Today’s expression is to “stop short of” something. If you stop short of something, you don’t quite do it. But you get really close. This is often used with statements. And we use it with statements when we almost say something definitively, but we don’t quite go there.
Last week, we talked about ESG investing, and the idea that investors like to put their money in companies that they think are doing good in the world, and they like to take their money away from companies that are not.
In the U.S., large universities have endowments. This is a big pot of money that accumulated from rich donors over the years. Universities invest their endowments, and they use the income from the investments to pay for their operations. That way, they can charge less tuition or offer richer amenities.
It's a common thing for student protesters to want their universities to “divest” of companies that pollute the environment, make unhealthy food, or even exist in Israel, among other terrible things in the eyes of these students. The students are clamoring for “divestment,” which is like a boycott of companies that do these terrible things. The sentiment may, in some cases, be admirable, but student protesters are not known for their real-world, clear-eyed thinking. The university administrators are trying to make the most money from their investments and many would prefer not to listen to these protesters. Still, the universities don’t want to outright ignore their own students.
So I saw a story that said Princeton University would steer its investments away from 90 fossil fuel companies, but the university stopped short of using the word “divestment.” So the university is pulling its money out of these 90 companies, we think. They are doing what the students want.
But the university stopped short of using the word “divestment.” They went right up to the line. The protesters demand “divestment,” meaning selling stocks in companies that do bad things like produce energy. The university is doing that. So they are doing what the student protesters want, which is “divestment.” But the university is not using the word. They stopped short of using the word “divestment.”
Here's another story. In Stockton, California, five people have been killed in three months and police suspect they are connected. So wait, is a serial killer on the loose? Should everyone be afraid? Police stopped short of saying there’s a serial killer roaming around Stockton, California.
But wait a second. Police said there have been five related murders. There’s nobody in custody. They haven’t solved the crimes. So…can we put two and two together and say there’s a serial killer on the loose? Maybe, but the police didn’t say that. The police stopped short of saying there’s a serial killer on the loose in Stockton. They’ll let you draw your own conclusions, but they didn’t quite say there’s a serial killer out there.
Russia’s war in Ukraine is not going well. Russia has not made the kinds of advances it has wanted. Then, Ukraine captured back a lot of cities it had lost early in the war. The Russian government can lie all it wants, but it can’t hide the basic truth that the war is not going well. So a lot of people in Russia are criticizing the war effort, but they are stopping short of criticizing Vladimir Putin.
People are criticizing the military leadership. They’re criticizing the strategy. They’re criticizing the execution. But they’re stopping short of criticizing the person at the very top. They don’t quite go there. They get right up to the line, but they don’t cross it.
So you can see the pattern here is all about statements and what you say. Princeton stopped short of “calling” its investment decisions “divestment.” Police stopped short of “saying” that a serial killer is on the loose. Critics stopped short of “criticizing” Vladimir Putin directly. All this is about statements.
And that is how I used it earlier today in the lesson about Magnus Carlsen , the number-one chess player. After the American teenager Hans Niemann beat Carlsen, Carlsen made it clear to the world that he thought Niemann had cheated. But he stopped short of directly accusing Niemann.
He made a big show of withdrawing from a game after making just one move and he immediately said that cheating needs to be addressed in the game. There is no doubt what he was thinking, but he still stopped short of directly making an accusation. That was in the first few weeks of the controversy. Carlsen did later release a statement that made the accusation explicitly. But in those first few weeks, he stopped short of making an accusation directly.
JR’s song of the Week
Today’s song of the week is “Champagne Supernova” by Oasis. You can try to interpret it if you want, but Noel Gallagher, who wrote the lyrics, said ten years after he wrote the song that he still hadn’t decided what it means. A supernova is an explosion of a star. So the lyrics invite you to imagine a “champagne supernova” in the sky.
This song was really popular when I was in high school. 1995 it came out. “Champagne Supernova” by Oasis is the song of the week, thanks to JR.
See you next time!
Do you remember your first cell phone number, by the way? I said at the beginning my first phone number started with 513. I think it was 513-255-something. I forget the ending now. Now that I’ve moved to Mexico, I’m going to get only the third cell phone number of my life. I’m going to keep my 312, my Chicago number, on Google Voice. I can’t give that up! It was my phone number for more than 15 years. That’s a long time! Of course I get spam calls on it every five minutes, but that’s another story.
That’s all for today’s lesson. Congratulations again on making it to the end of another Plain English lesson. This was number 513, so you can find the full lesson at PlainEnglish.com/513. See you back here on Monday for another one.