Not lift a finger? 连手指都不动一动

2024-06-18 16:51:19

Reader question:

Please explain “lift a finger” in this:

By reinvesting what you earned instead of spending it, you automatically made more money. You didn’t have to lift a finger.

My comments:

Not lift a finger. This phrase is always used in the negative.

In this example, by investing the money you earn instead of spending all of it, you automatically make more money – via interest if you put it in the bank or via dividend if you invest in the stock market.

That way, you get richer without having to work. You don’t have to lift a finger because that money you invest is working for you instead.

Lift a finger?

When we do something, anything, we have to raise or lift our hand. That’s the least we need to do if we want to complete a task, however small it may be. If you want to drink water from a cup, for example, you have to at least lift your hand and raise that cup of water to your mouth.

So, lifting a hand becomes synonymous with making the least effort, a small effort.

Lifting a finger means the same thing – making a small effort. Obviously, we have five fingers in a hand. So lifting one finger represents an even smaller endeavor than lifting a whole hand. In other words, it’s really the least you can do.

So, if you don’t have to lift a finger, you don’t have to do anything.

Like, at all.

This phrase is always – well, almost always – used in the negative. It is most often used in situations when you can be of help but refuse to do so. For example, you can help an old lady cross the street but do not. You watch the whole time, without lifting a finger, while she struggles her way across.

Yeah, lazy ass you.

I’m kidding. I’m not trying to pick on you. We all sometimes take no action when we can be of help in some small way, either because of sheer laziness or lack of motivation for whatever reason.

All right, without trying to sound too judgmental, let’s read a few media examples of “not lifting a finger”:

1. Just because someone’s invented something, it doesn’t mean that they’re happy with the end result.

J. Robert Oppenheimer/ Albert Einstein – The atomic bomb.

It’s J. Robert Oppenheimer who, as director of the Los Alamos Laboratory during World War II, is credited with the creation of the atomic bomb. But Albert Einstein’s work made it possible.

Despite past associations with left wing organizations, Oppenheimer welcomed the opportunity to play a part in the war effort. Later, however, he had mixed feelings about the bomb. “I have no remorse about the making of the bomb… As for how we used it, I understand why it happened and appreciate with what nobility those men with whom I’d worked made their decision. But I do not have the feeling that it was done right. The ultimatum to Japan [the Potsdam Proclamation demanding Japan's surrender] was full of pious platitudes. ...our government should have acted with more foresight and clarity in telling the world and Japan what the bomb meant,” he said.

Einstein was less equivocal. Years later he regretted having signed a letter to President Roosevelt urging him to support the research of physicists into nuclear chain reactions and their use as a weapon, because he believed the Germans were already working on it. “Had I known that the Germans would not succeed in producing an atomic bomb,” he said, “I would have never lifted a finger.

Mikhail Kalashnikov – AK-47.

Kalashnikov designed the rifle that bore his name for the Russian army at the end of the Second World War after witnessing terrible casualties in battle and being injured himself. Designed to be a simple automatic rifle that could be made cheaply using the mass production methods available at the time, Kalashnikov, who died in 2014, lived long enough to see his creation be responsible for more deaths than any other assault rifle.

“I keep coming back to the same questions. If my rifle claimed people’s lives, can it be that I…, an Orthodox believer, am to blame for their deaths, even if they are my enemies?” he wrote in a letter to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in 2010.

- 10 Inventors Who Came to Regret Their Creations,, August 1, 2010.

2. The Philippine government will not cooperate with the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) investigation into a brutal anti-narcotics campaign, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr said on Tuesday.

“I consider it as a threat to our sovereignty. Therefore, the Philippine government will not lift a finger to help any investigation that the ICC conducts,” Marcos told reporters, reiterating his earlier position.

The ICC in July rejected an appeal by Manila and allowed an investigation to resume into the thousands of killings during former President Rodrigo Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ and other suspected rights abuses.

Marcos said ICC investigators can come and visit “as ordinary people” but the government will not assist them.

Marcos’ remarks followed a statement made by his justice minister who last week told Kyodo News the government may allow an ICC probe if legal procedures were followed, a move which Duterte’s camp maintained was illegal.

In a statement, Vice President Sara Duterte echoed the position long held by her father that foreigners should not be allowed to meddle in the country’s affairs, adding she will refuse to be a part of a process that would put shame the country’s courts and judicial system.

“Allowing the ICC to conduct its probe in our country, in brazen violation of the constitution, is an absolute surrender of our birthright as a sovereign nation,” Salvador Panelo, Duterte's former presidential spokesperson, said in a message.

The Philippines officially withdrew from the international tribunal in 2019 after then President Duterte questioned its authority to investigate the campaign against illegal drugs that killed thousands of people.

- Philippines Will Not ‘Lift a Finger’ to Assist ICC’s Drug War Probe,, January 22, 2024.

3. For close court watchers, it wasn’t surprising that the Supreme Court rejected an effort by Christian right forces to take away access to the abortion pill. The case was too ridiculous, even for the current iteration of the court, which is dominated by six Republican appointees fighting varying levels of corruption allegations. The lawsuit was brought by a group of doctors – and dentists – who do not prescribe the medication in question, mifepristone. It was based on a total lie, which is that the drug is dangerous. (All evidence shows it’s safer than Tylenol. The risk of death from Viagra is 10 times higher.) And the argument was eye-rollingly silly: The plaintiffs claimed to be worried they’d be asked to treat abortion patients in an emergency, an instance that rarely comes up, due to the drug’s safety. When it does, emergency room providers have a right to ask a pro-choice doctor to step in to handle it.

What was more surprising was how decisive the court was in dismissing the anti-abortion arguments. The decision was unanimous, for one thing, with even the effusively misogynist justices like Sam Alito and Clarence Thomas going along with it. In his opinion, Justice Brett Kavanaugh used forceful language that likely precludes all future efforts by Christian right groups to rework the complaint and try again. “[A] plaintiff ’s desire to make a drug less available for others does not establish standing to sue,” he wrote, making it clear that even this Supreme Court cannot see the “personal stake” that these plaintiffs had in what other doctors are prescribing to patients.

This decision may not be the end of efforts by anti-abortion groups to force a nationwide ban through the courts, but it is undeniably a huge setback. It will be tempting to many pundits and politicians, therefore, to treat this as the end of the efforts to strip all Americans of abortion access. More than 60% of abortions in the U.S. are done with pills, in no small part because they can be sent through the mail, making it easier for patients to get access despite the patchwork of abortion bans that have sprung up across the nation since the Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health in 2022.

Democrats, on the other hand, snapped into motion to warn Americans that the abortion issue is very much alive and that their vote in November could determine the fate of reproductive health care. The decision “does not change the fact that if elected, Trump and his allies want to effectively ban abortion nationwide with or without the help of Congress and the courts,” the Democratic National Committee said in a written statement. The White House’s statement concurred, adding that Republicans have an “extreme and dangerous agenda to ban abortion nationwide.”

As alarming as the Democratic language is, it’s arguably an understatement. If anything, we can now expect Republicans to redouble their efforts to ban abortion nationwide. Christian right activists have already made it clear to Donald Trump that they expect him to sign a national abortion ban if he returns to the White House. Now that pressure, which was already high, will skyrocket. And this time, Trump will owe them even more than he did when he won in 2016, because this time, he’s running not just for president, but to stay out of prison.

Trump likes to make a lot of noise about leaving abortion “to the states,” but his actions clearly signal to his fundamentalist followers that he will sign whatever abortion ban they get passed through Congress. On Monday, he spoke to the Danbury Institute, a group that not only calls for a total ban on all abortion but puts scare quotes around the term “women’s rights.” Trump is the single biggest reason that abortion bans are happening, as he appointed three out of the six justices who voted to overturn Roe. Like every other lie this notorious liar tells, Trump is not “moderate” on abortion, but will do the far-right’s bidding on the issue every chance he gets. If he wins and Republicans hold majorities in the Senate and House, it’s not a matter of “if” they ban abortion, but whether it’s the first or merely second or third thing they do in office.

Nor is the Republican radicalism on this issue limited to abortion. Earlier this month, all but two Republican senators voted down a bill that would protect the right to contraception from being overturned by the Supreme Court, as Thomas has strongly hinted is a future possibility. In right-wing media, the clamor to ban birth control is growing, with MAGA leaders like Charlie Kirk claiming, “Birth control, like, really screws up female brains.” (Trump regularly speaks at events for Kirk’s group, TPUSA, and is scheduled to do so again this weekend.) And despite disingenuous claims to support reproductive technologies like in-vitro fertilization, Republicans in the Senate did the Christian right’s bidding this week, voting against a bill to protect the fertility treatment on Thursday.

And just in case Trump somehow wins the White House without Republicans dominating Congress, anti-abortion forces have a plan to use Trump to ban abortion nationwide anyway: Project 2025. This infamous document, put together by the team widely expected to staff and run the White House if Trump wins, has gotten a lot of attention for the “post-constitutional” plans to take a hammer to decades of labor and environmental regulations, harness to Justice Department to terrorize political opponents, and deport immigrants by the millions. It also outlines a plan to ban the abortion pill nationally without Congress lifting a finger.

- After Supreme Court’s abortion pill decision, Donald Trump is even more likely to ban abortion,, June 14, 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)