Close to the vest


Close to the vest 有很多异体形式, "playing/keeping it close to the/your vest/chest", 但最早它从一个更长地短语演变而来 "playing your cards close to the vest"。这些短语从字面上看就是"把自己手上的牌紧紧地拿在胸口,以防别人偷看"的意思。我们一起来探究一下它是如何发展为"(做事)小心、谨慎"的意思。

把牌紧紧地拿在胸口防止他人偷看,就是为了使别人不能从战术上占便宜,所以在游戏中,你会小心翼翼,不让你的对手和他可能的同伙站在你的身后。Sinclair Lewis 在他的作品Babbitt中使用了这个短语,背景是在一男子俱乐部:He was a large man with hair en brosse, and he knew the latest jokes, but he played poker close to the chest。这里作者不单单在做事实性描述,同时意在刻画这位男子的性格。

而这个短语的隐喻用法则是其本意的自然延伸。如果说某人 play it close to the vest/chest,也就说这个人非常小心,谨慎甚至诡秘的策划什么行动,而且最重要的是隐藏自己的意图及相关信息。牛津英文字典用它来描述神秘的行为,请看原文例句:I couldn't afford to give hints...You have to play these things close to your chest。

近些年来,这种比喻的用法不光用来描述人,还被用于描述拟人化的公司实体的行为。请看例句:Tivoli Systems, a subsidiary of computer giant IBM, which has responsibility for securing the Olympics computer systems--a network of around 7,300 personal computers--was also playing its cards close to its chest today (AP newsfeed, 2000). 又如:For an industry that wants to know an awful lot about each and every one of its 'customers'--with and without clothes on--hospitals tend to keep their own business dealings pretty darn close to the vest (The Columbus Dispatch, 2000).

其实,与扑克牌相关的比喻用法简直不胜枚举,如:keep a poker face, play your cards right, have a card up your sleeve, 或 have an ace in the hole。如果要表达keep your cards close to the vest的反意,也就是不谨慎,毫无戒备,你可以用tip your hand这个短语;如果想表达打开天窗说亮话的意思,可以使用短语lay your cards on the table。