A day late and a dollar short. I came across this expression while reading a news item. It’s an American idiom I have not used for a long time. If you are a day late and a dollar short it means you have taken action too late and the action you have taken is too ineffective to be of any use. For example, you can say Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s efforts to stop the fifth wave of the coronavirus were a day late and a dollar short. This means she didn’t prepare adequately for a fifth wave and when the highly infectious Omicron variant reached Hong Kong her efforts to stop it were ineffective.
Government figures show over 1.2 million Hong Kong people became infected and about 10,000 people died because she was a day late and a dollar short. This American idiom is very popular in the south of the US. It is not clear how it started but some language experts believe it started during the Great Depression in the 1930s in the US. It was caused by a sharp fall in stock prices which impoverished many Americans. They were short of money. If you are short of money it means you don’t have enough money. People who cannot find work for many months are usually short of money.
Some language experts believe a day late and a dollar short originally meant not having enough money and if money came, it was too late. The idiom is similar to the expression “too little, too late”. If something is too little, too late it means action taken to solve a problem is not enough and it came too late to be effective. Some language experts believe the idiom originated in the military when reinforcements were not enough and arrived too late to ensure victory or avoid defeat. Ukraine, which Russia has invaded, often warns Western countries that the action they are taking to help Ukraine is too little, too late.
A day late and a dollar short. 我讀着一則新聞時，碰到這個習語。這是一個美式成語，我已很久沒有用過了。若你是 a day late and a dollar short，意即你做事拖拉，太遲行動，而且你所做的行動太無效，起不了作用。譬如你可以說，特首林鄭月娥在遏止第五波新冠肺炎疫情方面所付出的努力是 a day late and a dollar short——意思是她沒有為第五波疫情作充足的準備，而當傳播率甚高的Omicron變種病毒入侵香港時，她制止病毒傳播的努力都是沒有作用的。
政府數據顯示，超過一百二十萬香港人受到感染，約有一萬人死亡，都因她反應遲緩又沒做好準備（a day late and a dollar short）。這句美式成語在美國南部非常流行。這句話到底是怎樣開始的，至今仍不明確，但一些語言專家認為它是在一九三零年代美國經濟大蕭條期間開始的。大蕭條是由股價急速下跌所引起，令許多美國人一貧如洗。他們都是 short of money——若你是 short of money意即你財政拮据。人若多個月也找不到工作，通常都會缺錢（short of money）。
一些語言學專家相信， a day late and a dollar short原本的意思是沒有足夠的金錢，而即使金錢到手，卻已經太遲了。這個成語跟習語“too little, too late”意思相近，若某事是too little, too late，意即用以解決問題的行動並不足夠，也太遲了，起不到作用。一些語言專家認為，這個成語來自軍事用語，指增援不足，亦來得太遲，並不確保能戰勝或避免戰敗。俄羅斯侵襲的烏克蘭就經常警告西方國家，他們協助烏克蘭所採取的行動太少也太遲（too little, too late）。