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Over a barrel? 被完全控制住了

中国日报网 2018-09-04 13:57


Reader question:

Please explain this headline, “over the barrel” in particular”: Lawyer was told Russia had ‘Trump over a barrel’ (Associated Press, September 1, 2018).

My comments:

This means that Russia has Donald Trump, President of the United States, in full control.

Here are the leading paragraphs of the AP story:

A senior Justice Department lawyer says a former British spy told him at a breakfast meeting two years ago that Russian intelligence believed it had Donald Trump “over a barrel,” according to multiple people familiar with the encounter.

The lawyer, Bruce Ohr, also says he learned that a Trump campaign aide had met with higher-level Russian officials than the aide had acknowledged, the people said.

See, it is Bruce Ohr, the Justice Department lawyer in question who makes the claim, that Russian intelligence believes it has Trump “over a barrel”.

Literally, it means this. Imagine Trump is drowning in the deep end of a swimming pool (because he is not as good and smart a swimmer as he claims he is and this time he finds himself really out of his depths, so to say) and a team of rescuers arrive to pull him out of water. They find Trump unconscious with water dripping out of the mouth. Clearly, his lungs are filled with water as well. So they put him over the top of a barrel, face down. This position, rescuers believe, facilitates getting water out of his lungs. And to help the process, rescuers begin rolling the barrel back and forth, back and forth.

I’m sorry for conjuring up such a scene for you. But, anyways, that’s what it feels like to be “over a barrel”. Yes, you’re right. That’s a punishingly painful and helpless position. In that position, Trump is at the mercy of his tormentors. Oh sorry, rescuers.

Okey, that’s the origin of the American expression “over a barrel”, at least according to one theory.

This explanation, from WordOrigins.org:

The metaphor is probably a reference to a prisoner being strapped over a barrel and flogged. Literal references to a barrel being used for flogging date back to the 19th century. This poem from 1869’s Nonsense by Brick Pomeroy uses over a barrel to refer to children being punished by a schoolteacher:

I’d like to be a school-marm,

And with the school-marms stand,

With a bad boy over a barrel

And with a spanker in my hand

Many dictionaries give the origin as a reference to the practice of draping drowning victims over a barrel to clear their lungs of water. This certainly a possibility and this was indeed a practice that was in use in the 19th century. This quote by a Dr. Charles Lancaster in Appleton’s Journal of 29 May 1869, the same year as the poem quoted above, describes the practice:

Another interesting, perhaps, if not very philosophical mode of treatment is to roll the patient over a barrel, as if he were drowned only in the bowels, and it was expected that, by dislodging the enemy at that point, the citadel of life would soon be recovered.

The flogging metaphor, however, fits the meaning of the modern use much better than the drowning metaphor and therefore seems more likely as the origin.

It is commonly asserted that over a barrel is nautical in origin and refers to sailors being flogged for various breaches of discipline. This is incorrect. There is no evidence to indicate that the phrase was especially used in nautical contexts and the usual practice of the Royal Navy, at least, was to tie sailors to a wooden grating, not a barrel, for flogging. Although, midshipmen would be punished by caning while leaning over a gun barrel. But, the lack of early nautical citations linking the phrase to the punishment of midshipmen makes this nautical angle unlikely.

Whatever the case, the metaphorical meaning of someone being put “over a barrel” is no doubt: He (or she) is helpless and at mercy.

In Trump’s example, he’s at mercy of the Russians, according to Ohr. The Russians can do whatever they want with Trump, and the latter is powerless to fight back.

Whether Ohr’s claim turns out to be true is anyone’s guess and special counsel Robert Mueller’s job to find out (Mueller is currently leading an investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s election campaign and Russian intelligence).

Let’s leave Trump alone for now and read other examples of having someone over a barrel:

1. At the Twin Oaks Country Inn in Wilmont, Wis., fewer diners means there’s little need to refill the wine shelves.

Their once-popular house wine comes from Fetzer Vineyards in California, where Winery Director Mike Haering admits falling restaurant sales have him over a barrel, reports CBS News correspondent John Blackstone.

But in Fetzer’s warehouse unsold cases are already growing into a mountain.

The decline in restaurant sales has been partially offset by people buying wine to drink at home.

“We’re down 6 percent of what expected to do for our plans,” Haering said. “That’s the equivalent of 2.5 million bottles.”

Two and a half million fewer bottles sold means less of everything.

“It impacts what glass, what labels we need, how much fruit,” Haering said.

- The Recession’s Six Degrees Of Separation, CBSNews.com, May 27, 2009.

2. A decade of war on its customers got the music industry nowhere, but now the internet is actually boosting sales.

The music industry has been through tough times in the last 15 years, although much of it was self-inflicted. It’s hard to feel too sorry for a bunch of pig-headed, Gucci-clad industry executives who were too arrogant and stubborn to see the writing on the wall.

They were told from the beginning that if you make it easier to buy music than to steal it, most people will do the right thing. Instead they stuck with heavy-handed legal tactics, draconian Digital Rights Management and underhanded trickery such as installing malicious software on people's computers (yes Sony, I’m looking at you).

To the industry’s great surprise, treating customers like criminals didn't encourage them to buy more music from their local record store. Meanwhile the music industry was dragged kicking and screaming into the age of digital downloads -- eventually offering easy ways to buy music online as well as innovative new models such as subscription music services. The record companies deserve no credit for “leading the way”, it’s more that new-tech giants such as Apple seized the initiative and now have them over a barrel. You could say the same for most big players in pretty much every old-world content industry, former giants who failed to embrace the rise of the internet and are now being overrun by nimble new-world competitors.

Sony’s Walkman was the iPod of the 1980s and 90s, but it was first up against the wall when the revolution came. Apple’s fledgling music player only became the new Walkman because Sony’s obsession with DRM crippled its digital music players. Sony made it all too complicated, in the belief that it was too powerful to fail, but people simply flocked to more convenient alternatives. Had Sony embraced change and played its cards right, it would be in Apple’s shoes today.

Once the music industry stopped fighting the internet and actually embraced it, things started to turn around -- especially in Australia. Looking around the world, Australia is one of the few countries where digital music sales have managed to offset the drop in CD sales. In fact last year Australia experienced its first growth in overall music sales for three years -- a 4% increase on 2011 thanks to the digital music boom. We bought almost twice as many online tracks, while streaming music services more than doubled their figures.

Globally, music sales increased by 0.3% last year. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s the first time sales figures have increased since 1999 -- the year Napster was born. A decade of war on its customers got the music industry nowhere. While piracy has taken its toll, the internet is finally helping the music industry fight back.

- Music industry fears rise of NBN, by Adam Turner, SMH.com.au, March 1, 2013.

3. Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which protects individuals who are over the age of 40 from discrimination in employment. Half a century later, age discrimination in the workplace remains notoriously hard to prove.

Of the 18,376 cases filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2017, only 2.2 percent were found to have a “reasonable cause.”

Jane Gould, an employment attorney at the White Plains-based law firm Gould and Berg, said the cases are hard to win as an employee must prove to the courts that the employer would not have taken that action but for his or her age.

“The courts have interpreted the age discrimination statute, which has the phrase ‘because of age,’ to mean that age has to be the factor,” said Gould.


Throughout his career, May, the probation officer, prided himself on being an efficient worker. Despite the fact that he wore a prosthesis after having his left leg amputated decades before, he completed the FBI's two-week course at the Defensive Tactics Instructor School in 2000.

In 2009, after being out of work for a couple months with a broken ankle, the then 58-year-old May said things seemed change dramatically at work.

He was not immediately capable of resuming field work, he said, and when his desk was moved from a cubicle into a “closet” office, he felt it was an indication — one of several over the course of a year, he said — that he was being forced out.

May said he was unprepared when a deputy commissioner came over to his desk early one morning a few weeks before he turned 60, and handed him a retirement package.

“It was a catatonic shock. It caught me completely off guard,” said May, who noted that he was not overtly told he had to retire or forced to accept the package.

He poured over the documents until noon, and finally decided to sign as he feared jeopardizing his pension.

It’s been almost a decade since his retirement but May said only now has he acknowledged that he felt forced out. At the time, he said he was hurt and humiliated and it was easier to say he was retiring because he didn’t enjoy the desk job as much as field work. He never pursued legal action against his employer.

May, a former Mount Vernon and Hartsdale resident, who now lives in Hawaii — where he originally is from — said he would have liked to have continued to work at least until the age of 65. Adding a few years at the end of his service would have made a significant difference in his monthly pension payments.

“You have to sell a little bit of your soul to walk out because if you want to put up a fight, it can only get worse,” said May.

They have you over a barrel. You don’t have much of a choice. People just don’t understand, you don’t have much of a choice.”

- A ‘sell-by’ date for employees? Fixing ageism and rethinking retirement, Lohud.com, August 29, 2018.


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)


Sure fire? 必定成功


A winning hand? 一手好牌


Like a ton of bricks? 压倒性的重量


Black lies? 黑色的谎言


Tiger mom? 虎妈


Few and far between 彼此相距很远

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