Cookie-cutter excuses?

中国日报网 2012-11-16 10:38



Cookie-cutter excuses?Reader question:

Please explain “cookie-cutter excuses” in this sentence: I never believe my students when they give me cookie-cutter excuses for why they didn’t do their homework.

My comments:

This is a teacher who doesn’t buy it whenever one of his students gives him a ready-made excuse for why he/she didn’t do the homework.

For one thing, the excuses from students are always the same (or extremely alike).

Open a bag of cookies and pour them onto the table. You see that the cookies are all the same in size and shape.


Simple, because they have all been carved out by the same cookie-cutter, which, of course, is a device used precisely for this purpose – mass-producing cookies that are exactly the same in size, shape and weight.

So therefore, metaphorically, if the teacher says his students all give him cookie-cutter excuses, he means to say that the excuses are all the same.

For instance, they are all sick.

Ring a bell?

In fact, my teacher back in college once expressed the same opinion as the teacher in your example does. “I don’t really mind,” he said, “someone missing class once or twice a semester, but one day three students called in early to say they’re to miss the class tomorrow because they were sick. Do you guys think teachers are so easy to fool?”


Well, the real reason behind such truant playing is, as my teacher pointed out, that they haven’t written the paper they are supposed to hand in that day. Very probable.

Or perhaps students are so sympathetic that they have to put up white lies instead of letting the teacher hear the hard truth, conjecturing, for example, teachers would be devastated if they all told the blunt truth that they didn’t do the homework and wouldn’t mind if no homework was ever handed out in the first place. Not any homework then, no homework now and no more homework in future. Not at all and none whatsoever.

Ah well, at any rate, how wonderful life would be if we don’t have to give a good reason or a bad excuse for anything we do or do not do.

But first, let’s take a better grasp of a cookie-cutter excuse, or something else – point being, if it’s cookie-cutter, you’ve probably heard or seen it before – via the following media examples:

1. cookie cutter co-ed pieces:

While banks are submitting opinion pieces to media outlets to oppose credit union member business lending legislation, it appears that they don’t have anything original to say – submitting cookie cutter co-ed pieces to newspapers across the country. Several bank associations submitted identical opinion-editorials to newspapers in their states.

Instead of putting their opposition on into their own sincere, heartfelt words – or even taking a list of talking points and disguising it a little with their own language and providing a paragraph or two of information local to their state, or localizing the information to their state – the banks took the one-size-fits-all approach – the kind of approach that many banks’ customers accuse them of taking with their services and products.

For example: Look at the independent thinking in the beginnings of these editorials by different bank associations:

“Sometimes in Washington, the facts get in the way. Credit unions are once again pleading with Congress to increase their business lending authority. Sound good?” From the Pennsylvania Bankers Association op-ed in the April 24 issue of the Patriot-News.

“Sometimes in Washington, the facts get in the way. Credit unions are once again pleading with Congress to increase their business lending authority. Sound good? Not so fast.” From the Texas Bankers Association op-ed in Liberty County Vindicator (April 29).

“Sometimes in Washington, the facts get in the way. Credit unions are once again pleading with Congress to increase their business lending authority. Sound good?” The same letter from the same Texas Bankers Association, this time in the Times Record News (May 1).

“Sometimes in Washington, the facts get in the way. Credit unions are again pleading with Congress to increase their business lending authority. Sound good? Not so fast.” From the Missouri Bankers Association op-ed in the News-Leader (April 21).

The entire letters are similar and nearly word for word (use the links to compare the articles). Occasionally a word is edited out, probably by a publication’s editor. The only exception: one of the Texas letters adds a paragraph about a local credit union as a “prime example” of the banks’ point.

- Banks are using a cookie-cutter approach to MBL,, May 3, 2012.

2. cookie-cutter approach:

What do Sec. Hillary Clinton, Bill Gates, Elton John, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé, Senator Lindsey Graham, and 2008 Nobel Laureate Françoise Barré-Sinoussi have in common?

They are all champions for the end of AIDS. Together with other prominent voices, each participated this week in the 19th International AIDS Society Conference. Imagine a global pep rally of scientists, health ministers, political leaders, and activists. Mix in a dissertation defense, add a Morse Code of Statistic Acronym. Now top it off with thousands of rainbow condoms, as colorful as the nations and spirited opinions there.

This year’s conference celebrated 30 years of progress and looked ahead to challenges and opportunity. Botswanan Sheila Tlou, regional Director of UNAIDS, summarized, “We can see the light at the end of the tunnel. And it’s not an oncoming train.”

During her speech calling for an AIDS-free Generation, Sec. Clinton teased, “If you’re not getting excited about this, please raise your hand and I will send somebody to check your pulse.” If only health care delivery was that easy.

Setting financial resources and logistics aside, it’s still not just the pulse, but also the psychology. Medicine and mentality. Stigma and adherence to treatment regimes continue to pose formidable challenges. For progress, as leading scientist and AIDS Hero Tony Fauci said, the biological is inseparable from the behavioral. South Africa’s Yogan Pillay, Deputy Director General for Strategic Health Programs, similarly emphasized the importance of health ministries incorporating both a demand-side and a supply-side intervention.

Noting South Africa’s 50 million population, with 5.6 million people HIV-positive, Yogan joked, “As I get older, I’m believing more and more in a cookie-cutter approach.” There’s something to that, though local context is extremely important.

- Rethinking the Cookie Cutter: Observations from the International AIDS Society Conference,, July 27, 2012.

3. cookie-cutter excuses:

MICHAEL WOODFORD was sacked as president of Olympus last year after he revealed a $1.7 billion accounting cover-up. The board of the Japanese cameramaker lied about the mystery for weeks. When the truth at last came out, the board kept their jobs and the whistleblowing boss lost his. Mr Woodford called it a “black comedy”. In no other developed market, he lamented, could this happen....

For many, the Olympus scandal highlighted the need for more checks and balances. Mr Woodford (pictured), whose angry memoir is to be published this month, likens Japanese boardrooms to “Alice in Wonderland”. They need more assertive shareholders and regulators, and more independent directors, he reckons.

Keidanren, Japan’s big-business lobby, appears to have drawn the opposite conclusion. Olympus had three external directors, a high number for Japan. (Never mind that they were largely tame; Mr Woodford recalls them acting like “children in a classroom” when the then chairman, Tsuyoshi Kikukawa, called for a show of hands to oust him.) The problem, in Keidanren’s view, was too much external scrutiny.

Over the summer, a government advisory committee quietly squelched proposed changes to the companies law that would have required listed firms to appoint at least one outside director. The decision, after intense pressure from Keidanren, was a white flag by the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which pledged to toughen corporate governance when it took power three years ago.

It is the third time in 13 years that change has been stymied. If the bill is eventually passed, the only crumb of reform that remains is that listed firms without an outside director will have to explain why. Mr Benes says companies are now preparing cookie-cutter excuses for shareholders’ meetings next year, just in case. This may be harder than they think. “It’s not so easy to explain why one outside director—out of 12 or 15—would be an intolerable presence,” he says.

However, he worries that even this modest reform may be scrapped after the upcoming election, which may see a rebound by the Liberal Democrats, a party whose leaders are as likely to thwart Keidanren as they are to dye their hair purple.

Japan’s Asian rivals, including South Korea, China and India, require companies to have independent directors. Firms that list in New York must fill a majority of board seats with outsiders. But Japanese bosses contend that similar rules in Japan would limit managers’ freedom and would in any case fail to stop another Olympus debacle, says Yuko Kawamoto of Waseda University.

- Back to the drawing board: After the Olympus scandal, Japan Inc wants less scrutiny, The Economist, November 3, 2012.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


Back seat?

Airbrushed image

Education as a crutch

Winner-take-all politics?

Man of the world

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:Julie)

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