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Pour oil on troubled waters

刊登日期: 2020.01.10
作者: Grace Tse  

According to scientists, an oil spill in the sea is one of the worst forms of pollution. Oil cannot dissolve in water and forms a thick layer in the water which suffocates fish and stops marine birds from flying. In 2004, a hurricane toppled an oil rig into the Gulf of Mexico(墨西哥海灣)in the USA. The oil is still leaking and it is the longest ongoing oil spill in USA history. 

What is your understanding of the expression “pour oil onto troubled waters”in the following sentence? Did John make the situation better or worse? 

John tried to pour oil onto troubled waters(平息爭端; 息事寧人)when his classmates were quarrelling. 

This idiom means an attempt to calm a problematic situation by doing or saying something to pacify the people involved. 

In olden times, people believed that pouring some oil into the sea could soothe the rough waters. This method was recorded by Benjamin Franklin, the Founding Father of the United States, in the middle of the 18th century. When Franklin was travelling on a ship, he saw that the wake of a ship was reduced when the cooks poured their greasy water overboard. 

The idiom is also associated with a story about St Aidan in the 8th century. St Aidan gave a pot of oil to a young priest who boarded a ship, and told him to pour it out if the sea got rough. 

One of the earliest written versions of this idiom appeared in 1786. 

“His presence and advice, like oil upon troubled waters, ….” 


Glossary 
Dissolve 
溶解
Suffocates 
使窒息
Hurricane 
颶風
Oil rig 
油井
Pacify 
平息
Rough 
洶湧
Wake 
尾波
Greasy 
油膩
 

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