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The latter half of the following sentence of Time magazine’s article, “Playing Favorites” (October 3), which deals with the commonly observed favoritism of parents to one particular child, is puzzling to me:

My father’s hostility toward my baby brother ought to have doomed him in my mother’s eye too. A child who’s already being ill treated by one parent has hurdles to overcome just getting out of childhood in one piece, much less making it to a procreative adulthood. Best for a mom with years of child rearing ahead to cut her losses now.”

I have two questions:

  1. I don’t get the idea of “one piece.” Does it mean “one brood” - a group of siblings?
  2. Is the last line — “Best for a mom with years of child rearing ahead to cut her losses now” — a valid sentence? Isn’t something (verb) missing? My MS Word spelling-checker keeps marking it as a “fragment.”
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4 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

One piece refers to 'un-harmed' or 'un-damaged' I'd edit like this:

A child who is already being ill treated has many hurdles to overcome starting with just getting out of childhood in one piece, much less making it to a functional adulthood.

You could write the second sentence like this.

(It would be or It is)Best for (a) mom with years of child rearing ahead (of her) to cut her losses now.

You could also make it a question.

Is it best for a mom with years of child-rearing ahead of her to cut her losses now?

Conversationally, the unwritten parts could be omitted. We don't always speak the way we should write.

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I know you don't always speak the way you should write. But this is writing. I'm not blaming you. –  Yoichi Oishi Dec 28 '11 at 0:45
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Although I don't disagree with any of the specific statements here, I don't think this represents a "correct" answer. Since there's nothing wrong with the original, nothing needs to be rephrased. Recasting the final statement as a question is either irrelevant or an unwarranted stylistic variation, depending on your point of view. The article adopts a somewhat casual tone, but that's not really to do with spoken/written usage. –  FumbleFingers Dec 28 '11 at 1:15
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It's true, a finished article may need no further correction. If that phrase had been written as dialog, then the fragment would be part of the style that informs the nature of the character. In this case, then, it speaks to the style of the author. –  Dreamling Dec 28 '11 at 15:01
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In those sentences, the writer (Jeffrey Kluger) is following through on the animal-kingdom metaphors set up (rightly or wrongly) earlier in the piece. For example (from part 1 bottom, part 2 top):

... survival needs ... impels Mom and Dad to tilt in favor of their biggest, healthiest offspring, since those kids will be more reproductively successful ...
A black-eagle mother will watch idly while her bigger chick rips her smaller one to ribbons.

This leads up to the section (part 2 bottom) containing your question:

Playing by black-eagle rules, my father's hostility toward my baby brother ought to have doomed him in my mother's eyes too. A child who's already being ill treated by one parent has hurdles to overcome just getting out of childhood in one piece, much less making it to a procreative adulthood. Best for a mom with years of child rearing ahead to cut her losses now.

The author claims that it is difficult for the less-favored child to grow up intact and functioning (i.e. in one piece) and also claims it is natural for a mother to give up on (i.e. cut her losses) the weaker "chick".

By the way, Time is in the business of selling magazines, a focus that can cause their writers to stretch or slant the facts.

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+1 for defining "in one piece" as "intact" - both terms have the same literal meaning, and both are capable of being used metaphorically of a child, so it's an excellent choice. And your final point is definitely worth making, given the context. –  FumbleFingers Dec 28 '11 at 1:24
    
@FumbleFingers. I checked both Cambridge and Oxford English Dictionary to find the usage of ‘one piece’ as an adjective, ‘intact.’ Neither of them provides definition to that effect. Cambridge imply defines ‘one piece’ as a noun, ‘a piece of women's clothing that is worn when swimming or on a beach and consists of a single piece of material ---‘. OED likewise as a noun, ‘an article of clothing made or consisting of a single piece.’ Is the usage of one piece as ‘intact, uninfluenced’ a received English, or relatively modern? –  Yoichi Oishi Dec 29 '11 at 0:40
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Cont. I mean 'in one piece,' as an idiom, not 'one piece' as a noun. –  Yoichi Oishi Dec 29 '11 at 0:55
    
@Yoichi Oishi: To survive in one piece only occurs a few times before 1960, but it's become pretty common since then. As have variants come/get through it in one piece, for example. Figuratively it normally means "not irreparably damaged". –  FumbleFingers Dec 29 '11 at 4:00
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@FumbleFingers. Yes exactly, I stumbled on ‘much less.’ (1) I wondered why it isn’t ‘much more’ because I interpreted the part in question as ‘a child ill-treated by one parent has hurdles to overcome getting out of childhood in one piece, much more (hurdles) to a procreative adulthood. (2) I was at a loss in judging which “procreative adulthood’ refers to - an ill-treated child or one parent? I feel questions were resolved. Thanks. –  Yoichi Oishi Dec 30 '11 at 7:48
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  • 'in one piece' is about the one individual child (the youngest (not the entire set of children) and that one child's psychological health, meaning 'without being hurt or broken' metaphorically.
  • 'Best for a mom' is a sentence fragment, it is missing a noun and verb 'it is best for a mom...'
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Part of OP's difficulty here may be the figurative "in one piece" (not badly damaged) immediately followed by (American) idiomatic "much less [reproducing]".

The British equivalent idiom would be "let alone reproducing" or perhaps never mind reproducing. All these idioms simply amplify the proposition that follows (unlikelihood of procreating, here), emphasising the extent to which it surpasses some proposition that preceded it (unlikelihood of surviving in one piece).

The mistreated child may not even survive childhood, and has even less chance of successfully having children him/herself. So a "calculating" mother should abandon the child her husband victimises - to save the wasted effort of nurturing it for years, after which it may never reproduce anyway.

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