Silver bullets?

中国日报网 2014-03-21 16:27



Silver bullets?Reader question:

When the boss told us not to look for silver bullets, what does he mean?

My comments:

Have you heard of the term “magic bullets”? Same thing.

Your boss means to say you shouldn’t be looking for easy solutions to problems facing you at work.

By saying you shouldn’t be looking for silver bullets, he probably wants to tell you there aren’t any – and so don’t waste your time looking for them.

Instead, look for more realistic solutions that actually involve lots of wiping sweat off your eye brows, i.e. some honest hard work.

In other words, no quick fixes.

Silver bullets, you see, are bullets made of silver, a precious metal that ancient people believed to possess supernatural powers. According to legend, silver bullets are what killed werewolves, monsters that can change their form from man to wolf and back.

It is a superstitious belief, of course. In reality, silver bullets are not more deadly than those made from other metals.

At any rate, don’t take silver bullets literally. Instead, take them to mean magic bullets, a more understandable term or the magic wand, such as Harry Potter in J. K. Rowling’s novels wields at school.

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, that is.

In real life, we as muggles possess no such magical powers. Therefore, don’t bother trying to pull a rabbit out of your own hat, so to speak.

That’s probably what your boss means to tell you anyway. He means to tell you to rely on honest hard labor instead.

In other words, no playing clever tricks with your boss – two more hours of overtime at work this evening will be more likely to help you please him.

Just saying. Overtime at work at your own peril. It’s not something I’d recommend to you or anyone at all, if I may be perfectly frank with you.

Okay, let’s stay relevant to our task at hand and read a few examples of silver or magic bullets in the media:

1. GENETIC tests have brought scientists closer to developing breast cancer ‘silver bullets’.

A dramatic breakthrough in breast cancer research will lead to a revolution in the way the disease will be diagnosed and treated in years to come, leading cancer specialists say.

Researchers have discovered that breast-cancer patients can be subdivided into 10 different groups, each with a unique genetic fingerprint, that will determine the type of drugs and treatment needed.

Instead of looking at breast cancer as a single disease with a limited number of treatments, the scientists believe that it is now more accurate to view it as a range of illnesses with a wide variety of potential therapies that can be tailored to individual patients.

Cancer is the quintessential genetic disease, so it comes as little surprise to find it has benefited most from the unravelling of the human genome.

It is more than 10 years since the DNA sequence of the human genome was published and the benefits of that understanding are now apparent in a breakthrough in breast cancer genetics.

For the first time, scientists have been able to tease apart differences in the DNA of breast cancer patients. Researchers have used advances in genetics to determine 10 subtypes of breast cancer, each of which has a unique genetic fingerprint that could in the future determine a patient’s tailor-made treatment -- or cure.

- DNA study paves way for ‘silver bullets’ in cancer fight,, December 2, 2012.

2. Former Liberal leader Bob Rae says natural resource projects such as Ontario’s massive Ring of Fire aren’t a “magic bullet” to eliminate poverty in remote aboriginal communities.

Mr. Rae told a conference on Saturday that several approaches are needed – including jobs training, education and governance – to help the resource-rich but underdeveloped areas raise themselves up.

“If you want to see conditions of real underdevelopment, and see what the impact is on people and families, on children and on adults, you do not have to go very far,” he told the crowd.

The former MP recounted his experiences from a trip to northern Ontario trip that returned from on Friday, which included a visit to the community of Marten Falls First Nation. Mr. Rae said roughly 300 people live with intermittent electricity, $8 cartons of milk and no Internet access.

Marten Falls lies within the 5,000-square kilometre boundary of the Ring of Fire, a mining project that the Ontario and federal governments hope will attract billions of dollars in private investment to extract valuable minerals such as stainless-steel ingredient chromite.

But Mr. Rae said money from the massive proposed mineral project can’t be counted on to fix the community’s woes.

“The way this situation is now described in the north is to say, ‘we have the magic bullet, it’s called the Ring of Fire’,” Mr. Rae said.

“It’s seen as the solution – (that) we now have the answer to underdevelopment. But everyone has to understand that this is not the magic solution to poverty, because you’ve got to get people ready for jobs and for work,” he added.

“You’ve got to create the conditions under which people are able to participate in the workforce,” Mr. Rae said, adding the effort could include targeted loans to help aboriginals launch businesses in traditional trades and crafts.

- Mining project is no ‘magic bullet’ for Aboriginal communities, says Bob Rae,, October 5, 2013.

3. There’s never a “silver bullet” around when you need one. It’s an increasingly frequent lament at the highest levels of government.

“Trade is critical but it is not alone a silver bullet,” President Obama lamented this week at the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland.

Last month at the White House, he was discussing the problem of sexual assault in the military.

“There is no silver bullet to solving this problem,” he said.

Even when it comes to preventing gun violence, Vice President Joe Biden told video game manufacturers that there’s “no silver bullet.”

In long ago stories of werewolves, we were told it took a “silver bullet” to do them in.

The Brothers Grimm wrote that it took a silver bullet to kill an otherwise bullet-proof witch.

The Lone Ranger used silver bullets to add luster to his fight for justice in the Old West.

Now, the absence of “silver bullets” is a frequently offered excuse for why a national problem cannot be solved quickly. It’s now part of political and presidential parlance, referring to a quick and easy remedy to a problem that otherwise defies solution.

On the campaign trail last year, Mr. Obama spoke of his proposals to boost the economy while quickly admitting “it’s not a silver bullet.”

He used the same phrase to explain why he couldn’t quickly bring down rising gasoline prices.

“There are no quick fixes or silver bullets. If somebody tells you there are, they're not telling you the truth,” he told an audience in New Hampshire in March of 2012.

He would give that answer again and again.

- Obama laments no “silver bullets” to fire,, June 20, 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.


Bet the farm?

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Left out to dry?

Push the envelope

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(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:Julie)

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