The “burn everything” policy

And now, Words and their stories, from VOA Learn English.

Today we are talking about burns and the effects of extreme heat. There is a special word for it. Burn is a damaged area or mark caused by a burn.

Scorcher is also a verb. When we burn something, we burn it. But the burn looks more serious than a burn. For example, I wouldn’t say I burned dinner. I would say I burned it down.

Sometimes we use it to describe a verb meaning to produce extreme heat. For example, the sun burnt the naked Earth.

And that brings us to today’s phrase – scorched earth.

Scorched Earth describes some kind of policy or way of doing something. For example, it is a kind of military policy. This policy ensures that all resources – homes, food crops, factories, vehicles – are destroyed before an enemy can use them. You destroy all things of value so that they cannot be used against you.

A scorched earth approach is also used in the business world. It is similar to military policy. A scorched earth approach is when a company dumps the best parts of its business in a hostile takeover. This is to make it less attractive to another business that might want to buy it.

In the military as in business, a scorched earth approach is often a last effort. We turn to a last ditch effort when all else has failed. All. Once everything is destroyed… there is no going back. It is a “point of no return”.

Burning bridges is a related phrase. We wrote about it in a previous Words and their stories. This expression is often used in personal relationships. If you burn your bridges, you destroy your relationships. Again, there is no going back and saying you’re sorry.

However, when you burn bridges, relationships with others are the only thing you destroy. Thus, these two expressions – scorched bridges and scorched earth are not interchangeable.

But they have a similar goal: destruction.

Let’s say a friend of mine, Georgina, was a talent agent. She has represented many successful writers, artists and musicians in a large city. When the company got too big, she opened an agency with her friend Stéphanie. They made the business grow and it was very profitable. Georgina had all the contacts, but Stephanie knew how to run a business – maybe too well.

One day, Georgina arrived at the office to find herself locked out! Her “friend” had tricked her into giving up her rights to the company.

Georgina was out. She found that legally there was nothing she could do. So she did the only thing she could do. She took a scorched earth approach.

Georgina knew that the most valuable things the business owned were contacts. she had. So she burned down all her bridges and destroyed relationships with all those contacts. It took him a long time. But, in time, the agency failed.

Stéphanie is still looking for work. But Georgina moved to a beautiful island and opened a restaurant.

And that’s all the time we have for these Words and Their Stories! Until next time … I’m Anna Matteo.

Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in this story

naked – adj. having no coating

approach – not. a way to handle something : a way of doing or thinking about something

last resort – adj. made as a last ditch effort, especially to avert disaster

effort – not. energy used to do something: a serious attempt

Talent – not. a special ability that allows someone to do something right

agent – not. a person who acts or does business for another


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