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Who took the cake?

[ 2011-09-27 15:24]     字号 [] [] []  
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Who took the cake?

Reader question:

What does this headline - Who took the cake in BCC competition – mean?

My comments:

The winner took it.

He who won the competition took the cake. And the “cake” might be a metaphor, i.e. there may be no real cake to be awarded in this particular event.

Whoever “took the cake” won the BBC competition. That’s all. But let me explain.

“Take the cake” is an American idiom whose origin goes way back to plantation-era American South. “Cake” refers to “cakewalk”, a form of dance performed by slaves when work was slack and when they had the mood to entertain themselves and their white owners. It was called “walk” instead of “dance” because, presumably, “walk” sounds awkward and hence inferior to “dance”, which is elegant and was monopolized by the white folks. Indeed, “cakewalk” was originally a direct copy of dancing in the ballroom – slaves saw their white master couples swoon and tried to imitate their moves. At first, these imitations might have looked a bit awkward, but eventually black beauty shone through and even their white owners began to enjoy their “walk”.

And that’s when “cake” came into play. After a dancing party, the slave owner is said to have often awarded a piece of cake to the couple who had the best walk. The winning couple hence, literally, “took the cake”.

Overtime, “take the cake” became synonymous with being the best of the bunch. However, this expression is often used sarcastically today to express that one is surprised, incredulous and amazed at some poor performance or situation. To say something “really take the cake” means that the situation cannot get any worse.

Or as the Irish would say: It has gone beyond the beyonds.

A Mankato (Minnesota) senator, for example, mistook the cake prepared for another senator, a political rival, as her own and ate it. The local Free Press (May 25, 2008) reported this “grave” mistake in detail:

Mankato Sen. Kathy Sheran found out on the final day of the legislative session that you can, in fact, have another senator’s cake and eat it, too.

Sheran has been telling the story as an example of how deep the bipartisan spirit of cooperation was running in the final weekend of the session. Last Sunday was her 61st birthday, and it was made a happy one by the success of Democratic legislative leaders and Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty in reaching a budget agreement the night before.

Sheran celebrated in part by asking her legislative assistant to order birthday cake to share with her Senate colleagues.

When Sheran noticed the arrival of two large and beautiful cakes, she invited senators and staff to have a slice and enjoyed some herself. Later in the day, smaller and frumpier birthday cakes arrived with Sheran’s name on them.

The first-term Democrat was mortified to realize she’d eaten, given away and taken credit for another senator’s cakes. To make matters worse, the other senator was a Republican.

The point is, the story is carried under the headline: Sheran’s mistake truly took the cake!

In other words, you can’t make a sillier mistake than this.

Alright, more media examples:

1. It was great weather, great food and great fun.

On Saturday, Casey cooks of all ages attended the fifth annual Community Kitchen Rules in Hampton Park, hosted by the Hampton Park Networking Group in partnership with the Hampton Park Community House.

Youngsters and their parents attended the event to taste an array of food and drinks, see cooking demonstrations, enjoy multicultural food stalls, music and a jumping castle.

The event also featured a free Kidz Design a Cookie workshops, traditional Devonshire tea, market stands and cooking competitions.

President of the Hampton Park Networking Group Vanassa Gerdes said Community Kitchen Rules began five years because there were no other cooking events in the area.

She said cooking shows such as MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules helped to increase the popularity of cooking, especially with young people, who took the cake in most of the competitions.

“The kids took out most of the prizes in the competitions, which was really good to see,” she said.

- My kitchen rules, StarNewsGroup.com.au, May 5, 2011.

2. So FOX News claims to own the slogan, “Fair and Balanced”! Now, that’s even more amazing than if Charles Manson had made “Sugar ‘N Spice” his trademark. False and misleading advertising is clearly forbidden under federal law and in most states in this country. One has to wonder why there is no similar regulation guarding the people of America against the deceptive dissemination of misinformation disguised as “news!”

FOX News really takes the cake. Describing FOX News as “Fair and Balanced” may possibly be the greatest misrepresentation of a “product” since the cure-all tonics of the past. Like Fox News, the phony elixirs of the old west were sold by con men trying to make a fast buck! Anyone tuning in to FOX News, at any time of day, hears a slick and polished sales pitch for something that looks like news, sounds like news, and is even called “news.’ People rely on networks such as FOX news for information which they need in order to make informed decision that can drastically affect their lives. When they tune in they believe they’re getting news. What they’re really getting is a large dose of snake oil that is totally useless and very, very dangerous.

- UNFAIR and UNBALANCED! TvNewsLies.org, September 1, 2003.

3. Perry has participated in three presidential debates now, and his performances have been shaky in all of them. But last night took the cake. On a question about Pakistan, he offered incoherent gibberish that made it clear he was entirely unprepared to discuss the subject. When he was handed a ridiculously easy opening to remind the audience of Romney’s past crimes against conservatism, he utterly flubbed it, seeming to lose his concentration and spitting out this response:

I think Americans just don’t know sometimes which Mitt Romney they’re dealing with. Is it the Mitt Romney that was on the side of ... against ... the Second Amendment before he was for the Second Amendment ... was it was ... before he was before these social programs, uh, from the standpoint he was standing, uh, for Roe vs. Wade before he was against Roe, uh, Roe vs. Wade ... uh ... he was ... uh for Race To The Top ... uh ... [pause] ... he’s for Obamacare and now he’s against it ... I mean, we’ll wait until tomorrow and, and, and wait to see which Mitt Romney we’re really talking to ...

And, as has been his custom, he seemed far less focused and energetic as the night wore on.

- Rick Perry is officially blowing it, Salon.com, September 23, 2011.

4. The daily developments in the News of the World scandal reads like one of the sordid dramas that the paper itself carried for so many years, giving it the top spot in UK sales ratings for Sunday papers.

The news yesterday took the cake, though: The paper, owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, is to close after 168 years in circulation, and former editor Andy Coulson is expected to be arrested today for his part in a phone-hacking, police-bribing scandal.

There are further wrinkles: James Murdoch, who announced the historic closure on behalf of his father’s media empire, News Corps, says he stands by Rebekah Brooks, Coulson’s predecessor, who is alleged by staffers to have known about improper behaviour by private investigators working for the paper. Subeditors at another News Corps tabloid, The Sun, are said to have staged a walk-out in solidarity with their journalist colleagues, who, reportedly felt that the whole staff were being unfairly punished for the transgressions of a few.

Unfortunately, more times than not, that’s always the case. When journalists are accused of falsifying stories or sources (think: Jayson Blair formerly of The New York Times and Patricia Smith formerly of The Boston Globe), the entire newspaper – and its staff – suffer. What also suffers is the fight for press freedom. All too often, governments and others who strive to suppress the media point to shoddy journalism and the need to protect the public as reason to limit media rights.

Recently, London-based newspaper The Guardian has led the way in exposing one alleged case of unethical and illegal behaviour after another at News of the World. Not only are the latter’s journalists and investigators accused of hacking the phones of celebrities and politicians, but also the phone of a 13 year-old murder victim, the phones of soldiers, and the phones of family members who lost relatives in the 7/7 London bombings of 2005.

It remains to be seen by courts of law which of the paper’s recently exposed activities were criminal, although former royal editor Clive Goodman and private detective Glenn Mulcaire already served months in prison after their 2007 convictions relating to the scandal.

What is not in question is that this was all deeply unethical and a disgrace to journalism. It cannot be stressed enough that as press freedom advocates, it makes it tougher for us to do our job defending the whole media when a handful stoop to these depths. The question is: should all journalists – including the News of the World staff - be punished because of a few bad apples? We, of course, would argue no.

- News of the World: What Suffers is the Fight for Press Freedom, FreeMedia.at, July 08, 2011.



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.


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(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑陈丹妮)