I found two intriguing idioms in a pair in the following sentence of Jeffery Archer’s “The Forth Estate” (page 592) that I came to the last part at length. A media mogul, Dick Armstrong (seemingly modeling Donald Trump) is approached by Earl Withers, the lawyers of Chicago based newspaper that is on the brink of financial crisis for a salvaging acquisition:
“And is it true that it’s in debt for $200 million?” said Armstrong.
“$207 million, to be precise,” said Withers.
“And losing over a million a week?” “Around one million three hundred thousand.” “And the unions have got you by the balls.”
“In Chicago, Mr. Armstrong, we would describe it as "over a barrel". But that is precisely why my clients felt we should approach you - - -.”
I’m curious to know why the Chicago lawyer deliberately rephrased Armstrong’s “got by the balls” remark with the phrase, “over a barrel.”
Are “Have got sb by the balls” and “Sb being over a barrel” exact synonyms that are interchangeable as Withers rephrased? To me, they seem to have different shades of meaning and occasions of use aside from decency of the wording.