Tighter ship?

中国日报网 2013-04-16 11:24



Tighter ship?

Reader question:

Please explain “tighter ship” in this sentence: The new boss vows to run a tighter ship.

My comments:

The boss coming in is promising stricter control over the office, basically. For his subordinates, it means, among other things, discipline. Don’t you be late for work in the morning, that is.

The company or other organization we’re talking about here has run into trouble. As a result, the old boss was fired and a new one was ushered in. He or she, the new boss, hopes tighter control over personnel and daily operations will make a difference, thus promising to tighten the ship?

Tighten the ship?

This originally means tighten up all the ropes on the ship. When you are ocean going and sailing on the high seas, tightened ropes means the sails, say, will remain tight and taut so that they catch the wind nicely. When you’re on a long voyage over the high seas, apparently you need everything tightened up, i.e. everybody being careful, vigilant and responsible, especially during rough times when there are gales, high waves or the like.

If all the ropes are loose and all crew members going easy on their own, well, they may not be able to survive life on the high seas for long – they may never come back to shore again.

Hence the phrase: “run a tight ship”. Originally the expression means the captain of the ship keeps a close eye on the crew to ensure nobody goes out of control. Nowadays, it is used widely. If they say someone runs a tight ship, they are talking about some high ranking official exercising firm control over a company or any other group or organization.

This, again, usually comes after some sort of trouble has occurred to hurt the company or organization’s standing. By tightening the ship, enforcing rules and discipline for example, they hope they can right the ship again.

Right the ship?

Well, that’s for another day.

Here are media examples of the phrase “run a tight ship”, plus its variation “tighten the ship”:

1. The FBI has conducted two interviews and may schedule a third with the woman who walked out carrying classified documents from what’s supposed to be one of the most secure facilities in the world, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, CBS News has learned. The incident has exposed continuing security weaknesses at Los Alamos, which has been the focus of security and management scandals for seven years.

Sources say 22-year-old Jessica Quintana was hired to archive data from weapons tests, and even had access to information on how to deactivate the locks that keep nuclear weapons from firing. Somehow, she managed to leave the laboratory with hundreds of pages of classified documents and several portable computer storage devices known as “thumb drives.”

As CBS News was first to report, the materials were found by accident in October during a drug raid on Quintana's roommate at their trailer home. Now, a chief watchdog of the Laboratory, Rep. Ed Markey of the House Energy Committee, plans to fire off a scathing letter to the Energy Secretary demanding answers.

“These are secrets that could be valuable to al Qaeda,” Markey tells CBS News. “Our enemies want to have access to the most dangerous technologies to hurt our country. [The Laboratory and the Department of Energy] keep promising they’re going to put better security measure in place, but they never do.”

In his letter addressed to Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, Markey outlines years of high-profile security breaches at Los Alamos, followed by promises from the Energy Department and lab officials to tighten the ship. That includes weapons design information being obtained by the Chinese in the late 90s and missing computer hard drives or similar materials in 2000, 2002 and 2004. The security breach in 2004 led to a temporary complex-wide shutdown of the laboratory that cost taxpayers at least several hundred million dollars, according to the Department of Energy.

- FBI Looking Into Los Alamos Breach, CBSNews.com, September 18, 2010.

2. Scherzinger has stressed the importance of being on time for shows following Justin Bieber’s late appearance at London's O2 last night (March 4).

The singer, who is staying in the same London hotel as Bieber while she promotes her new single ‘Boomerang’, explained to Digital Spy that it is crucial to be on time when you have a younger fanbase.

Asked if she would have waited to see Bieber, she said: “I mean if it were someone like Whitney Houston I’d be waiting! I’m getting too old to stay up late these days so I don’t have a lot of patience for that kind of thing.”

On whether she has ever been late for a gig, the star insisted: “My team run this ship like a military. I run a tight, tight ship.

“When you’ve got a lot of young fans like I do, it’s important to be on time. Especially if they have school the next day!”

The singer added that she was “excited” to see Bieber perform this evening for his second show at London’s O2 Arena, adding: “He’s such a brilliant performer”.

- Nicole Scherzinger talks Justin Bieber wait: “He’s not Whitney Houston”, DigitalSpy.co.uk, Mar 5 2013.

3. My father ran a tight ship, or so our neighbors often said. He had a crew of seven: five boys and two girls. All of us knew early on that we had to pitch in and carry our weight. With just eight words – “Men, I have a little job for you” - we knew, Maryann and Madeleine included, that we were in for a long day.

And the jobs were always big: scraping, painting, plumbing, raking, mowing. The list was endless. We thought nothing of hanging by ropes out the window, four stories up, scraping and painting the tower of our old Victorian shore house. The rope would be secured around the waist of a bigger brother inside. Many days were spent three stories high on wooden ladders the weight of elephants, covered in paint as we scraped and wire-brushed away. We learned pride in work, but always had beach time, too.

Dad lived by example. He’d come to the shore each weekend ready to work. It wasn’t a successful day unless he put at least two gallons of paint on the house. If it wasn’t painting, it was scavenging for old bricks on the beach in front of the house to use for patios and a driveway. The bricks were from houses long ago washed out to sea. We wheeled them back by the hundreds, and he’d be on his knees all weekend, sweating bullets, laying bricks. His jobs were resourceful and grand, and, with an obliging crew, we made great headway, on projects and in life.

After my dad returned to the city on Sunday, we seven looked to the yellow legal pad left on the dining room table - a page for each of us with a long list of chores to be tackled in the week ahead. Parents today might call this child abuse, but it was so much more. There was always enough time for fun, and we were at the shore all summer. He showed lots of love, and taught us responsibility, respect and duty along the way. He was a great captain, and we a good crew - maybe too good.

I’m now past middle age and have grown children of my own. My ship hasn’t been run even remotely tightly. My kids see vacuuming and taking out the trash as medieval chores best left for others. Painting, scraping, hanging out the tower: To them, this kind of work is as remote as the discovery of America.

I’ve figured out what went wrong in my own house: I became a victim of my own success. I was such a good crew member, I never learned to be a captain. I inherited my father’s passion for large old properties, and wanted to raise my children as I was raised.

But I was still just a crew member. I did all the work, couldn’t delegate, didn’t trust anyone to get it right. And as the years passed, I was a one-man crew: There was no tight ship, just a luxury cruise for my kids, with me stoking the boilers.

- My father ran a tight ship with his crew of seven children, By Christopher J. Dean, Philly.com, June 16, 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.



Jumped the shark?

Against all odds

If you play your cards right

Tried and true

Time to connect the dots

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)


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