One-trick pony?

中国日报网 2015-02-10 13:13



One-trick pony?

Reader question:

Please explain this sentence: Google is not a one-trick pony.


My comments:

Literally, a one-trick pony is a small horse that has just one trick, or skill.

So, put another way, Google is not a pony that has just one trick. In other words, unlike the one-trick pony, Google does more than one thing well.

And we all know what that one thing is, don't we?

Yes, that's searching.

I've also heard of Microsoft being called a one-trick pony, because it makes most of its money from Windows.

Anyways, to say Google is not a one-trick pony is to recognize that it does not depend on its famous online search engine for profit.

Just how good Google is at doing other things, I am not so sure. But whoever says Google is not a one-trick pony must know what he is talking about.

Anyways, a one-trick pony is a small horse that has one skill and one skill only. It is no good at anything else.

This expression, American in origin, is said to have derived from shabby circus shows in rural America in the 19th century. You can imagine that circuses then did not have such a variety of glamorous shows as those on offer today. More likely, they had horses and dogs pulling carts and running circles, plus a few clowns bouncing around and little else. Hence, these shabby shows were known as one-trick pony shows.

There are other explanations as to its origin, such as the assertion that Paul Simon, who sang the Sound of Silence with Art Garfunkel, invented the term with the release of an album of the same title, One-trick Pony.

I, however, find the one-trick circus shows to be more plausible because, we, as Chinese, also have a similar prejudice against horses and donkeys. Donkeys pull carts and can kick backwards but are no good at anything else. One ancient Chinese tale tells of how the first donkeys fared in the remote mountains in the southwest. Guizhou, or the area formerly known as Qian, did not have donkeys. Some busybody merchant, therefore, imported a few of them in from, say, northern China. However, the locals found no use for them and so the merchant released the donkeys to roam and fend for themselves in the mountains. One day, one of these donkeys met a tiger, who was initially very frightened of this big creature. Very soon, however, the tiger discovered that the donkey could kick backwards but do nothing else.

In short, the tiger pounced and ate the donkey to remain uppermost in the local food chain.

That is that, a Chinese prejudice against one-trick ponies.

Let's sum it up. If you say someone is a one-trick pony, you mean to say that their skills are few and limited.

It's not something flattering to say, isn't it?

Yes, but the thing is, a one-trick pony is better than none. I mean, in real life, if you're really good at something, anything, that’ll work greatly in your favor. So, being a one-trick pony isn’t necessarily a bad thing, so long as that one trick of yours is real and really good.

The point is, if you want to use this expression on people and label them as one-trick ponies, you'd better use it with care. I mean, do not use it unless you're sure what you're talking about lest you be accused of being unkind and unfair.

Alright, here are media examples of people who are indeed called one-trick ponies, be it fair or unjustified:

1. As David Beckham stood over the ball on Wednesday night, 25 yards from the goal in the 27th minute of a Superliga semifinal, there had been no hint of magic. Even with the captain's armband and the shy smile, he looked a fish out of chips. Teammates on the Los Angeles Galaxy were running around purposelessly, the stands in Carson, Calif., were mostly empty, and Beckham himself didn't know quite what to make of this helter-skelter scene around him.

But then there was this chance at a direct kick, and Beckham bent the ball into the upper left corner as if he were simply folding and hanging a towel on a rack. His critics may correctly call him a one-trick pony, but that trick of his is truly astounding. It can turn around a match, or a tournament, or a season. With that goal and a later assist to Landon Donovan in a 2-0 victory over D.C. United, Beckham began to pay dividends on the field, not just inside the Galaxy team store.

Game on. Beckham comes to New York next, to the Meadowlands tomorrow night. He will hold a clinic in Harlem and a press conference today in midtown. And finally, it can be said with some certainty that Posh Spice's husband will in fact be playing against the Red Bulls with a crowd already guaranteed to be greater than 60,000.

- Beckham begins to fulfill goals,, August 17, 2007.

2. The Assembly Budget Committee approved a $31.7 billion spending bill today, setting the stage for final passage of the Democratic-backed plan on Monday.

The plan largely borrows from the blueprint laid out by Gov. Chris Christie in February, with one major exception. It does not include the income tax cut that Christie has needled Democrats to accept for months.

Instead, Democrats set aside $180 million for an alternative tax cutting plan that provides a tax credit based on the size of a resident’s property tax bill, but they won't pull the trigger until — or unless — the governor hits his tops-in-the-nation revenue estimates next year.

Democratic lawmakers said they would like to cut taxes, but the state may not be able to afford it if revenues continue to slump. They said if Christie is optimistic about the economy, he shouldn't worry about putting off a final decision on the cuts until later in the year.

"We need tax relief, but we need it in a fiscally responsible way," said Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Passaic). "To tell the taxpayers to wait a few months until we know if we have the money strikes me as the right thing to do."

Republicans on the committee blasted Democrats for holding tax relief hostage.

"It's a true disappointment," Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Morris). This contemplates making New Jersey residents wait for tax relief, and that's a failure."

Webber also ripped Democrats for pushing a tax on millionaires, labeling them "one-trick ponies when it comes to budget planning."

"All solutions first start with let's raise taxes. I say stop it," Webber said.

- N.J. Assembly Budget Committee approves $31.7B state spending plan,, June 22, 2012.

3. Ronda Rousey has an Olympic judo medal, an undeniable personal magnetism and a merciless string of victories in her short mixed martial arts career.

Now she's finally got a showcase worthy of her talent.

Rousey and Liz Carmouche will make history Saturday night at Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., when they meet in the first women's bout in UFC history. They're the main event at UFC 157, and Rousey is the star of the latest pay-per-view show put on by MMA’s dominant promotion.

It’s a scenario that was fairly unimaginable even a year ago in the UFC, which never had a women’s division and showed scant interest in that version of the sport. Rousey and her fellow fighters have created believers at every level of MMA in the past few years, culminating in this breakthrough onto its biggest stage.

"I feel like the brighter the lights are, the better I can see," Rousey said.

"These are things that needed to be done for a very long time now, and I didn't think that waiting for somebody else to do it was the wisest thing to do," she added. "I feel like I'm the most capable person, and I should do whatever I can to make it happen."

It's all happening for Rousey, who has already graced magazine covers and national talk shows with a sparkling wit and charm that's in sharp contrast to her savage, joint-dislocating performances in the cage. After winning each of her first six professional MMA fights by painful armbar submissions in the first round, Rousey is a huge favorite to retain the UFC women’s bantamweight belt handed to her by UFC President Dana White last year after she defended her title in the now-defunct Strikeforce promotion.


She already won over the most important skeptic of all: White, who initially wanted no part of women’s MMA.

"After we met, she told me she had envisioned in her mind that she was going to make it so that I couldn't deny women, that I would have to bring her into the UFC," White said. "We've had some pretty crazy conversations about a lot of things, but she was right. She willed it so that there was no way I was not going to do it."

Rousey specializes in the armbar, a judo technique that bends an opponent’s arm in grotesque fashion until she taps out or gets a dislocated elbow. Rousey has an equally spectacular way with words: During promotion for her final Strikeforce fight against Sarah Kaufman last August, Rousey vowed to rip off Kaufman’s arm and throw it at her corner. She settled for her sixth straight armbar.

"Everybody calls her a one-trick pony, but she's fought a lot of women that are very good, who all know exactly what she's going to do, and they can't stop her," White said. "She goes right in and gets you down, goes for that arm, and they can't stop her from doing it. She doesn't want her arm raised in a decision. She wants to finish you, and that's what I like."

- Ronda Rousey makes historic UFC debut in Anaheim, AP, February 22, 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.

(作者:张欣  中国日报网英语点津 杜娟 编辑)

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