A media report I read last week saddened me. The report said Michael Sze Cho-cheung, a very senior government official during colonial times, had died of cancer. It saddened me because I knew him when I was a Hong Kong reporter covering political news. Sze Cho-cheung had worked very closely with Hong Kong’s last governor, Chris Patten, on electoral reforms leading up to the 1997 reunification. In a statement on Sze Cho-cheung’s death Patten said he was one of Hong Kong’s finest public servants who understood to his fingertips what once made the Hong Kong civil service one of the best in the world.
There are many idioms and expressions that use the word “fingertips”. If you say your best friend is a gentleman to his fingertips it means he is a gentleman in every way. When Patten said Sze Cho-cheung understood to his fingertips what once made the Hong Kong civil service one of the best in the world he meant Sze Cho-cheung fully understood why the civil service was one of the world’s best. If you always keep your mobile phone next to your bed when you sleep you can say you always have your mobile phone at your fingertips. This means you can easily reach it. The expression “at your fingertips” can also be used in other ways.
If you understand every part of your business you can say you have all the information about your business at your fingertips. The expression “by your fingertips” is very different from “at your fingertips”. If your business is losing money and you have just enough to keep it open you can say you are holding on by your fingertips. If a politician is very unpopular and may soon be ousted you can say he is holding on to power by his fingertips. If you have nearly fallen off a cliff and are holding on to the cliff’s edge with your fingers you can say you are hanging on by your fingertips.
上星期我讀到的一則新聞報道令我很悲傷。該報道指，殖民時期一位非常高級的政府官員施祖祥，不敵癌症而病逝。這個消息令我悲傷，因為我從前在香港做記者，跑政治新聞的時候，就已認識他。施祖祥曾與香港最後一任港督彭定康合作無間，推動政制改革邁向一九九七年香港回歸。談到施祖祥的離世，彭定康在悼詞中道，施是香港最優秀的公僕之一，深切（to his fingertips）明瞭曾經是甚麼令香港公務員成為全球數一數二的公務員團隊。
有許多成語和習語都會用到 fingertips一字。若你說你最好的朋友是 a gentleman to his fingertips，意即他是個十足十的紳士。當彭定康說施祖祥 understood to his fingertips what once made the Hong Kong civil service one of the best in the world，他的意思是，施祖祥完全了解，曾經是甚麼促使香港公務員晉身全球最優秀的公務員團隊之一。若你睡覺的時候總是將手機放在床邊，你便可以說你總是have your mobile phone at your fingertips，意即將手機放在觸手可及之處，可以輕易取得。習語“at your fingertips”亦有其他的用法。
若你精通自己那盤生意的每一個細節，你便可以說you have all the information about your business at your fingertips，你對你生意的一切資訊瞭如指掌。習語“by your fingertips”跟“at your fingertips”卻有很大的差異。若你的生意在蝕錢，僅僅夠維持營運，你便可以說你只是勉強撐着（by your fingertips）。如果一個政客很不受歡迎，很快就會下台，那你可以說他只在勉強握着（by his fingertips）權力不放。要是你幾乎要墮下山崖，正緊緊抓着懸崖邊，你便可以說 you are hanging on by your fingertips。