权属中国日报网所有,未经协议授权,禁止下载使用。 欢迎愿意与本网站合作的单位或个人与我们联系。