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Cold comfort

[ 2011-11-04 10:47]     字号 [] [] []  
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Cold comfort

Reader question:

Please explain “cold comfort”, as in this sentence: She said time will heal but that was cold comfort to me.

My comments:

Reading between the lines, we see that something happened. In fact something terrible happened. In order to help her friend and make her feel better, she said to her “Time will heal”. But that was not adequate. Her friend will keep feeling bad.

For the time being at any rate.

Because, you see, time will heal all wounds. But you do have to give it time. All in good time, I hope.

Anyways, the thing to focus on for the moment is “cold front” and that means slight comfort or small encouragement that is of little help.

Cold comfort literally reads like a self contradiction because we seldom associate something cold with something comfortable.

Cold bed, for instance. Ugh.

Or cold dinner?

Cold bath (and it’s winter, too).

Cold shoulders.

Cold heart.

Or cold war.

I’m kidding. A cold war is better than a “hot” war any time but you get the point – something cold is usually considered not as heart-warming as something warm, such as the warm breezes of spring.

And that’s exactly how “cold comfort” feels – comforting to a degree but far from enough.

Here, get better acquainted with “cold comfort” (a phrase that Phrase.org says came into existence as early as in the 15th century) through media examples, of which there are, helpfully, plenty:

1. The UK Government has hinted that Gulf War veterans might get compensation for any illnesses they may have suffered - depending on the results of new research due to be carried out over the next year.

The Armed Forces minister, Doug Henderson, told the BBC: “There are a number of other studies which are due to be published in the next 12 months and I have to make an assessment following those studies but I can say I am not unsympathetic.”

He added: “Once we’ve seen the other studies, if there is then a consensus on what the disease or illness is and how it can be treated then we've got to put the resources in to do that. If that means then that there is a case for compensation then it will be up to the lawyers to sort that out.”

He added that the government would look at funding more research. “If there are any other scientists who have any other approaches they want to adopt, if they approach us with a programme for research then we would be happy to look at funding, providing of course that the Medical Research Council believe it's a sensible way forward.”

But these words were cold comfort to veteran Andrew Horner who doubted the minister’s commitment to the welfare of sick veterans.

Mr Horner said that the longer veterans had to wait for any compensation, the less of them there would be alive to benefit from it. “The current death figure is in excess of 400 already,” he said.

- Gulf War compensation ‘possible’, BBC.co.uk, January 15, 1999.

2. Windom’s family reported her missing in early August 2009 and her body was discovered by police on Aug. 3, 2009, but she was not identified until July 2010. Authorities recovered Pierce’s DNA from Windom’s body and found she had exchanged approximately 20 phone calls with Pierce the night before her body was discovered, according to court records show. Her cause of death was strangulation.

Cell phone records also show a number of the final calls from Windom’s phone bounced off a cell tower a block away from Pierce’s apartment, authorities said. In an interview with police, Pierce denied assaulting Windom or talking to her on the phone, according to court records. Records show they were both on a phone chat line at the same time before they started exchanging cell phone calls.

Windom’s mother, Hallena Johnson, wept as she saw the face of her daughter’s alleged killer for the first time on a TV news broadcast.

The charges were cold comfort, she said, tears running down her cheeks. Windom was getting her GED and wanted to follow her sister into a career in nursing.

“I want him to get the death penalty,” she said. “He doesn’t deserve to be walking around anywhere. He doesn’t belong anywhere but in hell.”

Coleman’s body was found Aug. 27, 2009 in an alley on the 12000 block of South California in Blue Island with evidence she had been strangled.

- Prosecutors: Man accused of killing 3 teens may be responsible for other slayings, ChicagoBreakingNews.com, April 20, 2011.

3. With so many significant events to look back on, one thing that few people will remember 2001 for is its entry in the UK’s Material Flow Accounts, a set of dry and largely ignored data published annually by the Office for National Statistics.

But, according to environment writer Chris Goodall, those stats tell an important story. “What the figures suggest,” Goodall says enthusiastically, “is that 2001 may turn out to be the year that the UK’s consumption of ‘stuff’ – the total weight of everything we use, from food and fuel to flat-pack furniture – reached its peak and began to decline.”

Quietly spoken but fiercely intelligent, Goodall is a consultant and author who, over the last decade or so, has established himself as a leading analyst on energy and climate issues. Probably the only Green Party parliamentary candidate who also used to work at McKinsey, his speciality is trawling through environment statistics that would send traditional eco-warriors to sleep.

“One thing that’s remarkable is the sheer speed with which our resource use has crashed since the recession,” Goodall continues. “In the space of a couple of years, we've dropped back to the second lowest level since we started keeping track in 1970. And although the figures aren’t yet available for 2010 and 2011, it seems highly likely that we are now using fewer materials than at any time on record.”

Goodall discovered the Material Flow Accounts while writing a research paper examining the UK's consumption of resources. The pattern he stumbled upon caught him by surprise: time and time again, Brits seemed to be consuming fewer resources and producing less waste. What really surprised him was that consumption appears to have started dropping in the first years of the new millennium, when the economy was still rapidly growing.


If correct, this means we’ve achieved something that many green commentators believed was impossible. In his influential 2009 book, Prosperity Without Growth, academic Tim Jackson argued that while economies could become more efficient in their use of resources, genuine decoupling – resource use falling while GDP rises – remained a “myth”. This view, and the argument that we therefore should aim for zero-growth economics, has become widely accepted in environment circles.

Goodall believes that the data from the Office of National Statistics, combined with his own research, challenges this assumption. “In 2007, just before the crash,” Goodall says, “our total use of materials was almost the same as it was in 1989, despite the economy having tripled in size in the intervening years. And the peak in resource use appears to have been in 2001 – many years before the recession halted economic growth.”

Jackson welcomed Goodall’s research, describing it as “long overdue” and “exactly the kind of analysis that is sadly lacking at policy level and desperately needed as the basis for a green economy”. But he also warned against drawing simple conclusions, pointing out that – thanks to Britain's investments in the global commodity markets – our economy was continuing to increase resource use even if we had started consuming fewer of those resources ourselves. “For those hoping desperately for stuff-free growth,” Jackson added, “there is only cold comfort in these statistics.”

- Why is our consumption falling? Guardian.co.uk, October 31, 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.


True to form?

Dropped the baton?

Lion's share

Battery chickens

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑陈丹妮)