Square pegs?

中国日报网 2012-12-18 13:00



Square pegs?

Reader question:

Please explain this sentence: They think they are square pegs in small towns.

My comments:

Obviously, the small towns are all round in shape.

In other words, we’re talking about square pegs designed for round holes, and they don’t fit each other so nicely.

Not at all.

Square pegs in round holes? Yes, that’s the idiom to learn here. The pegs are short pieces of wood (or metal) fixed to a wall or door, used for hanging things on. You know, you hammer the pegs into a hole till they are attached firmly.

Obviously if the pegs are square-shaped, and the holes are round, they won’t fit. Or even if you put the pegs in, they won’t hold.

Just saying. In actuality, good carpenters all have a knack with pegs and they’ll make sure pegs are cylindrical or T-shaped so they fit into holes without difficulty.

Anyways, when people are metaphorically described as square pegs, they’re misfits – people who for one reason or another don’t fit well in whatever environment they found themselves.

I’ve heard of country people working in the city finding it difficult to return to rural life again. And they’re kind of square pegs in small towns because, having seen the city lights, so to speak, they no longer enjoy the slow life in the countryside. For one thing, there might be no light at all in the street in some rural villages after dark.

In other words, very little night life, and, as a matter of fact, not many social activities of any kind day or night.

Anyhow, you get the picture of people who feel they’re square pegs – they don’t fit in. Sometimes perhaps it’s their fault, sometimes it’s not. And it’s not always easy to tell. At any rate, we’re not trying to be critical of anyone. I just want you to know that for better or worse, square pegs don’t fit in with their group.

And here are examples of square pegs, and they are, perhaps not surprisingly, aplenty in society:

1. A SECRETARY sacked by the BBC after refusing to sign an eight-hour-day contract was a ‘square peg in a round hole’, an industrial tribunal was told yesterday.

Stella Stillianova, 40, of Sloane Gardens, Chelsea, claims she was dismissed unfairly from her pounds 12,000-a-year job after working long hours to try to be successful - not finishing till 7.30am on one occasion.

Rosalind Grant, a personnel officer, said when Ms Stillianova was transferred to work temporarily as a film clerk she had a bad annual report from her immediate superior. ‘We felt that the faults were remediable. We accepted there were faults. We felt Stella was perhaps a square peg in a round hole. But we felt we could rescue the situation.’

Asked why Miss Stillianova was not moved to another department because of a personality clash with her boss, Miss Grant replied: ‘Any employer in a different department will just ask why he or she should take this person on.’

Ms Grant conceded to the London tribunal that if Ms Stillianova felt the faults in the report were fabrications then she had every right to feel aggrieved.

Ms Stillianova, a graduate who speaks several languages, argued that her prospects were blighted by the bad report, despite a good one from a previous department.

Christopher Waud, tribunal chairman, suggested that Alan Howden, general manager of the BBC’s programme acquisition department, may have acted improperly by deciding to dismiss Ms Stillianova in October 1992, merely on documentation.

- BBC sacked secretary who was a ‘square peg’, The Independent, June 29, 1994.

2. Currently, there is so much news about Petraeus’ affair that it's easy to overlook the fact that there were divisions between him and rank and file CIA personnel before the affair was ever revealed.

For example, Benghazi caused a significant amount of strife, because of the way Petraeus handled it, as did his domineering style of okaying and prohibiting drone strikes and other intelligence exercises. His style appears to have been a reflection of the fact that he was a square peg in a round hole at the CIA, where respect and trust do not come easy.

Regarding Benghazi, after the public relations disaster began to emerge in the days after September 11, Petraeus urged CIA personnel to “push back hard” and release their own timeline of the attack on the consulate and the “CIA safehouse.” Petraeus’ goal was to paint the CIA in a more positive light.

National Security Director James Clapper disagreed with this approach, as did the Pentagon. Yet Petraeus forged on and urged his aides to forge on as well.

Regarding the strained relations at the CIA which preceded Benghazi or news of Petraeus’ affair, it seems few people at the CIA were impressed with Petraeus' military rank. In fact, they were somewhat turned off by the fact that he handled his CIA position in a way befitting the military instead of an intelligence agency.

Various reports indicate Petraeus would be bothered if his orders were met with questions or if “young analysts would disagree with a point he made.” In short, there was very little give and take.

Some say it seemed like Petraeus stepped from the battlefield to intelligence headquarters without checking his ego at the door.

- Petraeus a Square Peg in Round Hole at CIA, BreitBart.com, November 16, 2012.

3. Canadian job seekers are such a square peg for the round hole of available work that there is little hope they’ll ever find employment in their field, even with an economic upswing, according to a new CIBC report published Monday.

The report, titled The Haves and Have Nots of Canada’s Labour Market is the latest to highlight the issue of labour mismatch in Canada, where some sectors are in dire need of qualified applicants, while others have a glut.

“We have people without jobs and jobs without people,” said author and CIBC’s deputy chief economist Benjamin Tal.

- Mismatch in job market a risk to economy, TheStar.com, December 03, 2012.



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.


Turn the page?

End game?

He said, she said

Cookie-cutter excuses?

Playing possum?

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)

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