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So… cock-sure? 确信

中国日报网 2022-04-08 11:26


Reader question:

Please explain “cock sure” in this sentence: I never knew an 8 year old could be so... cock sure.

My comments:

Here, the speaker is surprised at and probably shocked by how very sure the eight-year-old sounds when they speak.

And understandably so, considering the said boy (or girl but probably a boy) is only eight years old.

Cock sure, or cock-sure or cocksure (one word) means very sure and resoundingly so.

It’s tempting to say that cocksure means what it says, i.e. literally. It’s tempting to suggest that cocksure mean as sure as a cock?

Yes, the cock is a rooster, the male chicken. You see, the cock has an arrogant way of carrying itself. The way it trots about, it’s kind of Napoleon-like, if you pardon my comparison. You know, measured high steps, not unlike a soldier marching on, measured but very sure steps. And the way they look at you with their head cocking slightly to one side, that’s arrogant.

Anyways, the cock looks confident and yes, cocksure.

And why not? The cock, after all, has given us such adjectives as cocky and such idioms as cocking a snook.

But, does cocksure really mean as sure as a cock, i.e. literally?

Maybe, but I’m not so sure – not so cocksure, at any rate.

The Phrase Finder (Phrases.org.uk) is also not quite so cocksure as to its origin. It explains:

It is rather ironic that this is one of those terms the origin of which we are far from cock-sure about. One point of certainty – it is old. Robert Whittington, mentions it as early as 1520 in his grammatical tract Vulgaria:

“I haue knowen a man or nowe that thought him selfe cocke sure of his intent.”

If this term were to follow the pattern of other similes like crystal-clear, ice-cold, dirt-cheap etc., there ought to be a phrase of the form 'as sure as (a) cock'. Unfortunately there isn’t and as far as we can tell there never has been. In what ways might a cock be thought of as symbolizing certainty? Some suggestions that have been put forward are, ‘as sure as a cock will crow at daybreak’, or in reference to the reliable way that a stop tap (stop cock) halts the flow of water. These are little more than guesses – in fact we can’t be sure.

What we do know is that it doesn't refer to the word ‘cocky’ meaning ‘opinionated and sure of oneself’. That is known by 1770 but is pre-dated by many occurrences of ‘cock-sure’ in print.

World Wide Words (Worldwidewords.org), on the other hand, seems certain that “cock” in cocksure is a euphemism for God:

So where does it really come from? It seems certain that the cock in cocksure is a euphemism for God. This appeared in a variety of medieval oaths down to the time of Shakespeare, including cocks bones, cocks passion, cocks wounds and cocks bodikins. So the original meaning of cocksure was that a person enjoyed a security or quality of rightfulness equivalent to that of God.

It “seems certain”, but they’re not absolutely sure, either.

So, the only one who’s cocksure of anything is the eight-year-old mentioned in our example sentence and that is probably due to the very fact that he is eight years old.

He’ll outgrow it, that is, he’ll outgrow his cocksureness.

Of that, I’m cocksure, or almost.

And here are cocksure examples in the media:

1. The story of Peter Pan truly is timeless. The boy who never grows old and has adventures on the island of Neverland appeals to children through many generations. Originally written by Scottish novelist and playwright J.M. Barrie, the book has been transformed into shows, TV series’ and films (think Dustin Hoffman as the treacherous Captain Hook), as well as being taken on by Disney. Interacting with mermaids, Native Americans, fairies and more, it’s a book of fantasy and make-believe that has been captivating childrens’ imaginations for over 100 years. And Peter will be bringing the rest of the clan to the city, with an eclectic mix of music, dancers and stuntmen, aimed at children aged 4-15. Here are some of the characters that will light up the show.

Peter Pan

With an outfit made of autumn leaves and cobwebs and still with his first teeth, most of Peter’s actual physical appearance is left to the imagination of the reader by Barrie. Based on Barrie’s older brother, David, who died in an ice-skating accident, Peter is cock-sure and has the girls chasing him.

Peter represents the feeling of indestructibility you can have as a child. Added to that, he is a skilled swordsman, took off the hand of Captain Hook, and is an expert in mimicry. Oh, and he can fly, of course.

Captain Hook

The nemesis of Peter, Hook is a super-villain that will give the crowd a chill. His two major fears are a crocodile that follows him called Tick-Tock, which ate his hand after Peter took it off, and the sight of his own blood. Expect panto-esque skullduggery from him at the show.


Every villain needs a sidekick, and Smee is that man. The senior crew member of the deck is not really a minion Hook can rely on – instead of capturing the Lost Boys, as is Hook’s request, he’s more interested in stealing loot and finding treasure.

- Peter Pan show in Doha, TimeOutDoha.com, September 28, 2015.

2. I often hear religious people say that freethinkers are proud people, leaning on their own human understanding. The faithful claim to be humble, acknowledging our limited wisdom and thereby surrendering mind and will to the Almighty, the Supreme Being of the universe.

At first it seems they have a point, but if we look closely we’ll see that it’s actually the other way around. While theists may appear humble before their God, they are actually quite contemptuous towards people who do not share their beliefs. I could not explain it better than a commenter named Pecier Carpena Decierdo:

Reason is humble, faith is not. Reason is open to the possibility that its claims are wrong, faith is not. Faith is cock-sure and certain, scientific reason is not. Faith makes claims to super-human knowledge, scientific reason does not.

The only knowledge human brains can contain is human knowledge, that is, limited knowledge. Because all we have are human brains with limited human knowledge, we cannot claim to be certain about everything. Yet faith, that archenemy of reason, makes people believe that they can be certain about things they actually know nothing about.

I just watched a one-hour video on how the universe could have literally come out of nothing by accident, negating the necessary first cause or creator. The speaker remarked that this shows just how insignificant we really are. And it is a humbling thought indeed.

Which leads us to ponder, what then, is the purpose of our existence if we came out of nothing by pure chance? I guess my answer will be that the purpose of our existence is to find a purpose for our existence. Existence precedes essence, and if we indeed came out of nothingness because of pure luck instead of being created by a deity, then I guess that would be the greatest and most generous and most humbling miracle of all. And since we are lucky enough to exist at a point in time and space where conditions are suitable for life, it is wise to open our eyes to the world around and not waste our finite days haughtily holding on to some eternal “truth” that demands suspending our reason. Surely we have better things to do here.

- Humility: Reason vs. Faith, by Jong Atmosfera, FilipinoFreeThinkers.org, December 26, 2009.

3. As the Republican National Convention gets underway, some commentators have taken to comparing Donald Trump to Richard Nixon. Both were cocksure Republicans who played fast and loose with the facts on their way to winning public office. Both clashed with the media and oversaw historic racial tensions. And both eventually faced impeachment threats over the ways they used their power.

But there’s a better comparison to a prior president; if Trump resembles any 1970s politician, it isn’t Nixon – it’s Jimmy Carter.

While both Nixon and Trump were ruthless politicians, there are actually more differences between them than similarities. Nixon was a self-made man and a Navy veteran who honed his political chops by famously winning – and losing – elections in the 1950s and ’60s en route to becoming a skillful political operator. Trump, by contrast, didn’t serve in the military and built on family success to become a television personality who only later wandered into politics. What Nixon and Trump share in demeanor, they lack in nearly every other aspect of their lives.

At first glance, it may seem even stranger to compare the Manhattan real estate developer to a mild-mannered Georgia peanut farmer instead, and a president with serial marriages and allegations of sexual improprieties with a monogamous, Sunday school-teaching Southern Baptist.

But politically, Trump and Carter have more in common than one might think, and the comparison goes well beyond Trump’s recent attempt to broker peace between Israel and the United Arab Emirates as Carter did with Israel and Egypt. Indeed, if recent polls hold, their ultimate political fates will be more alike than different, forever united in history as one-term presidents who were largely unable to rise to the challenges of their day.

When Jimmy Carter won the presidency in 1976, his victory was hailed as a triumph of the outsider. No governor had been elected president since Franklin D. Roosevelt, and with the exception of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the White House had generally been occupied by senators and former vice presidents who might best be described as “Washington insiders.”

No wonder, in a nation reeling from Watergate and Nixon’s subsequent pardon, voters looked for leadership without the stench of the swamp. Carter’s close-fought victory in the Electoral College reflected his ability to attract Southern Democrats, who now leaned Republican in presidential elections, to his side and produced an electoral map that hadn’t been seen since 1960 – and hasn’t been seen since his victory. (Clinton, the next Democratic president after Carter, managed to win a few states in the Deep South, but the shift to Carter in 1976 was largely temporary.) The region voted for Reagan and Bush—and more recently against Obama – as it became reliably Republican at the presidential level. And in the lead-up to Donald Trump in 2016, the electoral map remained largely consistent.

In short, Carter was the right person at the right time to draw enough of those voters back into the Democratic tent to win election.

Flash back to 2016, and we see Trump also realigning the American electoral map, making inroads into working-class Midwestern states like Michigan and Wisconsin that hadn’t voted for a Republican in a presidential election since the 1980s. As with Carter, Americans elected Donald Trump as an “anti-establishment outsider” who promised to “drain the swamp” and change the way conventional Washington does business – messaging that his campaign is still using as an incumbent in 2020. Trump’s 304-227 victory in the Electoral College was similarly narrow to Carter’s 297-240, and whether he will be able to replicate this map in 2020 remains to be seen.

As we’re seeing in real time, Trump’s presidency will be singularly characterized by his ability (or inability) to rise to the challenges that now threaten his time in office – in much the same way that Carter’s electoral success ultimately depended on his handling of the Iran hostage crisis and the economic difficulties of his day.

Like Carter, Trump is running for reelection with an economy in recession. One of the most critical difficulties faced by Carter in the 1980 campaign was Reagan’s question, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” Rather few can answer “yes” to that today – and the same was true for Carter.

- Donald Trump Isn’t Richard Nixon. He’s Jimmy Carter., Politico.com, August 24, 2020.


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)


Wider society? 全社会


Just saying? 说说而已


Deal breaker? 不能通融的条件


Pick them apart? 拆分


War of words? 口水战


Blood money? 沾满血腥的钱