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In so many words? 直截了当地说

中国日报网 2024-07-05 13:45


Reader question:

Please explain “in so many words” in this question: “Basically, he said, in so many words, that he cannot do this because his hands are tied.”

My comments:

He said he cannot do it because his hands are tied (he’s not free to do it even if he wants to), and he said so directly.

He used those exact same words, like, “I cannot do this because my hands are tied).

That’s what “in so many words” literally means – directly, clearly, precisely and in no uncertain terms.

More often, actually, we see the negative form of this idiom, “not in so many words”. Sometimes people make a point but are vague about it. They beat about the bush. They indicate. They imply. They let you get a vague idea of what they want but will not say so explicitly – not in so many (exact) words.

For example, in America, a lot of people support Donald Trump in secret. They support Trump’s policies but will not say so explicitly, not in so many words. Never.

Being associated with the name of Trump makes them feel ashamed, somehow.

Anyways, that’s the impression I get.

Now, let’s read a few media examples of people saying something “in so many words” or “not in so many words”:

1. Many people thought Laura Bates was out of her mind when she offered to teach Shakespeare in the maximum security wing of an Indiana prison. But the prisoners found a deep connection with the playwright’s words. Laura Bates talks about her experience in her new book Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard. She speaks with host Michel Martin.


MARTIN: I think we should answer the question that most people are going to have, which is, what gave you the idea to teach Shakespeare, not just to people who are in prison, but people who are considered the worst of the worst, the people who are in the most restrictive circumstances?

BATES: Exactly. And that is the phrase that is often used, the worst of the worst. Here in the state of Indiana, we have a few super max units and they do house what are considered to be the most violent offenders throughout the state of Indiana, and I didn’t even know there was such a unit. It was a shock and a learning experience to me when I discovered this unit even existed.

And briefly, what happened was I was teaching freshman English classes at the facility, Wabash Valley, for prisoners in the general population. I was a part-time professor at the time at Indiana State University. In those days, we had a college degree granting program for prisoners, and one of my students got in trouble and he was taken out of class and I started to ask around. You know, where’s Don? What happened to him? Where’d he go? And my prisoner-students told me about this unit, this highly restricted unit, super max, and that’s where my student, Don, had been sent.

So I was told at the time, well, there’s no education in this unit. No teacher has ever gone into this unit. So, of course, that made me want to get into that unit. I asked for permission from the administration and the warden at the time knew me and knew me to be, you know, a good college professor for many years. He literally opened that door for me and ended up inviting me to begin a voluntary program based on Shakespeare, which is my specialty, for these inmates that not only are the worst of the worst, at least in the eyes of the public, but more importantly, in my own eyes, they were the ones that needed education the most. They had the greatest need for education and for really any kind of programming and, ironically, they had the least available to them.

So these are the prisoners who, over and over and over, have been told that they are not capable, that they are certainly not intelligent, that they are not able to take on these kinds of, you know, intellectual challenges and so here comes somebody from the street knocking on their cell door and saying, hi, would you like to read some Shakespeare?

So, initially, that gets their attention.

MARTIN: ...asking if anybody wanted to read. And there – a couple of people literally slammed the door in your face, but a few people did give it a shot and you started with Macbeth. What do you think it was about this play? And from almost instantly, the people who did agree to study the work immediately got it and had some really powerful insights and you were saying, gosh, some of their insights were beyond those of students who you’d been teaching for years. What is it about that play you think just grabbed people right off the bat?

BATES: And I have to say some of their insights were beyond those of world-renowned professors I’ve studied with – from whom I’ve learned a great deal. But these prisoners were able to make sense of some passages that professional Shakespeare scholars have struggled with for 400 years.

Well, the play “Macbeth,” I chose it partly because it does have a subject matter that these prisoners I felt would relate to. It is a story of a good man, Macbeth is a good man, a good honorable general at the beginning of the story, but he is tempted by a number of outside influences. We might call them peer pressure. There are these weird women he encounters, the witches, that kind of fill his head with some ideas. And then that’s reinforced by the nagging wife, all of this kind of urging him on to kill the king in order to become king himself. But throughout the play, what’s wonderful about this play is that there are so many moments where Macbeth himself recognizes this is wrong, I might be tempted, I might have ambitions, but to kill a good man is not the right way to go. And so what happened was the prisoners on the one hand got caught up in the story. It is an action-packed drama. But ultimately they found themselves relating not only to the characters actions but to that inner struggle, and as they analyzed Macbeth’s motives, why he’s giving in to do something that he knows that he doesn’t want to do, it made them question their own motive. And one of the prisoners said in so many words, the more insight you get into Shakespeare’s characters, the more insight you get into your own character.

- Teaching Shakespeare In A Maximum Security Prison, NPR.com, April 22, 2013.

2. The use of the terms “illegal immigrant” and “illegal alien” to describe non-citizens who are present in the United States without documentation has become controversial in recent years, in part because of their pejorative connotations, and in part because they blur critical distinctions in immigration law.

As the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has pointed out, simply being present in the U.S. in violation of federal immigration statutes is not, in and of itself, a crime.

It is also, apparently, the point argued in a statement widely attributed on social media to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California).

“Just because someone is here illegally doesn’t mean they broke any of our laws,” Pelosi supposedly said (at an unspecified time and place). Despite the implication in memes such as the one seen above that the statement is forehead-slappingly ridiculous, it is logically coherent in terms of the aforementioned legal distinction. “Just because X doesn’t mean Y” is the same as saying “Y doesn’t necessarily follow from X” – i.e., someone who is here illegally hasn’t necessarily broken the law.


Judging from Pelosi’s statements on her House.gov web page, we don’t see that her overall stance on immigration has changed significantly in the ensuing years. While calling for “strong, smart border security,” she has also supported the Dream Act and the DACA program, and she has harshly condemned the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration enforcement policy that resulted in the separation of children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Even after sifting through her many pronouncements on immigration, however, we have not been able to verify that Pelosi ever said, in so many words, “Just because someone is here illegally doesn't mean they broke any of our laws.” We couldn’t find the statement in any published sources (including books and periodicals), nor did we find sources cited in any of the social media posts attributing the quote to her.

- Did Nancy Pelosi Say ‘Just Because Someone Is Here Illegally Doesn’t Mean They Broke Any of Our Laws’? Snopes.com, January 22, 2019.

3. When former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination last week at a town hall event in Windham, N.H., Norm Olsen was there. And Olsen knew immediately who would get his vote.

“It was very clear: If it wasn’t him, it was going to be Nikki,” he said. “So I didn’t get to ponder it very long.”

That’s exactly what former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley is hoping for. She’s counting on a big day in next week’s New Hampshire primary. But if she’s going to catch up to former President Donald Trump, she’ll need the support of voters who previously backed Chris Christie.

Voters like Olsen, who hosted a meet-and-greet with about 30 people for Christie at his home in Portsmouth shortly before Christmas. The Republican appreciated that Christie was the only candidate in the GOP primary race willing to say what he felt needed to be said about Trump.

Christie leaving the race is widely seen as a boon for Haley, who benefits from New Hampshire allowing undeclared voters to vote in the Republican primary. Olsen says his Christie-backing friends have largely shifted to Haley.

“Well, out of ten people that I know, eight of them were about as quick as I was to go to Nikki,” he said. “And two of them haven't made up their mind yet. That’s just the folks I know.”

Olsen quipped that he knows his isn’t a scientific study, but a more scientific University of New Hampshire poll, taken before Christie dropped out, found that 65% of Christie voters had Haley as their second choice.


But not everyone is ready to commit to Haley. Former Christie-backer Corinne Pryor has some doubts. Pryor is an undeclared voter and wants to see if Haley can stand up to Trump’s Republican Party like Christie did.

Nikki Haley sometimes said it, but not in so many words,” she said. “It did feel like it was a little softer landing. He was – Chris Christie – was much more verbal and forthright.”

- Chris Christie dropped out. Where will his voters turn in the New Hampshire primary? OPB.org, January 21, 2024.


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)


Major dust-up? 大吵大闹


The company you keep? 你交往的人


Draw first blood? 先下手为强


Sold down the river? 出卖

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