Monday, October 29, 2007

Nike People

Before Nike people began walking, what did they do — crawl?

(OK, admittedly a comma after People messes up the typography somewhat — but as it stands, the message is ambiguous.)
Locative Inversion

‘To Lausanne goes Singapore’s hopes’ (Today headline, 24 October 2007).

Goes is wrong; make it go. In English, the verb agrees with the subject; here, the subject is the plural noun phrase Singapore’s hopes, hence the plural verb go.

Despite coming before the verb, To Lausanne is not the subject but an adverbial of place (i.e. a ‘locative’). In the headline, the subject and the adverbial have been inverted; the normal word-order is Singapore’s hopes go to Lausanne. This phenomenon is technically known as ‘locative inversion’.

Other common examples: Down the hill ran the sheep; Into this crowded market segment comes Fuji’s latest offering; On the wall hangs a masterpiece by Holbein the Younger.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

‘Banish cultural bias: A woman’s dressing should not be seen as an invitation to harassment’ (Straits Times caption, 15 October 2007).

It may come as a surprise to many Singaporeans that the word dressing, as used above, is typically Singaporean. In Standard English, dressing means, among other things, ‘the act or process of putting on clothes’, ‘a sauce added to a dish/salad’, and ‘material to cover a wound’ (Merriam-Webster).

Often, Singapore English dressing may be replaced with clothes, clothing, dress sense, taste in clothes, etc. Thus, the caption might have read: A woman’s suggestive/revealing/provocative clothes/dress sense should not be seen as….

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

More Errors

‘I gave it back to the Chinese national, whom I was helpfully told is married to a Singaporean’ (Sunday Times, 30 September 2007).

An exceedingly common error in the Straits Times. Note that I was helpfully told is parenthetical matter; hence we ought to be able to remove it without affecting the grammar of the rest of the sentence. However, doing so would give us:

*I gave it back to the Chinese national, whom is married to a Singaporean.

Whom is therefore wrong — make it who. Bear in mind that who is the subject of is married, not the object of told.

‘… the common perception of lawyers was that they were straight-laced and serious’ (New Paper on Sunday, 30 September 2007).

Make it strait-laced. The words strait and straight are etymologically unrelated. Amongst other things, strait can be an adjective meaning ‘tight, narrow, close, severely regulated’, or a noun meaning ‘narrow or tight place’, ‘strait of the sea’, ‘distress’ (OED). Hence, we also have the Straits of Johor, the Malacca Straits, straitened circumstances, and strait jacket.

Growing up in Bangkok, Mrs Forest Leong remembers her chef father coming back from work and whipping up meals for the family’ (Sunday Lifestyle, 30 September 2007).

The non-finite clause, Growing up in Bangkok, should refer only to the period when she was growing up (e.g. Growing up in Bangkok, Forest enjoyed helping out in the kitchen). Hence, make it:

Having grown up in Bangkok, Mrs Forest Leong remembers …


A colleague recently asked about the pronunciation of Tan, the commonest Chinese surname in Singapore. Specifically, he wanted to know why some Singaporeans pronounce it with a long vowel (as in barn), whereas most non-Singaporean native speakers of English rhyme it with man (i.e. the way tan is pronounced in English, since it is an English word).

It is worth remembering that Tan is merely an approximate transliteration (as most transliterations tend to be) of the Teochew or Hokkien variant of the surname, the pronunciation of which is closer to ton/tonne with an unaspirated /t/. The other two pronunciations are spelling-pronunciations — that is, pronouncing a word or name according to how it is spelt.