Today's expression is a quick one, a phrasal verb with a simple meaning. The expression is "square off." We say two people or two sides "square off" against each other when they directly face each other in competition. And there must be only two sides to square off. Three people cannot square off; it doesn't work that way.
Earlier today, we were talking about different ways to hold elections with multiple candidates . One way is to simply count all the votes, and whoever has the highest total wins. Another way is to use ranked-choice voting, which was our main topic. But a very common way of voting is to hold a runoff election. If nobody wins a majority in the first round, the top two vote-getters square off in a runoff election. In a runoff election, the top two candidates—and only those two—go up against one another. No one else is allowed to enter the race. Maybe there were three, thirteen, or thirty candidates in the initial race. In the runoff, the top two square off against one another.
The most common ways to use "square off" are with elections and sports. In Peru this year, eighteen candidates vied for the presidency in April. Surprisingly, nine of them got more than five percent of the vote. But the top two candidates, Pedro Castillo and Keiko Fujimori squared off in the second round on June 6. Pedro Castillo won a very, very slight majority and he will be the next president of Peru.
I'm recording this on July 6, 2021. Tonight, the Milwaukee Bucks will square off against the Phoenix Suns in the first basketball game of the NBA finals. One side against the other side in direct competition: the Bucks square off against the Suns at about 9:00 tonight. Wimbledon is also happening right now. There were 256 players, combined, in the men's and women's singles tournament. So, we would not say they're all squaring off because that's more than two competitors (way more than two, actually). But in every match, two players square off against each other. You see? Yesterday morning, I watched Roger Federer square off against the 26-year-old Italian Lorenzo Sonego. Federer won in straight sets, but Sonego put up a good fight.
It's less common to use this phrase outside of sports and elections, but it is possible. In a negotiation, a labor union can square off against company management. Two sides go up against each other during a dispute. In your town, there might be a debate about whether to build a new highway, for example. Some people will be for it, while others will be against it. The two sides might square off at a town council meeting.
Two sides can square off in court, especially in a civil trial. A plaintiff can bring a lawsuit against a defendant. If they can't settle their differences outside of court, they go to trial, where attorneys for both sides square off against each other to win a verdict.
JR’s song of the week
Today's song of the week is "Fear of the Water" by SYML. The song features a slow melody on the piano. The music video has individual dancers in industrial and natural landscapes. The lyrics are somewhat sad. I saw an interview on YouTube with SYML, in which he admits that all of his lyrics are sad—but that he's not a sad person at all. He said that he can experience and appreciate the positive things in life by imagining the worst things. I'll link to that YouTube interview in the transcript.
YouTube:Meet 'Where's My Love' Singer Syml
JR's song of the week in English is "Fear of the Water" by SYML.
See you next time!
Well that's all for today's Plain English, lesson number 383 for Thursday, July 22, 2021. Remember, you can find the full lesson on our website at PlainEnglish.com/383. To get the best Plain English experience, you'll want to sign up to be a member. We have a free membership level, which gets you a special home page and full transcripts of all our 383 lessons (and counting!). A Plain English Plus+ membership unlocks even more great resources to help you upgrade your English skills for work or pleasure. If you're not yet signed up, visit us at PlainEnglish.com and sign up today.
Tomorrow, July 23, marks the one-hundredth anniversary of China's Communist Party. A hundred years ago tomorrow, about a dozen activists, including a young Mao Zedong, met in a house in Shanghai. They created what would become the world's most powerful political party, one that has ruled China's one-billion-plus residents for the last 73 years. And that's what we'll talk about in Monday's lesson. See you then.