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kjy05a_20160605s
Stories behind Idioms
2016.06.04
As mad as a hatter
In the English language, there is a very common sentence pattern using “as + adjective + as” to compare things which are equal in some way. Henry is as big as an elephant. In the following sentence, the idiom “as mad as a hatter” is used to refer to a crazy person. He is a clever man but sometimes is as mad as a hatter(發瘋). Why is a hatter described as mad? A hatter is someone who makes and sells hats. In the 18th century, hat-making was a dangerous job because the hatters used mercury to make felt for fancy hats. Mercury is an extremely toxic chemical element which must be handled with care. Exposure to mercury can damage our nervous systems, leading to a lot of symptoms such as mood swings, chronic tiredness and memory loss. In the 19th century, doctors found that these symptoms were especially common among hatters, and called this kind of illness “mad hatter disease”. Nowadays, most governments have improved the safety in the hat-making industry. The idiom “as mad as a hatter” has become well-known partly because of a character, “The Hatter”, in the book “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”(《愛麗絲夢遊仙境》). The Hatter and another eccentric character, “March Hare”, are described as “mad” in this famous novel written by Lewis Carroll in 1865. Thus, both “as mad as a March hare” and “as mad as a hatter” describe someone who is unpredictable and irrational. The boy is so excited that he is acting as mad as a March hare(發瘋). While a lot of people think that the idiom originated from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, it existed long before the book was written. However, Lewis Carroll created the character, which vividly shows the best-known mad hatter. The origin of the form “as mad as a hatter” still remains unknown. The first “as” of the idiom is optional. For example, Mr Chan was mad as a hatter because he was under stress. This idiom usually is used to describe someone who is behaving irrationally rather than someone who is actually mad.  
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Stories behind Idioms
2016.05.14
Thumbs up
Very often in our daily lives, we make a thumbs-up sign or see someone giving a thumbs-up sign. In recent years, this sign has also become a popular emoji on the internet, particularly on the Facebook social media site and WhatsApp Messenger. What do you want to express when you send this emoji to your friends? According to a survey, people use this emoji to express a lot of emotions such as “good job”, “keep it up” and “proud of you”. In addition of showing the sign of thumbs up, people use the idiom “thumbs up” to mean approval and encouragement. After trying the new dish, the customers gave a thumbs up(豎起大拇指;讚許)to the chef. It is widely thought that the origin of this idiom came from ancient Roman combats. A defeated Roman gladiator could be spared from death when the crowd gave the sign of thumbs up. However, he was condemned to death when the crowd showed the sign of thumbs down. This story has also given rise to the idiom “thumbs down”. He was very disappointed because his proposal was given a thumbs down(反對)by the manager. This story became very popular because of the painting “Pollice Verso” by the French artist Jean-Léon Gérôme in 1872. In the painting, the crowd made the thumbs-down gestures to a defeated gladiator. Like a lot of idioms, the story behind “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” is still not certain. Scholars have made different interpretations of the gestures. For example, “Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable” said that if the crowd wished the gladiator to live, they enclosed their thumbs in their fists; if they wished him to be slain, they turned their thumbs out. In recent years, you might have also heard “two thumbs up” (豎起兩個大拇指;讚不絕口), which means strong approval. The saying came from a film review programme in the USA. The film critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel used the thumbs-up and thumbs-down system to review films. When both of them gave the film a thumbs up, this means that the film was very good. The phrase “two thumbs up” was trademarked in 1995 to ensure that their film reviews were trustworthy and reliable.  
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Neither East Nor West
2013.11.03
Individualism(個人主義)﹠ Totalitarianism(極權主義)
     Two more systems of thoughts worth mentioning: Individualism and Totalitarianism. Individualism aims at focusing on the person. In recent history, this emphasis on individual rights has brought about great changes in society, many of them very good. The most memorable for us Chinese is the TianAnMen Massacre (六四事件). The courage of one person can change world opinions and events. Since the 16th century, the awareness of the dignity of the individual person has led to changes throughout the world. The rise of the middle class as the backbone of society is indisputable. It is no longer acceptable for power and wealth to be controlled by just a few families. Cooperative democracy has been the moving force everywhere throughout the world for the last two hundred years. This is particularly evident in both the American and the French Revolutions. It has brought about great moments of heroism and beauty of personal virtue. This ideology came to an abrupt end in the 1960’s when personhood became lopsided. Personal rights rose above the consideration for the good of society. The Civil Rights Movement in the 1950’s in the United States morphed into the Women’s Right Movement and the rights to abortion. Currently the debates over gay rights, same sex union and other well-meaning but misdirected “human rights” movements are examples of imbalance. Following the struggles to change society in the 1800’s came the pain of dreams unfulfilled. The chaos of the 19th century and the reluctance of those in power to let go, brought rise to the notion of Totalitarianism, epitomized by Communism. Both the Soviet Union and the Chinese People’s Republic are attempts to galvanize individuals for the good of the nation. It is almost a Christian notion that one should be willing to sacrifice oneself for the good of others. This particular thought went wrong when the idea became coercive, when the individual no longer has the personal freedom to make sacrifices voluntarily and it is imposed by law. The fall of the Soviet Union and the current experimentations in the economics of China show how Totalitarianism fails. As a philosophy, it stifles individual dignity and the enthusiasm for self improvement. Yet, whenever there is an unreasonable imbalance of wealth, the same ideas rise up again to justify government central power, all in the name of helping the poor. This is partly the struggle currently in the United States over universal health care. Where does the Church stand on this? Simply, on neither side. On the one hand, the Church condemns the excesses of greed in the personal accumulation of wealth at the expense of the poor under capitalism and consumerism as well as the dehumanizing of the individual under Communism. Unfortunately, most Catholics side with many of the issues without taking time to truly study what is at stake. I recommend reading the sections on the fourth (CCC 2234-2246) and the seventh Commandments (CCC 2401-2449) in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. After getting used to terminology and wordings, I recommend other wr i t ings such as Pope Piux XI I I ’s “Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor”, the documents of Vatican II – especially “Gaudium et Spes”, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, and the writings of Popes John Paul II, Benedict and Francis. Within the balancing act of the good of the individual and the good of the whole, the Church tackles weighty issues like just wage, right to work, ecology, human trafficking, economic slavery, and so on. Happy reading.  
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Neither East Nor West
2013.09.21
Blessed Pope John XXIII And Pope John Paul II
Later this month, the Vatican will announce the date when the two former Popes will be canonized.  Most of you are too young to remember Pope John XXIII. He died in 1963. I had heard of him but I did not pay much attention since I was not Catholic then. Pope Paul VI succeeded him. He came to Hong Kong in December 1970. But by then I had already left for the United States.  Pope John XXIII (23rd) was elected pope on 28 October 1958 at the age of 77. He is responsible for calling the Second Vatican Council ( 梵蒂岡第二屆大公會議)and is known for his encyclical Pacem in Terris – Peace on Earth(《和平通諭》). He inaugurated t h e S e c o n d Va t i c a n Council but died before its completion. This Council, commonly called Vatican II (2), abbreviated to VAT II, addressed many of the needed issues facing a post Second World War world. The world was suffering from the devastation of the war and reacted by rejecting the traditional answers of politicians and governments. Communism was on the rise and God and religion were blamed. The Council reemphasized the role that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Hope, plays in our daily lives. We are in a global world where the needs of each other are more important than nationalistic sentiments. The power play between governments that brought about the devastation of the world wars has to be replaced by a love and care for individual persons. The Council addressed the role of the Church in this time of history in the world. The message of Jesus to love one another remains the only valid rule in our daily lives, especially in a time of pain.  It is interesting to notice that a similar message of love came into focus in the rock music of the 1960’s with the Beatles and other bands, except that they advocated the abandoning of all structures and systems, religious and cultural, for one of freedom, meaning no restrictions whatsoever. The message of the Council was mostly ignored and the world plunged into the chaos of false freedom and irresponsibility. Morality was determined by personal values, whatever that may be. Pope John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict will later condemn it as “moral relativism.”  When Pope John Paul II inherited the responsibility of leading the Church, he came from the personal experience of having lived through the Second World War and his country being occupied by the Soviet Union. His message of hope and “solidarity” when he was bishop in his own country of Poland prepared him to guide the Church to confront the false promises of communism and other modern ideologies. His own pain in losing his parents and witnessing the cruelty of war led him to dwell deeply into the mystery of pain and the freedom that comes only in the Cross of Jesus. This was nothing new to us Catholics because it is consistently witnessed by the saints and their writings. But to the world, it seemed such a breath of fresh air. His personality and message for personal human dignity found a home, particularly in the young people, which he repeatedly emphasized during the World Youth Days which he started in 1986 in Rome. In his later years, when he was weakened by his illness, he gave witness to the courage and dignity of aging. His death was a true statement of dying with dignity.    This is a very brief overview of history that shaped these two popes. I am sure many more can be and should be said. Maybe another time.