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Cut and dried? 已成定局

中国日报网 2018-11-27 11:23


Reader question:

Please explain “cut and dried” in this sentence: They must look for something new, as there are no cut and dried answers to follow here.

My comments:

In other words, no stock answers here. They must come up with something new, because there are no proven formulae to follow.

“Cut and dried” means something is ready made and ready to use because it’s been prepared beforehand. Originally “cut and dried” is derived from the farmer’s practice of cutting up crops or herbs from the field and drying them before they are put on sale. If not dried properly, damp crops, such as wheat, corn or beans, or, for that matter, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme may get moldy and go bad, easily.

And, of course, that won’t do.

So, most grain produce, herbs or spices are literally cut and dried before shipment.

Anyways and hence, by extension, if something is cut and dried, figuratively speaking it implies that it’s been prepared beforehand. A cut and dried speech, for example is one that’s prearranged and therefore dull, lacking freshness.

Or if a situation is cut and dried, it’s settled long before. If a criminal case is cut and dried, it means everyone knows the verdict, whether the said criminal is declared innocent or proven guilty. Everybody is clear about the matter. No ambiguity whatsoever.

All right, all we need to do now is read a few media examples, all recent:

1. There are few things as unnerving as being called upon to speak at a public function without warning. Speakers who rise to such an occasion and deliver what appears to be a brilliant off-the-cuff speech are more often than not drawing on a speech that they have given before—perhaps many times—or on material that they have memorized in advance. Oscar Wilde knew that trick, as did Winston Churchill. In fact, one of Churchill’s friends once quipped that the great British statesman had “spent the best years of his life preparing his impromptu remarks.”

In 1887, Mark Twain added an American perspective when he treated a staid Boston audience to a tongue-in-cheek commercial for what he called his “patent adjustable speech.”

“At a public dinner,” he explained, “when a man knows he is going to be called upon to speak, and is thoroughly well prepared—got it all by heart, and the pauses all marked in his head where the applause is going to come in—a public dinner is just heaven to that man.”

But what about the poor sap who is suddenly called upon to speak and isn’t prepared? To him the occasion is not heaven. Rather, it puts him “as nearly in the other place as he ever wants to be.”

“That man,” said Twain, “is to be pitied; and the very worst of it is that the minute he gets on his feet he is pitied ... He could stand the pity of ten people or a dozen, but there is no misery in the world that is comparable to the massed and solidified compassion of five hundred.”

So what does the hapless speaker do?

“He stands there in his misery, and stammers out the usual rubbish about not being prepared, and not expecting, and all that kind of folly, and he is wandering and stumbling and getting further and further in, and all the time unhappy, and at last he fetches out a poor, miserable, crippled joke, and in his grief and confusion he laughs at it himself and the others look sick; and then he slumps into a chair and wishes he was dead.”

The solution, according to Twain, is for every person who might be called upon to speak at the last moment to go forearmed with a cut-and-dried, patent adjustable speech—a canned speech that can be made to suit any occasion simply by changing a few words.

Suppose, Twain teasingly told his audience, a man is called upon to speak, without warning, to an audience of farmers. Ordinarily, he might feel panic-stricken. But fear not; he has memorized Twain’s patent adjustable speech.

He rises confidently to his feet and declares: “Agriculture, sir, is, after all, the palladium of our economic liberties. By it—approximately speaking—we may be said to live and move and have our being. All that we have been, all that we are, all that we hope to be, was, is, and must continue to be, profoundly influenced by that sublimest of the mighty interests of man, thrice glorious agriculture!”

But what if the occasion is a wedding? Again, fear not. Behold how, with just a few minor word changes, the patent adjustable speech will serve the speaker equally well: “Matrimony, sir, is, after all, the palladium of our domestic liberties. By it—approximately speaking— we may be said to live and move and have our being. All that we have been, all that we are, all that we hope to be, was, is, and must continue to be, profoundly influenced by that sublimest of the mighty interests of man, thrice glorious matrimony!”

And so Twain goes on, puckishly explaining how his patent adjustable speech can serve an impromptu speaker on any occasion, until finally he comes to a funeral. And, sure enough, the speech is elastic enough to cover even the last rites: “Death, sir, is, after all, the palladium of our spiritual liberties. By it—approximately speaking—we may be said to live and move and have our ending. All that we have been, all that we may be here, all that we hope to be, was, is, and must continue to be, profoundly influenced by that sublimest of the mighty interests of man, thrice sorrowful dissolution.”

And with that, America’s favorite funny man sat down. Maybe no one in the audience ever tried to make use of his patent adjustable speech, but at least they knew the secret for giving a great speech on short notice.

- Mark Twain’s Patent Adjustable Speech, VSOTD.com, April 26, 2018.

2. When President Donald Trump told Axios this week that he plans to sign an executive order to end the right to citizenship for children born to noncitizens living in the United States, he stirred up long-standing arguments in both the political and legal spheres.

He also injected a new campaign issue into one of Texas’ tightest races, the contest between U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke for U.S. Senate.

As has become familiar on immigration issues, the two are diametrically opposed: Cruz has long called for ending birthright citizenship, while O’Rourke championed the policy as an expression of “our core national values.”

Cruz said birthright citizenship, which is rooted in the 14th Amendment, encourages “birth tourism” in which women come to the United States during the final weeks of their pregnancy in order to secure citizenship for their offspring.

“Virtually every country on Earth doesn’t allow children of those there illegally to become citizens automatically,” Cruz said Tuesday at a campaign stop in Uvalde. “That isn’t a policy that makes any sense.”

Birthright citizenship is a thorny political issue. But from a legal perspective, experts say, it’s mostly cut and dried. The widely held legal consensus is that birthright citizenship is a right enshrined in the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the law. An 1898 U.S. Supreme Court case ruled that a child born in San Francisco to Chinese parents was a citizen. If birthright citizenship were ended through an executive order, then, a legal challenge would be all but guaranteed.

As recently as 2011, Cruz — a former Texas solicitor general who has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court nine times — seemed solidly on board with that consensus.

“The 14th Amendment provides for birthright citizenship. I’ve looked at the legal arguments against it, and I will tell you, as a Supreme Court litigator, those arguments are not very good,” Cruz said in an interview during his first bid for U.S. Senate. “As much as someone may dislike the policy of birthright citizenship, it’s in the U.S. Constitution.”

But on Tuesday, Cruz dodged the legal question, telling a Dallas Morning News reporter, “I would need to examine the legal arguments behind an executive order, and I haven’t seen those yet.”

- Donald Trump wants to end birthright citizenship, TexasTribune.org, October 30, 2018.

3. A line of burned-out cars on the side of a road. The charred remains of an old pickup truck, brightened by a pristine American flag draped over the cab. Desperate residents fleeing, cars packed with people and family heirlooms, anything that could be frantically scooped up.

One after another, the images could be from any number of conflict zones. But this is California.

As the state once again battles devastating wildfires north and south, at every point in the panorama of disaster underway there is a semblance of war — the scenes, the scents, the sounds, the emotions, and even the language of firefighting, of “aerial assaults” and “boots on the ground.”

War, of course, with its human causes and combatants, is not the same as a natural disaster, even though they can sometimes feel the same for those caught in the middle.

“There’s visual similarities in the disorder and chaos and smoke and fire and all that,” said Robert Spangle, who lives in Malibu and served in the Marine Corps, with two deployments to Afghanistan.

Spangle is now a photographer, and has worked in Iraq, too. Over the last several days, he has put down his camera and picked up his radio, working to spot flames in the area of the Woolsey Fire and then help others to put them out before they spread.

The emotions that can make war so addictive — not just the adrenaline and excitement of living close to danger, but the humanity that comes forth — are bound up in these disasters in California, emotions that Spangle described as a “feeling of brotherhood and shared kinship.”

That feeling was palpable in Baghdad or Mosul or Kobani, Syria, where I have reported from. And it’s been palpable in Malibu — in normal times, a place of wealth and celebrity and sunshine, but amid a calamity, not much different in some ways from any other suffering corner of the globe.

“There’s that sort of communal bond that really comes out in adverse conditions,” Spangle said.

In Iraq, he said, he saw neighbors carrying the injured down the street, and in Malibu, he has seen similar moments of people helping one another. “The neighborhoods here in Malibu are really tight-knit,” said Spangle, whose mother lost her house in the fire.


Travis Wilkerson was a Marine who fought in Iraq in 2007 during the troop surge in Fallujah, and also in Afghanistan. For the last five years, he has worked for the Forest Service and currently serves on a helicopter crew battling fires in remote forests distant from cities and towns.

“When you walk through an area that has been nuked out, you can’t help but go back” to the memories of war, he said. The briefings he sits through before going out to fight a fire are peppered with military expressions: aerial assaults, nighttime assaults, “a coordinated assault with multiple units.” When he sees airplanes circling overhead, as they did near the slopes of Malibu Canyon on Saturday, dropping retardant to slow the fires, he thinks of war.

The first big fire he fought was the French Fire in 2014, which burned about 14,000 acres of the Sierra National Forest. After digging a trench near a river to create a firebreak, he looked out at the blaze. “It was a really good sobering moment, that it was a real uncontrollable beast,” he said.

In war, he said, “there’s a tangible enemy: You shoot them, they shoot you back. It’s more cut and dried than fire. You can’t control fire.”

- In war, as with California wildfires, heroism lives next to horror, SeattleTimes.com, November 13, 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)


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