Stealing a march?

中国日报网 2014-09-19 15:55



Stealing a march?Reader question:

Please explain “stolen a march” in the following:

An Italian restaurant in India has stolen a march on the global chain Domino’s by delivering a pizza by drone in the heart of its commercial capital Mumbai.

My comments:

Domino’s, being a global name, is the Goliath of the pizza business in India. The Italian restaurant named (or rather unnamed – in this paragraph) in this story is a David (or minnow) in terms of competing with the giant Domino in the local market.

However, in one area of competition, the Italian restaurant has moved ahead of its big rival by delivering a pizza by drone in the commercial capital of Mumbai.

In doing that, the Italian restaurant has stolen a march on its big rival – by stealthily gaining a potentially important advantage on its big rival.

“Stealing a march on someone” means exactly that, gaining an unexpected advantage on someone, especially a rival.

This is an expression derived from early warfare. In the early days, long before trucks, planes and drones were invented, of course, armies used soldiers’ legs to move about – hence the term foot soldiers. And when officers order soldiers to walk or move, they shout “March!”

Hence the “march” in the expression “stealing a march”. By “stealing a march” on the enemy, it originally means that your army has arrived at a certain strategic point, a mountain pass, for instance earlier than does the enemy.

“Stealing” means you’ve done this stealthily, by walking (marching) all night for example, when your enemies are all asleep. By stealing a march on the enemy therefore, you are in position to launch a surprise attack on them because your earlier footwork, so to speak, has caught them unawares.

In our example, the Italian restaurant has surprised Domino’s by doing the drone delivery first – supposing Domino’s also has a mind to do the same.

At any rate, being the first to do it is a great advantage for the Italians to make use of. For the time being, it has all the drone market to itself. Plus, the novelty it creates, the surprise element, should by itself generate a lot of good publicity for the Italian restaurant.

Alright, here are examples of other people who have managed, over the years, to steal a march on their rival or rivals:

1. President Clinton probably thought he was stealing a march on everyone in Washington when he proposed reversing the trend of declining defense spending and adding $110 billion to the Pentagon’s coffers over the next six years.

But this week, sniping broke out on both of his flanks. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, sensing an opening, said what they really need is a lot more--$148 billion, to be exact. And from the president’s left came a chorus of doubt whether any additional defense spending is needed.

This scenario contains the elements of a healthy, democratic debate. Critics of an increase make a worthy point: The nation should not automatically salute the chiefs’ request without closely questioning the missions they are assigned, and then the dollars required to meet them.

With the Cold War over and no formidable foe on the horizon, these critics ask, why does the nation need the biggest increase in military spending since the Reagan era? Why, indeed.

- A Defense Mission Too Costly? Chicago Tribune, January 25, 1999.

2. Financial markets are falling because there is no predictability. And, just as our markets have crashed, so too, has our language. Under the 111th Congress, our language no longer has any predictability. How can we create good policy and generate bipartisan support if our very language to achieve these ends is continually and capriciously changing?

Aristotle counseled against the inevitable ambiguity that occurs as a result of employing ambiguous names when describing an item, but Congress has not heeded that warning. A strange dynamic is currently occurring in congressional dialogue, in which euphemisms have stolen a march on reason, and what is said has become more important than what was done.

Most Americans are familiar with the renaming of the “second economic stimulus” to “the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,” perhaps renamed because the word “second” reminds us that the first stimulus did not work as advertised.

Congressional semanticists have renamed federal government spending as an “investment” and claimed that a government check for a tax refund to a person who did not pay taxes is something other than “welfare.”

Congress, however, is not alone in exhibiting an inclination to doublespeak: the executive branch is suffering from a similar ailment. For example, last week, the administration signed an Executive Order for Ethics Commitments, including many restricting lobbyists, yet two days later issued a waiver for William Lynn, lobbyist, to become Deputy Secretary of Defense, citing special need, despite Lynn’s extensive conflicts of interests.

The administration seems to be saying: no lobbyists allowed-except the ones we do allow. Here’s another example. We are told by members of the administration that it’s our patriotic duty to pay taxes-except it seems, when you don’t - as in the cases of Tim Geithner and Tom Dashcle. The current administration seems determined to prove Orwell correct, that “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

- Economic Stimulus: Same Old Whine in a New Bottle,, February 2, 2009.

3. Amazon has stolen a march on rivals Apple and Google by launching a new cloud-based music service, enabling users to play songs on computers and smartphones.

Unveiled today, the Amazon Cloud Drive offers 5GB of free online storage for music, while the Amazon Cloud Player allows users to listen to songs via web browsers or mobile apps.

The service is currently available on Blackberry, Palm and Android mobiles, but there is currently no support for Apple’s iOS operating system on iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch.

Music lovers will be able to use the service to upload their music library, including any tracks purchased from Apple’s iTunes, as well as buy new songs for digital playback.

- Amazon launches cloud music service,, March 29, 2011.



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.



Larger scheme of things?

Follow the money?

Reading the riot act?

(作者,张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:Helen )


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