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samedi 6 février 2010

Slash-and-burn, scorched earth, no holds barred, take no prisoners (English)

Le présent billet a été rédigé par Jonathan Goldberg, que je remercie.

When President Obama met with members of the Republican Party, he stated that he had avoided "the kind of slash-and-burn politics that we've become accustomed to.” This term is explained in Wikipedia as the cutting and burning of forests or woodlands to create fields for agriculture or pasture for livestock, or for a variety of other purposes. Obama was clearly using that expression in a figurative sense. But it is hardly ever heard other than in its literal sense, as explained above. It is difficult to know exactly what he meant, or to make the connection between the agricultural methods employed in forests and the politics that he was impliedly criticizing. One can only surmise that he what he really meant to dissociate himself from was a “scorched-earth” policy, defined by the Collins Cobuild Dictionary, ENGLISH LANGUAGE, as “the deliberate burning, destruction, and removal by an army of everything, especially food, shelter and animals, that could be useful to an enemy who might invade the area.” This metaphor seems much more appropriate in the context.

Two other expressions that spring to mind are:

“no holds barred” – originally a wrestling expression, which according to Cobuild means “no longer following or required to follow any rules [in order] to win.” In other words, all methods are used to achieve the goal. Or, put otherwise, the end justifies the means. The following newspaper segment dates back to 1892: "Wm. Gibbs, the Kansas man, and Dennis Gallacher, of Buffalo, engaged in a wrestling match at the opera house here tonight. Gibbs was strangled into insensibility and may die. The conditions of the match were best two in three falls Greco-Roman style; no holds barred."

“take no prisoners” – according to the McGraw Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs, the literal meaning of this expression is “to kill the enemy rather than seize the enemy as prisoners. The soldiers' orders were to take no prisoners.” However, this phrase is used much more often in a figurative sense. McGraw Hill defines it as “to be extremely ruthless with the opposition. The new manager takes no prisoners. He is ruthless and stern.” According to the Cambridge Dictionary of American idioms, this term is used to describe someone who is not worried about anyone’s opinions of their actions. This expression has become so popular in the United States that it can be deemed to have joined the ranks of well-worn clichés.

The military domain (or theatre of war) has provided many other metaphors of adversarial activities, including the

• Tug of war – tir à la corde (literal meaning), rivalité (entre deux camps) (figurative meaning)

• War of words – guerre de mots

• Price war – guerre des prix

Words from which such metaphors are often constructed include: attack (attaque), battle (bataille), battleground (champ de bataille), besieged (assiégé), blockade (blocus), bombard (bombarder), bombshell (bombe), ceasefire (cessez-le-feu), crossfire (feu croisé), dud (pétard mouillé), firestorm (tempête [de protestations]), flank (flanc), foxhole (gourbi), front line (première ligne), join the ranks (s’engager), launch (lancer), no-man's land (no man's land), powder keg (poudrière), salvo (salve), time bomb (bombe à retardement), troops (troupes), truce (trêve), under fire (dans la ligne de mire), war zone (zone de guerre), weapons of mass destruction (armes de destruction massive).

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