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Have a leg up?

[ 2010-08-13 17:11]     字号 [] [] []  
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Have a leg up?

Reader question:

In this sentence – These schools have a leg up to start with every year on recruiting – what does “leg up” mean?

My comments:

To have a leg up is to have an advantage.

Supposing this was a debate on best universities and supposing “these schools” referred to Oxford, Harvard or, for that matter, Beida, an argument could be made that these schools are great not because they produce best graduates but because they enroll the best and brightest students to begin with.

This is a simplistic view, of course, but the fact remains that these schools routinely get the best students. Hence the above statement: “These schools have a leg up to start with every year on recruiting.”

“Leg up” originally means a helping hand and this phrase could well have been inspired by watching people helping another to mount a horse. The horse rider is often seen taking a step on a stool before climbing onto the horse’s back. When a stool is not available, however, the rider is sometimes seen to step on the locked hands of an assistant, or two – using their locked hands as a stool – to climb up.

In doing that, he’s got an assistance which enables him to get a “leg up” – and obviously on can not mount a horse without getting a “leg up” first. Hence the expression “leg up”, meaning help or assistance.

In other words, an upper hand.

Upper hand, incidentally, could’ve come from observing the game of hand wrestling. When one player gains the “upper hand” – when his hand begins to lean over and above the opponent’s hand – he usually wins in an instant. “Gaining an upper hand”, therefore, means taking control of a situation.

Anyways, figuratively speaking, to get a leg up is to gain an advantage.

Here are media examples:

1. Former Vice President Al Gore, seeking to shake up an energy debate that is focused mostly on drilling, challenged the United States to shift its entire electricity sector to carbon-free wind, solar and geothermal power within 10 years, and use that power to fuel a new fleet of electric vehicles.

The goal is the most ambitious energy plan by a major U.S. political figure - and one many energy experts say is unrealistic. Gore insists the only real obstacle is the reluctance of America’s leaders to seek bold solutions to high energy prices and global warming. He likened his challenge to President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 call to put a man on the moon.


A centerpiece of Gore'’ plan would be to help beleaguered U.S. automakers produce a new national fleet of plug-in electric vehicles. Foreign competitors, especially Toyota, have taken a lead in selling fuel-efficient hybrids. Gore said U.S. automakers could regain their edge with new electric cars that can be plugged in at night - saving consumers money while reducing air pollution and U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

Gore isn't the only one touting a new energy plan focused on renewables. T. Boone Pickens, a Texas oilman who has recently invested heavily in wind, is pushing a plan to use wind power for about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity needs, and then use the natural gas that would have gone to power plants for new fuels for cars and trucks.

Gore has previously supported cap-and-trade schemes, which could raise revenue to subsidize renewable projects. But he said Thursday he also likes the idea of cutting the payroll tax and creating a new tax on carbon emissions, which would give a leg up to low-carbon sources.

- Al Gore lays down green challenge to America, San Francisco Chronicle, July 18, 2008.

2. Isiah Thomas will not be returning to the New York Knicks after all.

Thomas said Wednesday in a statement he was declining a position as a consultant with the franchise he ran for 4 1/2 years because it may not be legal.

“After speaking with Commissioner Stern and Knicks executives, it has become apparent that my new agreement violates certain NBA bylaws,” Thomas said. “Because of this, I have decided to rescind my contract with the team.”

Thus ends—at least for now—the surprising and controversial reunion between the Knicks and the frequent target of fans and media during his turbulent tenure at Madison Square Garden.

The Knicks announced the agreement with Thomas on Friday and it was quickly criticized. League personnel are not allowed contact with players who are not yet eligible for the draft, which Thomas would have in his role as Florida International University coach.

“We have been informed by the Knicks that Isiah Thomas has rescinded his consulting agreement with the team. As a result, it is not necessary for the league to take any formal action on the proposed arrangement,” Stern said. “However, we have reminded the Knicks of NBA rules that prohibit team personnel, including consultants, from having contact with players not eligible for the draft.”


The decision should calm members of the basketball community who questioned the partnership. Among them was Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who said he would decline an offer to be a paid consultant of an NBA team.

“I don’t think you can be in both worlds, in an official basis. I think that makes people in both worlds somewhat angry about it, or concerned,” Krzyzewski said. “You’re getting a leg up, and in college we definitely shouldn’t do that.”

- Thomas won’t return to Knicks as consultant, AP, August 11, 2010.



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 中国日报网英语点津编辑)