chink in the armor

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Thu Aug 1 07:54:01 UTC 2013

There are some new twists in this expression that I find somewhat annoying.

During the discussion of Rupert Murdoch's divorce case, a CNBC reporter
twice use the expression "chink in the armor" while questioning a guest
about the legal strategy Murdoch's now-ex-wife Wendi Deng might employ
to get around the prenuptial agreement.
> Discussing whether Deng's new lawyer might be able to gain her a share
> of the Murdoch family trusts during the divorce case, Frank stated on
> CNBC's Power Lunch: "I wonder, you know, Peter, what do you think the
> chink in the armor here might be? That's what [Deng's lawyer] is so
> good at, is finding a chink in the pre-nups and all these trusts. What
> do you think they may be looking for to get more out of this divorce?"

This, apparently, did not sit well with the Asian American Journalists
Association which went after Frank.

> Contacted by Media Matters, Bobby Caina Calvan, media watch chair for
> the Asian American Journalists Association, said after reviewing the
> video that Frank used "an unfortunate phrasing and people should know
> better in this day and age that a phrase like that, that I'm not going
> to repeat, is offensive to many of us."
> Acknowledging that the statement may have been "spoken innocently" and
> could have been part of an "off-the-cuff question," Calvan nonetheless
> added that "we would like CNBC and Mr. Frank to realize that the words
> uttered on air today about an Asian-American in the news were
> inappropriate in any context." He further stated that the "phrase
> shouldn't have been used, it is a no-brainer."
> Reached for comment, a CNBC spokesman said any offensive connotation
> was "totally unintentional," declining to offer any additional
> explanation.
> Calvan said AAJA has reached out to CNBC and was willing to help the
> network identify "words that many of us feel are offensive."
> In February 2012, ESPN fired an employee who used the phrase in a
> headline about Asian-American NBA player Jeremy Lin. That usage drew
> criticism from AAJA and others.

This is a bit odd because the usage in Lin's case was absolutely clear
cut--the "chink" in that story was deliberately chosen to refer to Lin.
I suppose, it's possible the same is true here--for all I know, Frank
was plastered prior to broadcast and was all giddy about coming up with
the pun that he was going to spring during the show. I have no idea--it
/might/ have happened that way. But the plain reading is perfectly
reasonable. The phrase is used all the time in discussion of breaking
contracts or other agreements. Having watched the whole clip, I see no
reason to suspect any untoward intent.

If you look up the expression in UD, you will discover the perfectly
ordinary historical reading (OED chink n.2) that shows up in the first
two entries. But the second entry already hints at the bigoted alternative:

> 1.) A fissure or flaw in a piece of armour that compromises its
> defensive abilities.
> 2.) Mistakes made by Asian-American athletes of Chinese or Taiwanese
> descent during a game that results in a loss for the team.
> 3.) A racist slur with a double meaning, the use of which under the
> previous definition can get you fired if you work for a news agency
> such as ESPN.

The third entry is just crass.

Aside from that, there seems to be no reason to worry about this, except
in the rare cases where the substitution of racial expression for the
sake of a pun is noticeable. The only reason to even suspect any
connection in this case is because Deng is Chinese.

But then I spotted an interesting flap in Google. I did a quick book
search for the expression (although lately Google Books search has been
nearly useless). It discovered no interesting citations (the cupboard is
barren through the 1960s, at least), but one of the "related" links
pointed to the MFA in Boston:

And what is at that link? "Samurai armor at the MFA". [Facepalm]

I also checked for the phrase in the OED and got no hits at all.

Another observation that may be worth a consideration. I have no idea
whether this is accurate, but I have long suspected that quite a
substantial fraction of people who use the expression think of "chink"
as a variant of "ding" rather than a fissure or cleft that leaves a part
of the body effectively unprotected by armor. So the "chink in the
armor" is more akin to a dent in otherwise "shiny armor" than to a weak
spot that is open for an attacker. Most of the time, it is hard to tell,
as there is not enough context to distinguish between the two. But I've
heard at least two or three times in the past two years people using
"chink in the armor" to effectively mean "the shine is off". As Wilson
usually says, your mileage may vary.


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