現代英語評註-8

[mouse potatoes] [potter or putter] [query roundup] [etymologies] [soapboxes and bandwagons] [can of worms] [the exception that proves the rule] [jaunt or junket?] [from bombs to movies] [skedaddle, scarper and scoot] [(computer) data is vs. data are] [When is a used car not a used car?] [quite/almost] [going south] [going south again]

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mouse potatoes

這個片語也與電腦有關,不過在進入主題之前,我想再對 "on the computer" 做一補充。無巧不成書,日昨在翻閱一份國外英文教材時裡面正好有一則短文特別針對 "on the computer" 做了解釋,因此將其大意寫出來提供大家做參考。它說 "on the computer" 是最常用而且最適當的用語,因為我們經常說:"we're often 'on' the phone.",所以 "on" the computer 似乎合乎邏輯,必竟電腦亦是一種溝通工具。

文中提到 "on the computer" 是一個常見的片語,至少在美國是如此。它係用來表示使用電腦所能做的所有工作或活動。當有人說 "John was on the computer over the weekend." 時,那就表示 John 利用週末時間上網瀏覽網頁、收發電子郵件,但也有可能使用電腦來撰寫企畫案等等。

此外,"on the computer" 並不表示對電腦進行維修工作,而是表示花了時間與它為伍,這種情況跟 "I spent my weekend watching TV." 一樣;至於看什麼節目則不重要,可能看 HBO 電影、Discovery 頻道或租來的 DVD 或 VCD 等,反正就是「看電視」,而不是看書,也不是到公園散步。

言歸主題! mouse potato 是仿效 "couch potato" 這個已廣為使用的片語所創造出來的一個片語,最初似乎是出現在 Wired 雜誌 Gareth Branwyn 的 Jargon Watch 專欄中。"couch potato" 是指成天看電視的人,看得對身體和精神都造成不良影響:

  • Head teachers said yesterday that the Government's preoccupation with academic standards, and `woefully inadequate' sports facilities in schools, risked turning youngsters into `couch potatoes'. (英國報紙)
  • Suddenly hurling yourself into sporting action when you're more used to life as a couch potato is asking for trouble.  (美國雜誌)

"mouse potato" 意為「花了許多時間在電腦上 (on the computer) 的人」;mouse 指的當然是滑鼠。在英文資料庫中,它出現 9 次:

  • The swelling ranks of `mouse potatoes', who prefer to view the world through a VDU, will get an extra bonus next month when one of the most ambitious projects to use a Webcam gets underway. (英國報紙)
  • Your mental health isn't the only thing the Internet threatens. It can also turn people into `mouse potatoes'. (英國雜誌)

potter or putter

如果你翻閱字典,上面會說 potter 是英式英語,而 putter 是美式英語,意為「閒逛、閒蕩」,「攸然地做一些輕活或低壓力的工作或活動」。Webster's Collegiate 字典還說,"putter" 是 "potter" 的變形字。

英文資料庫顯示,美式英語跟英式英語的用法確實有所不同,但分野並非很明顯。putter 在英式英語中也頗為常用,但指的主要是「移動緩慢且相當吵雜的交通工具,尤其是船」:

  • Their launch puttered towards the jetty in front of the lodge. (英國書籍)
  • Eighty feet below, a farmer puttered around on one of those tiny tractors that look more like lawnmowers, rounding up sheep the lazy way. (英國報紙)

這個意思亦出現在美國的資料來源中,但它們的意思大多為「閒逛、閒蕩」:

  • I was puttering around the house when the telephone rang. (美國書籍)
  • At their home near Fort Benning, Georgia, Omar Bradley and his wife were puttering about in a flower bed when a friend stopped by to give them the news. (美國書籍)

putter 的「閒逛、閒蕩」意思在英國資料來源中也可見到:

  • Grovelling around on his hands and knees, Stone puttered about, caulking deck seams between the teak planks. (英國書籍)
  • I was still in the kitchen puttering around. (英國書籍)
  • Twenty years from now, I wouldn't be surprised to find Juan Carlos puttering around a marina, scraping barnacles off the bottom of his boat and making himself a sandwich (英國雜誌)

澳洲的資料來源亦顯示有上述兩種意思,不過下列第二句的負面語氣並非典型的用法:

  • The irrepressible Sheene was spotted puttering past Sunday's traffic jams on a scooter he had cannily ordered with just such a traffic problem in mind. (澳洲報紙)
  • This is why we must call on the scientific community to stop puttering around with global warming and immediately develop a solution to the gravity problem. (澳洲報紙)

當然,這些意思並非完全不同。在移動緩慢的交通工具上悠閒地走動跟在廚房或花園不慌不忙地走動並沒有很大的不同,所以在英國的引句中有兩句的 putter 與船有關,自是不必驚訝。根據出現次數的統計,"putter" 的意思在美國用法和英國用法中出現了重疊,但 "potter" 則沒有意思相同的情況。在 71 個 "putter" 的引句中,約有16 個是表示「閒逛、閒蕩」的意思。然而,在總數達 389 個引句中,僅 3 個是來自美國資料。與其他情況一樣,美式英語對英式英語的影響通常顯而易見,但反之則不然。


query roundup

最近網友問了一些問題,由於比較「雜」,因此將它們拿來「現代英語評註」做比較詳盡的敘述,可能比放在「文法問題解答」更適當。這些問題將分兩次來敘述,這次講的主要是文法方面的問題。

下面兩個問題中那一句才正確:

Q1) I look forward to hearing from you OR
I look forward to hear from you

Q2) Looking forward to hear from you OR
Looking forward to hearing from you.

所有的英文字典和文法書都說:當 "look forward to" 後面接動詞時,該動詞一定是現在分詞型態,也就是動名詞,所以正確的用法是:

I look forward to hearing from you.
I am looking forward to hearing from you.
Look forward to hearing from you.

之所以會有這種混淆情況的發生,主要是有些人將 "look forward to" 接動名詞誤以為是 "look forward" 接不定詞 (to + 原形動詞)。

下一個問題是:

I heard some foreigners saying that " I intend on taking a test next week."
But I think " I intend to take a test next week." is a correct form.

長久以來,"intend" 後面所接的詞類最常見的是不定詞,在英文資料庫中有多達 21,000 多個引句:

  • We'd intended to leave for home on Sunday. (英國書籍)
  • Reynolds intends to build a new 25,000-seat stadium while retaining the present town-centre ground. (英國報紙)

然而,"intend" 偶而會接「on + 動名詞」,英文資料庫中有 8   個引句是使用這種句型;它們的來源很廣泛,包括美國和英國書籍、報紙、雜誌和說話:

  • It certainly wasn't easy to have to leave a place that you love being and that you hadn't intended on leaving. (美國電台)
  • I didn't walk in there intending on lying. I never lie to the press. (英國雜誌)
  • Elliott has become a one-sport athlete and intends on keeping it that way. (美國報紙)

其他採用這種句型的動詞並不多,想一想比較常用的有三個:"concentrate","rely" 和 "gamble"。我懷疑 "intend on" 的用法可能是我們非常熟悉的形容詞 "intent on" 之誤:

  • ... a new generation of Scottish politicians intent on making sure their parliament produces fresh, home-grown politics. (英國大報)
  • She strikes me as a woman intent on getting her own way. (英國八卦報)
  • They maintain that the partners ... are intent on keeping jobs in their own countries, even to the detriment of the project as a whole. (美國報紙)

最後一個問題是有關一個常見片語的單複數問題:

I have noticed lately that the plural form is taking over in the phrase "this kind of thing" or its variants. More and more, I see "these kinds of things." Is it just me, or has there been a trend developing in the use of this kind of phrase?

這個片語的兩種型態 (this kind of thing 和 these kinds of things) 幾乎純粹是口語,在英文資料庫中,單數型比複數型還常見幾近 10 倍。以下為其中若干引句:

  • I was just wondering how these kinds of things are handled in Germany, this whole issue of privacy and well-known people. (英國會話)
  • [Alcohol] may have been an escape or a way to escape all these kinds of things, but at some point, it becomes the cause of this violence. (美國廣播)
  • Right now we would like to have music of hope, music which gives direction in the country, music of love - all this kind of thing. (英國 BBC)
  • It is absolutely critical if you want to survive in our society to be able to do this kind of thing. (美國演說)

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etymologies

在進入本週的主題之前,我們先要對上週主題最後一段的 this kind of thingthese kinds of things 做一補充說明;"this kind of thing" 雖是單數型,但所表達的意思是複數,否則與 "these kinds of things" 做比較就沒意義了。

本週的問題本質上是屬於語源 (etymology) 的問題,對我們來說是有點困難,但我們還是盡量去找資料來解答這些問題。

第一個問題是:"sway" 是不是來自 "persuade" 呢?

根據多本英英字典對 sway 的定義,這個字的意思是 influence (影響):

  • The government is unlikely to be swayed by such arguments. (英國電台)
  • Lane says that the evidence that ultimately swayed the jury was the testimony of Marita Lorenz (英國雜誌)

從「影響」的意思來看,"sway" 來自 "persuade" 似乎言之有理,但其實不然。根據「牛津新英語辭典」(New Oxford Dictionary of English),"sway" 來自德語和荷蘭語,意為「風中搖曳」,「走路搖搖擺擺」。然而,"persuade" 來自拉丁語 "persuadere",後者則又來自 "suadere",意為「勸告」、「忠告」。

第二個問題是:就「告密」的意思而言,討論 "squeal" 和 "rat" 的起源一定滿有意思的,不是嗎?

To "squeal" on someone 意為向當局密告某人違法犯紀,而告密者本身通常也參與犯罪行為。下面第一個引句是來自英國一本財經雜誌的一篇報導,講的是有關追蹤洗錢之徒的方案;而第二個引句則來自美國一本有關黑社會的小說:

  • The process might also foster a financial witch-hunt, encouraging people to squeal on their more successful neighbours. (英國雜誌)
  • Spadgie's been runnin' his own op right under Spider's nose. He's been playin' with the competition. Rico was in on it, but Rico squealed to Spider. (美國書籍)

關於語源,「牛津新英語辭典」僅說,這動詞來自中世紀英語,而其起源是因為這個字原本的意思是高聲尖叫,「把秘密給洩漏出去了」。但一本俚語字典則將這個意思 (及其相關的名詞意思 -- 告密者) 追溯至 18 世紀的犯罪俚語,並說 "squeak" 是它的同義字。

to "rat" on someone 的意思比 "squeal" 更廣泛,除了「告密」外,還有背叛、出賣自己的同伴,以及變節的意思;它的用法跟這個自本身的「老鼠」習性有關,因為船上的老鼠一見到船隻要沈沒時,都會紛紛棄船而逃,所以用他來表示背叛前伙伴。根據手邊的資料,這個動詞起源於美國,但日期不可考,可能與黑手黨等犯罪集團有關:

  • Kingsbury is a Mob stool pigeon who has come to Florida after ratting on John Gotti. (英國雜誌的書評)

你也可能對家人、朋友或情人 "rat on":

  • Has a loved one ratted on you? Are you the victim of a love rat? If so, we want to hear your story. (英國八卦報)

對合約或協議 "rat on",則是表示毀約、背棄承諾 (to go back on) 的意思:

  • When Mrs T[hatcher] later ratted on this pledge and opposed Labour's devolution bill, Gilmour told her he'd have to resign from her shadow cabinet. (英國報紙)

最後我們舉一個將上述兩個片語結合在一起的引句:

  • While in America you can buy a guide on `When to Rat on the Boss' the practice had been considered un-British as squealing on friends. (英國報紙)

soapboxes and bandwagons

這是兩個政治意味濃厚的用字。與 bandwagon 在美國的情況頗為相似,soapbox 在英國政壇具有光榮的歷史。可悲的是,與 bandwagon 一樣,soapbox 的含意現在變得有些負面。肥皂箱只是一個讓公共演說者站在上面以便比聽眾略高一些的箱子。至於為何用肥皂箱而不用魚箱或水果箱,則不得而知,可能的原因是肥皂箱裡面有肥皂,可以支撐站在上面的演說者的重量而不致於塌陷。英國最具代表性的肥皂箱演說地點可能是倫敦海德公園 (Hyde Park) 的「演說廣場」(Speaker's Corner)。現今仍不時可以見到有話要說 -- 想要一抒己見或批評時政 -- 的人士帶著肥皂箱站在不特定聽眾的前面高談闊論,大放厥辭:

  • During the 1992 general election, when the PM mounted his soapbox in Cheltenham's Promenade to speak in support of the local Tory candidate, he was vigorously heckled. (英國雜誌)

英國 1992 年大選期間,當時的首相梅傑 (John Major) 決定訴諸於他的草根性政治起源,利用這種最富民主意涵的工具來對選舉造勢活動發表演說;此舉引發許多人的嘲諷,但也獲得若干人的讚賞。現今保守黨的領袖使用拖板車來發表政治演說,那種味道與氣氛已完全不同。

soapbox 這個字現在也被用來比喻為「對某一自己感受強烈的問題發表意見」:

  • I'm getting off my soapbox for the moment, but I'd like to see you on yours. Please write and let me know exactly what you think. (英國雜誌)

政治人物經常被對手譴責為 "jump/climb/get on the bandwagon",意謂「加入有成功希望或有利可圖的事情」(但並非出自真心誠意地),例如支持有獲勝保握的候選人;這有「見風轉舵」、「西瓜偎大邊」的騎牆意味:

  • Democrats were quick to jump on this political bandwagon by damning the proposed taxes as regressive levies which had the greatest impact on the poor. (英國報紙)

bandwagon 原指為遊行 (尤指為發表政治演說的政治人物進行的遊行) 開道的樂隊車,所以一些為了表示支持該政治人物的選民就爬上 bandwagon。美國的候選人現在都使用直昇機和私人飛機來從事競選活動,選民也就無法 jump on the bandwagon 了。當然,jump on the bandwagon 不只是政治人物的「專利」:

  • Many radio stations were quick to get on the Internet bandwagon a year or two ago, but some of them aren't so slick when it comes to keeping their Web pages current. (澳洲報紙)
  • Some unkind people say that indie [music] fans are nothing more than a bunch of bandwagon-jumping sheep. (英國雜誌)

can of worms

這是一個相當常見的成語,但英漢字典並非每一本都有收錄,因此提出來討論一下。 Cobuild Dictionary of Idioms 對這個片語的定義是這樣的:

如果你形容一種情況是 a can of worms,這意思是說,此一情況比最初還要來得複雜、棘手、麻煩和困難許多,也就是說,表面上看似簡單、容易,但實際上隱藏著相當棘手和困難的問題。所以,如果你說 "Someone is opening a can of worms.",你的意思是希望某件事最好是讓它維持原來的樣子。

在英文資料庫中,我們總共找到 193 條引句,涵蓋範圍相當廣泛,從正式寫作到一般口語都可見到這成語的應用:

  • UN officials readily accept that they have opened a can of worms, and their guidelines will only have an effect, they say, if governments act on them. (英國科學雜誌)
  • [He] was scathing of the corporate watchdog's decision not to prosecute the company. We uncovered a can of worms which would have been very expensive to clean up. (澳洲報紙)
  • I don't want to open a can of worms before we go to lunch [Ugh!], but I was just curious. (美國口語)

這個成語最初指的應該是漁民或釣客用來裝做餌的蟲或蛆的箱子或盒子。

接下來我們再來討論 "these kinds of things" 這個片語,因為有人提到除了 "this kind of thing" 和 "these kinds of things" 之外,他們還見到 "these kinds of thing" 或甚至 "these kind of thing" 的用法。

在英文資料庫中,我們並未找到 "these kinds of thing" 的引句,但 "these kind of thing" 有一條,而 "this kind of things" 則有 4 條引句;它們都是口語用法:

  • This was a very abnormal way of dealing with this kind of things, but it was only one. (英國電台)
  • There is an agency in [placename] who does these kind of thing. (英國口語)

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the exception that proves the rule

看過這句成語嗎? 亦有人把它寫成:The exception proves the rule. 意思是說「有例外是有規則的證明」。這裡的 prove 被用作「證明」的意思—這是 prove 的兩個主要意思之一,另一個是比較過時的意思「試驗,考驗」(test)。

第一個意思似乎會另許多人感到大惑不解,因為既然有規則,那麼例外就不能證明它有規則。所以,正確的寫法應該是 "The exception disproves the rule." 才對,或者將 "prove" 的意思從「證明」改為「考驗」,即「例外考驗規則」。

這只是理論而已。現在熱我們來看實際的情況。以下為幾個現實生活中的實例,它們的意思都是「有例外是有規則的證明」:

  • I have this theory that, apart from one or two exceptions that prove the rule, very attractive men do not fall in love.
  • "Every brand of cigarette that's been aimed specifically at women has died - Virginia Slims is the exception that proves the rule - you have to incorporate women into your existing market, not create a separate market."
  • So miracles do happen; but these are merely the exceptions that prove the rule. Two breaks in the clouds over a dreadfully dull, grey night.
  • Obviously it can help professional tensions if those who live and work together also bike together. I'm sure you know couples who have absolutely no common pursuit. Never have, never will. But are they the happiest people in the world? If the answer is yes, then all I can say is there's bound to be the exception that proves the rule.
  • Towers should generally be arranged in clusters, but the Post Office Tower was the exception that proved the rule.

jaunt or junket?

這兩個字在坊間的英漢字典中並非都解釋得很清楚。jaunt 是指基於玩樂或度假的短途旅遊和遊覽;而 junket 則是指政府官員的公費旅行或公司企業人員的出差,是個非正式用字。在英文資料庫中,"jaunt" 出現的次數幾乎是 "junket" 的三倍 (611 個引句對 246個引句,但 "junket" 的另一個意思「凝凍食品、布丁」的意思幾乎沒有任何引句)。這兩個字在新聞英語 (尤其是八卦報的英文用語) 中出現得最多,其次是書籍,而口語中最不常見。

  • He took frequent junkets with friends to exotic locales. (美國報紙)
  • 120 French social security administrators were enjoying an all-expenses-paid junket on the Indonesian island of Bali. (英國大報)

由於 junket 含有強烈的負面意含,所以情況似乎是,我們應該使用 jaunt 來做為表示愉快旅遊 (pleasurable trip) 的中性字 -- jaunt 的同義字就是 trip:

  • Henry and Joe were persuaded to join in for a quick jaunt around the Cotswolds. (英國大報)
  • Fancy a Sunday jaunt into the country? (英國大報)

然而,這兩個字的對比是表面上的,而不是實際上的,因為儘管 jaunt 確實比 junket 還要「中性」,但它也同樣帶有強烈的負面貶抑意含,如下列的引句所示:

  • Despite a code of conduct, the multibillion-dollar [pharmaceutical] industry continues to offer [doctors] luxury educationals, free entertainment, weekend jaunts and `meetings' at the IMAX cinema. (澳洲報紙)
  • He admitted having taken his girlfriend on weekend jaunts to Croatia and Hamburg to stay on an £80,000 yacht registered in her name. (英國大報)
  • Swiegers has just returned from some recreational fly fishing in Tasmania to acclimatise for the journey ahead and jets out on Friday for an enviable business jaunt. He is heading to the prestigious Harvard University in the US of A for a two-week `leadership course'. (澳洲報紙)

從上面最後一個引句中的 'leadership course'可以看出該名記者對其所報導的 Swiegers 這位仁兄的 business jaunt 貶多於褒。然而,在下面的引句中,這兩個字是同義字:

  • Junkets around the globe by MPs have landed the taxpayer with an £800,000 bill. Among dozens of `fact-finding' trips in the last Parliamentary session were jaunts to Australia, South America and the U.S, a Commons report revealed yesterday. (英國八卦報)

所以,jaunt 和 junket 都是新聞用語中用來貶抑和諷刺不必付費或不應得的旅行和旅遊  (這或許是新聞記者眼紅的關係,因為他們從未享有這樣的待遇)。這項負面的貶抑係同時針對接受旅遊招待及付費提供旅遊的人 (這些人顯然有秘而不宣的動機)。freebie 這個字的意思大致相同,但更加負面:

  • He took the freebie to end all freebies when he entertained 23 assorted mates and family aboard a yacht belonging to an iffy Greek. (英國八卦報)
  • He, his wife and two children [are] off to Hawaii on a freebie so lavish that it has irritated his staff. (英國大報)

目前實在找不出一個真正中性的字來形容這樣的 trip,所以看來我們只好繼續使用索然無味、無聊乏味的 "business trip"。


from bombs to movies

blockbuster 相信是許多人經常看到的字。它的意思是指影片或書籍非常受歡迎、非常暢銷、賣座相當好;blockbuster 的這個意思可追溯到 1940年代末期。不過,這個字還有另一個意思,其起源較此更早,大約是在 1942 年左右;根據「新牛津英語辭典」 (The New Oxford Dictionary of English),它原先是指一種巨大的空投炸彈;「Partridge 俚語字典」 (Partridge's Dictionary of Slang) 亦有相同的解釋:一種威力足以將城市的街區 (city block) 夷為平地的強大炸彈。這個字在英文資料庫中相當常見,約有 2,000 個引句,但當「炸彈」意思解釋的引句則寥寥無幾:

  • During World War II, a blockbuster was a big bomb that could destroy a full city block. (美國書籍)
  • This tiny ply and balsa-wood bomber [called a Mosquito] could deliver a 4,000lb 'Blockbuster' to Berlin and frequently did so with much lower percentage losses than other bombers. (英國報紙)

筆者懷疑這個字中的 "block" 部分應是指某種支撐炸彈的結構體,而非它要炸毀的 city block。

下面的例句是現今最風行的意思:

  • The shark is just like the monster in Steven Spielberg's blockbuster movie Jaws. (英國八卦報)
  • She's written a blockbuster novel, but she quotes Nietzsche (and reads four or five books every week). (英國雜誌)

與 blockbuster 連用的字 (除 video 外 -- "blockbuster video" 是指連鎖的錄影帶出租店)最常見的有 :Hollywood, movie, latest, new, summer, film, big, star 和 Titanic。從這些字可以看出來,絕大多數的連用字都是與影片有關,而書籍或作品則遠遠落居第二。不過,有少數引句是講到 "blockbuster drugs",指的是可以使製藥公司發大財的非常成功的藥物,如威而鋼、RU-486 墮胎藥等:

  • SmithKline Beecham is one of a small band of leading-edge companies that dominate their industries. It has continued to develop blockbuster drugs in an increasingly difficult marketplace. (英國報紙)

這個字的形容詞是 blockbusting

  • The keynote speaker turned out to be the blockbusting novelist, Tom Clancy. (英國報紙)
  • Former Australian under-21 rugby centre Joel Wilson scored either side of halftime in a blockbusting performance. (澳洲報紙)

跟平常一樣,新聞記者在用字上一向具有「創造性」,下面就是他們創造出來表示相同意思、但拼法略有不同的字:

  • Romantic blockbustering is not an easy art. Barbara Cartland and her like may be the source of endless mirth, but have her detractors tried to write one of the things? (英國報紙)
  • Babe blockbusts The Australian-made hit movie Babe has earned more than $ 66 million at the box office in the United States and remains one of the US's top twenty films two months after its release. (澳洲報紙)
  • Dinosaur-mad kids will love Super Nintendo's Jurassic Park, the computer game of the year, based on this summer's prehistoric blockbustesaurus film by Steven Spielberg. (英國雜誌)

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skedaddle, scarper and scoot

這三個字的意思相近,其中以 skedaddle 最不常見;事實上,這個字也很少見,在英文資料庫中僅有 21 個引句。這個非正式用字的意思為「快速離去或前往某地;逃跑」。從引句來看,它似乎都出現在膚淺、浮誇和做作的寫作中:

  • I'll help you with your camera in the morning, but you kidlets better skedaddle now. (美國書籍)
  • That's the sound of a thousand record company execs crying out in anguish, as millions of dollars' potential revenue skedaddle out of the door. (英國報紙)

這個字甚至也當名詞用:

  • Cures for baldness have usually amounted to little more than a glib pitch followed by a swift skedaddle to the next town. (英國雜誌)

一個意思相當類似但稍微比較常見的字是 scarper  (136個引句);不過這個字純粹是英國用字,連一個美國引句也找不到:

  • If your partner runs up an overdraft or scarpers with all your joint money there's nothing the bank can do about it. The only way to safeguard against this is to have a "multiple signature" where you both have to sign every time you sign a cheque. (英國八卦報)
  • He takes his employer's goods and scarpers to the South of France, where he is seen sipping a glass of champagne. (英國雜誌)
  • We're pushing the meal early you see so we can scarper into town." "Do they know that you're scarpering?" "Mm. I think they'll have a rough idea." (英國會話)

另一個類似的字是 scoot;這個意為「快跑、疾走」的字很可能是由 "skedaddle" 和 "scarper" 組合而成。它經常出現在美國和英國的書籍中,甚至在新聞英語中亦很常見 -- 體育評論員尤其愛用這個字。"scoot" 後面通常接副詞或介系詞:

  • In the 12th minute Blakeley scooted over from 30 metres for his first [try]. (英國報紙的橄欖球比賽報導)
  • Ease into eastern Europe with a weekend in Budapest, still one of the great bargains for eating, scooting around by taxi, museums, the opera and old-fashioned thermal baths. (英國報紙)
  • The girls scooted off to their rooms. Twenty minutes later they reappeared, refreshed and ready for the dinner party. (英國書籍)

(computer) data is vs. data are

data 到底是單數還是複數,長久以來一直是個爭議的問題;由於現今電腦資料 (computer data) 盛行,這個問題似乎越演越烈,更加莫衷一是,令人無所適從。記得讀過外國一篇有關這項爭議的文章,文中提到在技術和科學寫作中應該將 "data" 視為複數字,但這似乎以偏蓋全;再者,這項說法也適用於 computer data 嗎? 實際的情況顯示:不盡然。

「微軟文體手冊」(Microsoft Manual of Style) 建議說,data 可以用做單數或複數,但它特別說明,我們不應使用 "datum" 和 "data are"。

根據在網路對電腦相關文件所做的搜尋,我們找到 26,821 個含有 "data" 的引句,其中在與 computer 有關的引句中,"data" 被當做單數或複數的情況大約旗鼓相當,但當單數用的引句略勝一籌:

data is  19                       data are  15
data was  6                     data were  5
data has  6                      data have  2
this data  7                      these data  3

然而,儘管在與電腦有關的文章中,寫作者似乎比較偏愛單數,但複數也有人用:

  • After thorough tests the highly-paid consultants finally announced the computer data was safe. (太陽報)
  • Though any CD-ROM's data is theoretically accessible by any computer, the program that extracts it must be rewritten for its intended variety of machine. (新科學家雜誌)
  • Describe means by which data was recorded. (美國書籍)
  • He was denied a licence to export the encryption systems set out in the book on a computer disk - even though the data were identical. (經濟學人雜誌)
  • The computer data are then directed to the computer and audio code converted back into analogue signals. (新科學家雜誌)

意見似乎非常分歧,即使同一份刊物也會出現不同的用法,如下面的引句:

  • Once the system is powered down, all data is lost and the disks taken away by security staff. (泰晤士報)
  • All data are held centrally on a network. (泰晤士報)
  • The computer data is put in the first track and the audio tracks follow. (新科學家雜誌)
  • The data are stored on a computer system's disc. (新科學家雜誌)

上面這 4 個引句來自 1994-1996 年,顯示它的單複數用法並未隨者時間而改變,不過比較晚近的引句則有傾向單數用法的趨勢。

至於「微軟文體手冊」的建議,並未偏離實際的用法。不過在此必須指出的是,寫作文體指南通常是說明性質,而現實生活的用法往往與其有頗大的不同,也比較有彈性。所以,單數或複數用法看來須視電腦文章寫作者的偏好而定。「資料」(data) 顯示,這個問題仍懸而未決。


When is a used car not a used car?

一般都知道,中古車或二手車的英文叫做 "used car" 或 "second-hand car"。但除此之外,英文還有沒有其他表示中古車的用法呢? 答案是「有的」。在洛杉磯,越來越多的廣告和牌示使用 "pre-owned" 來取代 "used",亦即中古車在廣告中被叫做 pre-owned car。這個字應該是 "previously owned" 的縮寫。

有人可能會認為 "pre-owned" 被用做 "used" 的同義字可能只是洛杉磯的地方性現象,其實並不盡然。有人也可能認為,由於 "used" 有許多負面的含意,所以才使用 "pre-owned" 來做為委婉語,關於這一點,我們只能說「或許吧」。

根據「網路英文資料庫」, "pre-owned" 已蔓延到洛杉磯以外的地方;再者,若干人士似乎認為需要一個委婉語來取代 "used",尤其是當他們想說服別人買東西的話。不過,它的使用頻率與 "used" 和 "second-hand" 比起來簡直不能相提並論,後面這兩個字在英文資料庫中都有好幾百個引句,從汽車和衣服到書籍和船舶都有。不過,美國人和英國人各有不同的偏好;美式英語比較喜歡 "used",而英式英語則偏愛比較委婉的 "second-hand"。相對地,pre-owned 只有 10 個引句,但出自美國和英國來源都有,它們大多被用來指車子:

  • Now offering pre-owned Discoveries, Defenders and Range Rovers from three hundred and thirty pounds a month. (英國地方電台節目)

可能為 "pre-owned" 之來源的 "previously owned" 則略微常見一些 -- 有 18 個引句,它們的出處幾乎全部來自美國,而且它們都是指房子而不是指車子:

  • Sales of previously-owned homes fell last month. (全美公共電台)

在英國,許多人視房子的屋齡是一項優點,如同美酒,越陳越香,越值錢,所以 "previously owned homes" 的觀念並不盛行。不過,在澳洲,若干人士似乎更進一步:

  • A home at Ashgrove, built in the Thirties, is advertised as 'pre-experienced'. (澳洲星期郵報)

另外還有一個引句使用 "pre-enjoyed" (當然,這個字不能當真) 來指車子:

  • A motorist was left scratching his head when a used-car salesman offered him a 'pre-enjoyed vehicle'. (澳洲今日報)

我認為這些用語係在暗示這些物品雖然用過,但並沒有損壞,事實上就跟新的一樣好。這些字似乎只適用於相當昂貴的物品,如汽車和房屋。英文資料庫中並未見到 pre-owned clothes 或 pre-experienced books 的用法。

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quite/almost

這兩個字幾乎可以在任何英文文章中見到。然而,對英文學習者來說,quite 是個相當困難的字,但基於兩個原因,它通常不跟 almost 連用。quite 有兩個主要意思:

  1. 它和 rather, fairly, 和 pretty (但不是 almost) 都是修飾可分等級形容詞 (gradable adjectives) 的程度副詞,而其程度是屬於「中級程度」;一般漢英字典給這些字的定義包括「相當」、「有幾分」、「頗為」,我認為許多人不能正確使用 quite 這個字,或與真正表示「相當」、「非常」的字混淆的癥結就出在這個錯誤的「相當」意思上。例如:"It's quite/rather cold",一般字典大多是翻譯成「天氣相當冷。」,正確的翻譯應該「今天頗冷。」這樣翻譯的原因是,程度副詞中還有表示「高級程度」的用字,包括 very, extremely, incredibly等 -- 這些字才應該翻譯成「非常」、「相當」。這裡又有個問題,quite 在英式英語中是中級程度副詞,但在美式英語中卻是個高級程度副詞;所以,如果你說某人的襯衫 quite nice,美國人聽了會很高興,但英國人會認為你其實不是很喜歡那件襯衫。
  2. quite 的第二個主要意思顯然與第一個意思相抵觸,意為「完全地」、「十分地」。

因此,我們知道 rather, fairly, quite 和 pretty 的程度都不若 very 來得強。再者, rather, fairly 和 quite 中又有程度強弱之分,其中 rather 最強,fairly 最弱,而 quite 則介於兩者之間。quite 有時暗示品質或程度比預期來得好。以下為第一個意思的 quite 的例句:

  • Sixteen years ago things were quite good, there was still a coal and steel industry.
  • Errors are quite common in the printing process.
  • It is possible, indeed quite easy, to get free treatment in America by going to a county hospital.
  • The chairman's sixty-eight per cent pay rise is actually quite modest compared to some of them.
  • There had been some talk of some violence, but on the whole, the election was really quite peaceful.

在上面的例句中,quite 所修飾的形容詞就是我們所謂的可分等級的形容詞,亦即它們有比較級、最高級,且可有程度之分,如 be "more common", "less common", "very common", 和 "quite common"。另有一類形容詞叫做「不可分等級形容詞」(ungradable adjectives),如 unique, impossible, favorite, certain, perfect, complete, final, vital 等;所以,你不能說 something is "more unique", "less unique", 或 "very unique" -- 它只有 "it is unique" 或  "it isn't unique"。

quite 的第二個意思係用來強調「絕對」和「極限」。它可與可分等級和不可分等級形容詞連用,但有時我們只能從上下文去判斷才會知道 quite 的真正意思:

  • A book about training focusing on these sorts of skills will be quite unique and really valuable.
  • His objectives are quite different from theirs.
  • They were quite sure they could get what they wanted.
  • Both Singapore and Indonesia have made it quite clear that they will not accept US bases on their territory.
  • It would be quite wrong to separate them.

有時我們很難分辨 quite 的意思到底是「頗為」還是「十分」:

  • Brendan is quite happy with the way things have turned out.
  • The description of the lorry is quite specific.
  • The great majority of council flats are quite small and quite ordinary. (第二個 quite 是問題所在)

然而,almost 大多跟不可分等級的形容詞連用,表示一種接近極限和絕對的最高程度:

  • You suffer from an almost unique mental condition.
  • In March he told her he was almost sure he had AIDS.
  • Once it's gone, it's almost impossible to recall what was there before.
  • The field was almost empty.
  • The pain was almost unbearable.

在上面的例句中,若以 quite 來取代  almost,那就產生 quite 的第二個意思 「完全地」、「十分地」。在此,跟 quite 同義的字還有 completely, absolutely, totally, entirely 和 utterly;而跟 almost 同義的字則有 virtually, nearly 和 practically。最後,順便一題的是,new, full 和 empty 可同時做為 可分等級和不可分等級形容詞。


going south

雖然有許多人可能相當熟悉 go west  (意為「上西天,歸西」或「毀壞,倒閉、一敗塗地」) 這個片語,但他們未必見過一個非常相似的片語 go south。現在讓我們先來看看 "go west" 的一些例句:

  • Corporate Money, the controlled circulation newspaper for finance directors and corporate financiers, has gone West barely days after the demise of Financial Weekly. (英國報紙)
  • Losing your seat if you are an MP, it's your whole life gone west. (英國書籍)

現在鮮少人會真正使用這個片語來指某人的死亡,現今它似乎大多被用在報紙的標題中做為雙關語:

  • Fortune's gone West; Football; Match report.  (英國報紙有關一位名叫  Leo Fortune-West的足球球員犯規被判出場的報導)
  • Letter Going West By ANDREW COLLINS (一封有關 "Pet Shop Boys" 「寵物店男孩」合唱團1993年流行單曲 "Go West" 的報紙讀者投書」)

大多數的美國和英國字典都未收錄 "go south" 這個片語,僅「朗文當代高級辭典」[Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (第三版,1995 年)] 有收錄;該字典說 "go south" 是非正式的美式英語,並對它定義如下:如果一種情況、一個組織、一套標準 go south,那意思就是說它變得非常差、非常壞、非常糟糕 ,每況愈下(即使它曾經非常好、非常棒):"Seems like all our moral standards have just gone south."

在英文資料庫的 323 個引句中,大多是 "go south" 的字面意思,即「向南前進」或「搬到南部居住」,但亦有不少引句是上述的意思,而且不是全部出自美國來源:

  • While some players describe the economic mood as 'going south every day', other antique dealers are surprisingly upbeat, both about their recent sales and about what is likely to happen in October. (英國雜誌引述美國古董交易商的報導)
  • Until then, it was shaping up like another case of the Sonics going north and their game going south. (美國報紙對一場籃球比賽的報導)
  • No wonder managers of the funds, many of whom have never had to deal with a market that is going south, are having kittens. (英國報紙的股市報導)
  • People wanted better for themselves and their children but, as Carver later wrote, their 'luck had gone south'. (英國報紙引述美國作家  Raymond Carver 的報導)

另外有個引句來自一份澳洲報紙對澳洲耶誕島行政長官這個坐領乾薪的閒差的報導,該名撰稿的記者似乎隱喻得有點過頭了:

  • The problem with this one-time sinecure is that in diplomatic circles it's regarded as the booby prize. Administrator to Christmas Island has lost its shine since the economy went south and the supposed saviour of the Indian Ocean outpost -- a high-roller oriented casino -- kept turning up lemons.

最後再來看一個似乎是英國人才有的用法,他們將 "go south" 的這項意思用在身體上。有兩個婦女對英國八卦報談到老化對身體的影響;第一個婦女似乎接受那是無法避免的情況,而第二個婦女則認為運動可以對抗身體每況愈下的走勢:

  • As we get older we lose our waistlines and boobs and bums go south. (英國八卦報)
  • I got into exercise out of necessity. At 29 I realised that whatever I had naturally I would have to start working on to stop it from going south. (英國八卦報)

going south again

寫完上篇文章 "going south" 後又發現一些重要的補充資料,因此乃深入搜尋相關的資料。根據數則搜尋項目的說明,這個片語亦與圖表上的線條有關,用來表示股價、公司獲利等的急遽滑落;它們係以一條筆直或幾近筆直向下 -- 如同地圖上朝南的方向 -- 的線來表示。

另有一則說明將 "going south" 用於隱喻,將之比喻為身體功能隨著年紀之增長「每況愈下」:南就是「向下」,所以,如果你的身體「向下陷落」,那我們就說 "It is going south." 該則說明還說這個意思或這種用法目前還存在於美國,至少在加州還有很多人使用。

有趣的是,意為「上西天,歸西」或「毀壞,倒閉、一敗塗地」的 "go west" 在美國顯然不為人所知。這可能跟地理有關。在1861至1865年的美國內戰,由於戰場大多在南部諸州且雙方死傷非常慘重,所以 "going south" 很有可能意謂上戰場作戰且很有可能躺在棺材裡被抬回家,而 "going West" 則意謂「冒險」(這裡的 West 是指美國西部)。

另外,"south" 現在有一項比較新的用法,那就是用來指全球比較貧窮的國家,因為它們大多位在南半球,跟「第三世界」(Third World) 的意思差不多;相對地,"the North" (有些人可能稱之為「西方國家」"the West") 則是指已開發國家。現在讓我們來看看這項新用法的一些例句。第一個例句來自BBC,是指數年前開發中國家在馬來西亞舉行的一項高峰會,第二個例句來自一本美國書籍,而第三個例句則是來自英國「衛報」:

  • Other leaders feel ... that more emphasis should be put on practical measures to improve south-south cooperation. About a dozen specific projects to develop links between countries of the south have been discussed in detail.
  • As we shall see below, some of the countries of the South remain afflicted with immense poverty and human want, problems of development and debt, and grave political and social instability.
  • What is emerging is a new social development compact, applicable to the richer countries of the North and the poorer ones of the South.

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