VOA词汇掌故:It Will Not Wash 行不通;不起作用

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本期美国之音词汇掌故要学习的习惯用语有是it will not wash 这事儿行不通。

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It Will Not Wash


I'm Susan Clark with the Special English program WORDS AND THEIR STORIES.


Young Mister Smith had an idea for his employer. It was an idea for saving money for the company by increasing prices. At the same time, Smith suggested that the company sell goods of less value.


If his employer liked the idea, Smith might be given more pay. Perhaps he might even get a better job with the company.


Business had been very slow. So Mister Smith's employer thought a few minutes about the idea. But then she shook her head. "I am sorry, Smith," his employer said. "It just will not wash."

公司业务一直不是很好。因此老板对史密斯的主意考虑了几分钟。但是他摇了摇头,说:“抱歉,史密斯。It just will not wash。”

Now, the meaning of these English words should be, "It will not get clean." Yet Smith's idea did not have anything to do with making something clean. So why did his employer say, "It will not wash?"

从字面意思看,这句英语的意思应该是:它弄不干净。可史密斯搞不懂他的主意和弄干净什么东西并没有关系。那他的老板为什么会说“It will not wash?”

Most word experts agree that "it will not wash" means it will not work. Eric Partridge wrote that the saying probably developed in Britain in the eighteen hundreds. Charlotte Bronte used it in a story published in eighteen forty-nine. She wrote, "That wiln't wash, miss." Mizz Bronte seems to have meant that the dyes used to color a piece of clothing were not good. The colors could not be depended on to stay in the material.

大多数语言专家认为“it will not wash”的意思是这事儿行不通。英国语言学家艾瑞克·帕特里奇写道:这个说法可能源于19世纪的英国。夏洛特·勃朗特在她1849年发表的小说中用过这个句子。 她写道,“That wiln't wash,小姐。”貌似勃朗特小姐的意思是用于染这块布的染料不太好。颜色不能被染到布料上。

In nineteenth century England, the expression came to mean an undependable statement. It was used mainly to describe an idea. But sometimes it was used about a person.


A critic once said of the poet Robert Browning, "He won't wash." The critic did not mean that the poet was not a clean person. He meant that Browning's poems could not be depended on to last.

评论家曾用"He won't wash."这样的话评价过诗人罗伯特·布朗宁。评论家并不是说诗人是不干净的人。他的意思是布朗宁的诗不能延续下去。

Today, we know that judgment was wrong. Robert Browning still is considered a major poet. But very few people remember the man who said Browning would not wash.


Happily for the young employee Smith, his employer wanted him to do well in the company. So the employer "talked turkey" to him. She said, "Your idea would be unfair to our buyers. Think of another way to save money."


A century ago, to talk turkey meant to talk pleasantly. Turkeys in the barnyard were thought to be speaking pleasantly to one another. In recent years, the saying has come to mean an attempt to teach something important.


Word expert Charles Funk tells how he believes this change took place.


He says two men were shooting turkeys together. One of them was a white man. The other was an American Indian. The white man began stating reasons why he should get all the turkeys for himself. But the American Indian stopped him. He told the white man, "Now, I talk turkey to you."


Mister Smith thought of a better idea after his employer talked turkey to him. He was given an increase in pay. So if your idea "will not wash," try "talking turkey" to yourself and come up with a better idea.


This WORDS AND THEIR STORIES program was written by Jeri Watson. I'm Susan Clark.



注1:相传在北美殖民时期,一个白人和一个印第安人去打猎,事先说好了平分打到的猎物。一天下他们共猎得2只火鸡和3只老鸦。白人把老鸦给了印第安人,把火鸡全留给了自己。印第安人反对这样分配,白人就说You have three birds, I have only two.(你分3只鸟,我只拿了2只。)印第安人回答Stop talking birds. Talk turkey.(别谈什幺鸟了,还是谈火鸡吧。)因为两个人都明白,他们想要得猎物是火鸡。

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