In our English language listening circle, we unanimously heard AP Radio News (aired on March 31) refering to Russia’s action on Crimea anexation by force as follows:

Former ambassador, Michael McFaul tells the NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ that Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to be using a tactic from Soviet times - No give bucks and muddy the water. "They’re changing the subject. They’re saying O.K. Crimea’s done. We’ve taken that. Now let’s start negotiating about the Ukrainian constitution.”

I’m not certain whether we heard out the line, “No give bucks and muddy the water” rightly, or not.

Does our hearing make sense? If no, what should Mr. McFaul have said?. If yes, what does it mean? Is it an idiomatic expression?

  • 1
    Give backs. Not bucks. Also, its usually muddying the waters. Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 5:50

1 Answer 1


Give-back (coined in 1975–80) refers to a negotiation tactic of labor unions; basically the union/employees would give back some of their gains (usually wages) in return for something more valuable, such as increased benefits, etc., or in recognition of economic hard times for the employer. For example, Boeing recently won a huge give-back when they threatened to move their Washington State factory out of state, threatening the loss of 8,000 jobs. The employees voted to take a reduction in wages and benefits to keep the plant open (and keep their jobs).

muddying the waters (first recorded in 1837) means to confuse the issue by bringing up one irrelevant fact after another. It's a metaphoric expression, alluding to making a pond or stream turbid by stirring up mud from the bottom.

From there, you can perhaps infer Putin's stance, and McFaul's comments; I don't want to discuss politics, but (briefly) during the Cold War, the Soviet Union was very aggressive; McFaul states that common tactics in diplomatic talks then were to muddy the waters and fail to give ground (literally and figuratively). It seems that this is where we find ourselves again: Putin has made it clear that he won't shy from confrontation, doesn't feel constrained by international agreements, and is unafraid to wield power to establish.... It's almost like we're back in the pre-glasnost, Cold War Era.

  • Reading your answer I reheard the phrase in question of the tape. I heard the announcer read clearly “No givebacks.” Though this may be a primitive question, is it alright to use plural noun after ‘no’ in negation? Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 9:02
  • 1
    no give-backs is fine. It's like no dogs allowed. Not an issue to my AmE ears. No give-backs figuratively means failure to give ground. Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 9:07

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