Column 1188 Thur June 23
Some readers have asked me to explain unusual idioms that are seldom used in Hong Kong but sometimes used in the US. I came across one such idiom while reading a news report about US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin’s recent trip to Asia and Europe. The report was in Foreign Policy, an American news magazine. The expression was “walk and chew gum”. Austin said “we are walking and chewing gum” when he spoke to reporters in Thailand. I don’t think I have ever heard any local person use this expression when I lived in Hong Kong. Austin used the expression when referring to his efforts to deter China and to help Ukraine.
To “walk and chew gum” means to do two or more different things at the same time. It is easy to walk and chew gum at the same time. That’s why it is often used to describe stupid people who cannot do two simple things at the same time. If a person cannot boil an egg and talk on his mobile phone at the same time you can say he can’t walk and chew gum. But when Austin used the expression, he meant he had to do two very difficult things at the same time. He had to explain America’s hardened policy towards China to US allies in Asia and also to further unite the West against Russia for invading Ukraine while in Europe.
Historians believe the expression came from the late US President Lyndon Johnson who said the late Gerald Ford, who also later became US President, was so dumb (stupid) that he can\'t walk and chew gum at the same time. A simple word for “walk and chew gum” is “multitask”. This means to do several things at the same time. The word originated when computers were invented and were able to do several things at the same time. It is now used to describe people doing several things at the same time.