Cardinal rule?

中国日报网 2013-03-15 10:32



Cardinal rule?

Reader question:

Please explain “cardinal rule” as in this headline: “The cardinal rule of skin care: Do no harm.”

My comments:

By this “cardinal rule”, they’re effectively saying, I think, that buying expensive skin care products to cure one’s skin problems is not as good as learning not to do things that are harmful to you skin in the first place. In other words, if your skin doesn’t have a disease, illness or injury, you don’t have to go through the trouble of curing it.

If you chew on your nails all the time, for example, you’ll have great trouble for the manicurist to find perfectly fitting nails for you, and you’ll perhaps pay a lot more for them than people who have normal, uninjured nails.

For another example, if you have severe sunburn, wearing sunscreen before going to the beach today may not be as helpful as if you have healthy skin.

Anyways, this “cardinal rule” is consistent with the advice of any good doctor who knows that the best treatment of an illness, especially a chronicle one, is prevention.

Oh, cardinal.

Cardinal means chief, principal, top, central, crucial, etc. The cardinal from the church, as you already know is a high-ranking priest. Cardinal has its roots in the Latin “cardo”, meaning hinge. The hinge is the thing on which the door, for instance, revolves.

A cardinal rule, therefore, is a rule on which all other rules hinge, i.e. a most important rule.

The Christian church also speaks of cardinal sins, i.e. sins that are so terrible that they’re unforgivable. In other words, they’re so bad that you’re advised not to ever commit them.

People in China talk of Four Cardinal Principles, meaning the four basic, most important principles for governing the country.

They used to talk about them, that is. Back in the 1980s. Not these days. Nobody talks about principles any more these days, cardinal or trivial. The young generations no longer have any principles, it seems.

I don’t mean to suggest the older generations were any the wiser over matters of principle, but it does seem that they were the ones who cared more about matters of principle, such as character, duty and moral fiber.

Today’s generation appears to care much more about money matters. Again, I’m not suggesting that matters of principle don’t matter to them, but money appears to matter more.

As a matter of fact, on second thought and at least in appearance, money matters do seem to matter much more these days than matters of principle do – if you’re able to get the gist of this mouthful.

Alright, let’s examine “cardinal rule” – which is too important a rule to break or violate – further in context via media examples:

1. A cardinal rule of broadcasting is never to run; if you arrive breathless in the studio, it is impossible to recover. Another is that two presenters should never talk together – the listeners hate it. And if you raise your voice – there are exceptions to this – you have probably lost control.

Dog-walking is different. My Today colleague James Naughtie and I took to Richmond Park on the hottest afternoon of the heatwave. The park is the capital’s giant lung (far and away London’s largest open space) and you breathe more easily within its gates. Even after days of pitiless sun, those majestic aspects – with their oaks and deer – looked temptingly lush.

The spaniels took off. Jim’s Tess – a 10-year-old cocker of usually dignified demeanour – spotted a picnic, and the snout was in among the sandwiches. My Kudu sprinted to an oak to defecate – a yard from an elderly lady enjoying her book in the shade. The crimes, satisfyingly symmetrical in a curious way, were simultaneous, and Jim and I broke all those broadcasting rules at once as we restored decorum.

Jim then made his confession: in South Africa recently, he ate a steak from the Kudu antelope. Mrs Naughtie, he reported, had shown greater scruple, and declined the dish out of respect for the Dog. I salute her sensitivity.

To the dogs, Richmond offers the smells of real country. To me, this royal park smells of power; the ghosts of Tudors and Stuarts hunt here, and from Henry’s Mound you can look down on Westminster. So, we fell to talking about dogs and politics.

Richard Nixon, for example, hated the fact that one of his most famous speeches became identified with the family spaniel. Running for the vice-presidency in 1952, he faced accusations of financial impropriety. He responded with a television address that saved his place on the Republican ticket. After a robust defence of his family’s “modest” lifestyle, he owned up to one gift from a political well-wisher. “You know what it was?” he asked. “It was a little cocker spaniel dog in a crate… black and white spotted. And our little girl – Tricia, the six-year-old – named it Checkers. And you know, the kids, like all kids, love the dog, and I just want to say this right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we’re gonna keep it.”

It became “the Checkers Speech”. Nixon complained it was “as though the mention of my dog was the only thing that saved my political career”. Bad news for spaniel lovers like me; if it had not been for Checkers, there might never have been a Watergate.

- So much for the cardinal rule of broadcasting, By Ed Stourton,, July 10, 2009.

2. On Friday night, Armstrong appeared more emotional in his talk with Winfrey than in the first interview. Winfrey is renowned for being a virtual therapist to the public ordeals of disgraced celebrities, often bringing them to tears. Armstrong, who throughout last week had appeared unnervingly controlled, did not shed a tear but he did appear to choke up. “I saw my son defending me and saying, “That’s not true. What you’re saying about my dad is not true. That’s when I knew I had to tell him,” Armstrong said. The cyclist paused, lip trembling, and looked away as he composed himself.

But aside from that moment the rest of the interview went largely as expected, with Armstrong confessing to his sins – though by no means agreeing to all the accusations levelled against him – and showing perhaps unwise flashes of defiance and self-regard.

He told Winfrey he was desperate to compete again, effectively admitting he was not coming clean out of guilt but because he cannot tolerate life outside of sports. “If you’re asking me, do I want to compete again ... the answer is, hell, yes. I’m a competitor. It’s what I’ve done my whole life. I love to train. I love to race,” he said. He even said he deserved a second chance, perhaps breaking the cardinal rule of such TV confessions, which is to remain entirely contrite.

“Frankly, this may not be the most popular answer, but I think I deserve it,” he told Winfrey.

In choosing Winfrey, Armstrong dodged the news media that had been accusing him for years, trading Winfrey’s softball questions and avoiding an interrogator who would have grilled him properly. Yet even in those circumstances Armstrong seemed to fail to come entirely clean. He did not reveal why he chose to take the doping route, how he did it and who helped him do it and cover it up for so long. He denied trying to buy influence with the anti-doping body USADA with an offer of a donation of millions of dollars. He said he had stayed clean of drugs in his 2009 attempted comeback, something that runs counter to a damning USADA report that catalogued all the accusations against him.

Winfrey asked Armstrong if he might “rise again” in public life to reclaim some of his once golden boy reputation as the cancer-beating super athlete. “I don't know. I don’t know. I don’t know what's out there,” Armstrong replied. Whatever it is, it’s almost certainly not good.

Armstrong’s errors

Didn’t cry properly

When high-profile guests appear on Oprah Winfrey’s show, they are expected to weep copiously as they reveal all. Someone as competitive as Armstrong knows that second place counts for nothing: his choking up and near-tears just did not cut it. America wanted rivers of tears.

Didn’t give a full confession

The only way to do a confession is to go all the way. Armstrong appeared to want to go only so far. He needed to name names and give full and frank details. But Armstrong seemed happy with generalities and still denies key allegations.

Didn’t lose the ‘attitude’

During the hours of interview, many commentators remarked on Armstrong’s controlled and emotionless demeanour. Armstrong needed to show he was human and worthy of sympathy and – most importantly of all – genuine. His performance came across as just that: something fake for the camera.

Played the victim

Armstrong seemed to break another cardinal rule of such confessions in having too much self-pity. At one point, he felt that he “deserved” a chance of a comeback. He had failed to understand that in the world of TV confessions that is not up to you any more.

- Lance Armstrong faces multi-million dollar legal challenges after confession,, January 30, 2013.

3. There is one cardinal rule when playing a basketball game with LeBron James. Never, under any circumstance, take your eyes off of him when he has the ball in his hands.

Glance away for a second, and you could wind up on a highlight reel of bloopers with a bloody nose or busted lip — the result of a lightning-quick pass.

James is a fantastic scorer, and his shooting numbers have never been higher than now, but at his heart, James is a passer. Near the top of the list of his many gifts, and probably the one for which he takes the most pride, is an ability to routinely turn a no-look pass from the top of the key into an easy layup for his teammates.

“It’s called being 6-8, and then it’s called being an unbelievable passer — just a high IQ of the game,” teammate Dwyane Wade said.

In the first period of Sunday’s win over Cleveland, James whipped four no-look passes into the paint to teammates. Two went for layups and two resulted in free-throw attempts. James finished the game with eight assists to go along with 28 points and three rebounds.

James is tied for 10th in the NBA in assists per game (7.1), but No. 1 among players who are not guards.

There isn’t a statistic for no-look passes that somehow find wide-open teammates under the basket, but according to, James is averaging 2.6 assists per game that result in shots at the rim. Overall, James is 19th in the league in the category. The league average is 0.8 per game.

Of course, even these statistics are somewhat deceiving. Many times, a driving guard will draw defenders at the rim and then dish off to a teammate. Wade is an expert at such situational no-look passes, said Heat center Chris Andersen.

“Wade will most definitely find you on a real late, late pass,” Andersen said.

But James’ no-look passes are different. He can read a defense and zip a pass from the top of the key — like a missile past the defense — to a wide-open player at the rim.

“LeBron will snap that ball to you on a zip line,” Andersen said. “So, you’ve got to be ready for it, or you’re going to get smacked in the face with it.”

- In Miami Heat’s offense, LeBron James passing with flying colors,, February 26, 2013.




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.



Can’t say the same?

The other side of the coin?

Heads will roll?

It is a fine line

That would be stretching it

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)

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