Our lesson today is based on an article from The Economist Magazine, published on January 9th, titled “Xi Jinping risks setting off another trade war.” Listen again, “Xi Jinping risks setting off another trade war.”
In this context, “setting off” is an idiomatic expression meaning “to start” or “to initiate.” It’s commonly used to describe the act of causing an event or a series of actions to begin. Thus, “Xi Jinping risks setting off another trade war” suggests that Xi Jinping’s actions or policies might potentially initiate a new trade war.
The article discusses China’s heavy investment in technologies such as lithium-ion batteries, electric cars, and solar panels. Xi Jinping has proclaimed these as the future ‘pillars of the economy.’ In this context, ‘pillars of the economy’ means that these industries are viewed as essential drivers of China’s future economic growth, stability, and innovation. This significant investment is expected to have a global impact, potentially leading to a manufacturing export boom with low-priced goods from China, which could trigger a trade war.
Now, you know, one reason I really enjoy reading The Economist, besides its excellent content, is its clever use of wordplay in headlines. In this case, the headline, “Xi Jinping risks setting off another trade war,” is accompanied (or rather ‘introduced’) with another short heading that reads: “Steel Yourself” includes a pun: “Steel Yourself”. First, understand that a pun (P-U-N) is a play on words, it is something journalists to capture the reader’s attention with humor while referencing the article’s topic. “Steel Yourself” serves as such a pun. It means two different things at the same time. It means to prepare oneself mentally or emotionally for something challenging, and it also references the steel market, crucial to China’s automotive and renewable industries.
So, when I tell you to “steel yourself” (S-T-E-E-L), I mean “prepare yourself,” drawing from the idea that steel is strong and resistant.
In conclusion, our key vocabulary and idioms today include ‘setting off,’ an idiomatic expression meaning to start or initiate something, often used in the context of events like trade wars; ‘Steel Yourself,’ an idiom advising preparation for a difficult situation, and ‘pillars of the economy,’ which refers to key industries or sectors that form the foundational strength and support of an economy. By the way, I will have a few schedule openings for private classes beginning in February. These classes are a great opportunity for you to practice speaking English in an economic context, and I’ll be there to help you correct your pronunciation, build your fluency and improve your understanding. If live classes aren’t your preference, check out my new four-hour video course ‘Economists in Action’.
Image courtesy of Wins99