Sold down the river? 出卖

2024-06-14 11:11:39

Reader question:

Please explain “down the river” in this quote:

Donald Trump: The auto workers are being sold down the river by their leadership, and their leadership should endorse Trump.

My comments:

In this quote, former US President Donald Trump likens auto workers to slaves who in the old days were sold down the river.

The Mississippi River that is.

In the old days, the southern part of the United States were known for its cotton plantations exploiting slave labor.

In the northern parts of America, slaves were fewer in number and were treated better, that is, relatively speaking, than their southern brothers and sisters.

Apparently, slave owners used to threaten their disobedient slaves by threatening to sell them down the river, i.e. down south.

We say, up north and down south. That’s how people in the northern hemisphere talk. And the Mississippi runs from north to south, eventually emptying its gargantuan self into the Gulf of Mexico.

So, selling a slave down the river means selling him or her down south, to one of the cotton plantations where they could be worked to death (or, worse still, beaten to death).

Hence, metaphorically speaking, someone sold down the river means refers to someone who is betrayed – bigly, in Trumpspeak – and put into a position that’s worse and far more dreadful.

In our example, Donald Trump suggests auto worker union leaders are betraying their workers by, for example, negotiating for a worse deal than the one they currently have.

Is it true?

Like many things out of Trump’s mouth, it is not true.

Also, while we’re at it, unions predominantly support current President Joe Biden, who is a Democrat.

Trump, by the way, is Republican seeking the Oval Office for a third attempt this November.

Stay tuned to see if auto workers will vote for Trump.

My take: They will not.

Anyways, here are media examples of this quintessential American idiom, selling someone down the river:

1. For generations, the phrase “sold down the river” has been used to signify a profound betrayal.

“River” was a literal reference to the Mississippi or Ohio rivers. For much of the first half of the 19th century, Louisville, Ky., was one of the largest slave-trading marketplaces in the country. Slaves would be taken to Louisville to be “sold down the river” and transported to the cotton plantations in states further south.

In his 2010 history of the Mississippi River, Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild journalist Lee Sandlin said “the threat of being ‘sold down the river’ was seen as tantamount to a death sentence.”

Because white planters valued men over women as laborers, male slaves were far more likely to be “sold down the river.” In addition to the tragedy of being separated from family, to be sent down the river meant a sentence of brutally hard labor. As the global demand for cotton grew, the demand for more and more slave labor grew at an equally large pace.

Sociologist Wilma A. Dunaway has written that the global demand for cotton set off a forced migration of slaves with close to one million being transported to the Deep South between 1790 and 1860. The importation of slaves ended by 1808, which means much of the demand for labor was met by selling slaves who were born in one of the so-called “slave-growing states” such as Kentucky.

Kentucky was the home of the fictional character Uncle Tom in the best-selling American novel of the 19th century, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The book’s protagonist, a loyal middle-aged slave, is sold by his owners to help pay their mounting debts. While Tom is being transported down the Mississippi on a riverboat, he befriends a young girl, Eva, who shares his deep Christian faith. Her father, Augustine St. Clare, purchases Tom and takes him to the family home in New Orleans. Mr. St. Clare dies, and Tom is sold at auction to a particularly sadistic plantation owner. After imposing a series of torments worthy of Job, the slave owner orders his overseers to beat Uncle Tom to death.

The Oxford English Dictionary notes that Harriet C. Frazier's 2001 study “Slavery and Crime in Missouri, 1773-1865” contains the firsthand account from a journal by Mr. Aaron S. Fry, who witnessed the suicide of a slave who was about to be transported:

“A Negro man of Mr. Elies, having been sold to go down the river, attempted first to cut off both of his legs, failing to do that, cut his throat, did not entirely take his life, went a short distance and drowned himself.”

- What Does ‘Sold Down The River’ Really Mean? The Answer Isn't Pretty,, January 27, 2014.

2. Some British elite reportedly want Prince Harry and Meghan Markle iced out of King Charles III’s coronation next spring after the release of their Netflix docuseries, “Harry & Meghan.”

Former conservative politician David Mellor told the Daily Mail, “They make money out of selling their family down the river. I think it should be made clear that the British people do not want them there,” in reference to the upcoming celebration for the king in May.

“They shouldn’t come to the coronation. They categorically shouldn’t come,” he declared, also adding that Brits “would be perfectly entitled to boo” the Duke and Duchess of Sussex if they attend.

While Prince Harry was born into the monarchy, Meghan Markle previously served as a senior royal upon her marriage to Harry in May 2018 until announcing their departure in January 2020.

Current Parliament member and former Conservative Party Leader Iain Duncan Smith said of the couple to the Daily Mail, “If they dislike the Royal Family so much why would they attend the coronation?”

British author Lady Antonia Fraser said, “I hope they don’t come because I want the king and queen to be the center of attention. It worries me that if they come the cameras might waste time on them. They should stay holding hands in Hollywood.”

- Prince Harry and Meghan Markle warned not to attend King Charles' coronation after Netflix docuseries drop,, December 11, 2022.

3. In a shocking turn of events that has stirred the tech and crypto communities, business mogul and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of SpaceX and Tesla, Elon Musk has issued a stark warning to tech company Apple, threatening to forbid Tesla from using Apple devices if the tech giant integrates OpenAI into its operating system.

Musk, who has been outspoken about his worries about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its possible hazards made this claim amid mounting rumors that Apple may include OpenAI’s capabilities in upcoming releases of its iOS and macOS operating systems.

On Monday, tech behemoth Apple during its annual Worldwide Developers Conference WWDC 2024 announced its foray into artificial intelligence dubbed Apple Intelligence, a collection of novel features in generative AI.

Additionally, it revealed that users can use ChatGPT from OpenAI when utilizing Siri, but only if they choose. With this integration, Apple’s digital assistant undergoes its most significant redesign since its 2011 launch.

Senior Vice President of Software Engineering at Apple Craig Federighi noted that the company included support for Siri so that it can use ChatGPT’s knowledge when it could be beneficial to users. “You will be able to access ChatGPT for free without creating an account, and your request and information will not be logged,” he added.

Later this year, the integration will be available in macOS Sequoia, iOS 18, and iPadOS 18. The company has also promised to include more artificial intelligence models from outside sources.

Apple Intelligence will deploy Apple Silicon’s cloud-based models on dedicated servers to protect user privacy and security. According to Apple, it will only transmit a restricted amount of data in a cryptographically safe manner when a request needs to reach a cloud server.

However, Musk, displeased with the idea, has revealed that his companies will not allow Apple devices if they integrate OpenAI at the OS level. “And visitors will have to check their Apple devices at the door, where they will be stored in a Faraday cage,” he added.

Musk opposes the integration because he believes it is an unacceptable breach of security. His ban threats underscore the growing tension between established tech firms and cryptocurrency entrepreneurs who support more decentralized, user-centric methods.

Musk further criticized the firm saying the fact that Apple can’t even create AI on its own, let alone guarantee that OpenAI will preserve your security and privacy, is patently absurd. According to the CEO, Apple has no idea what truly happens once they send users’ data over to OpenAI, claiming that users are being sold down the river.

The CEO may be concerned about OpenAI’s technology’s ability to enable mass data gathering and monitoring, which could jeopardize the privacy and security of cryptocurrency transactions. Thus the introduction of OpenAI into Apple’s ecosystem may result in stricter data surveillance and may also impede the anonymous and peer-to-peer nature of crypto.

- Crypto Security Risk? Elon Musk Ban oO Apple Devices Looms If They Embrace OpenAI,, June 12, 2024.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣   编辑:丹妮)