Thursday, May 29, 2008

Direct Address (a.k.a Vocatives)
‘Relax mom, the next bus arrives in 8 minutes.’

A problem with this SBSTransit ad: it should read Relax, Mom; the next bus arrives in 8 minutes, because the boy is addressing his mother directly (otherwise it sounds like Mom is the object of the transitive verb relax, e.g. Relax your shoulders).

Similarly, when we greet or address others, we need a comma after the greeting:

Morning, Kathy.
Hello, Dolly.
Hi, Yasmin.

Why don’t we use a comma in Dear Yasmin, then? Because dear is not a greeting — it is actually an adjective. Note that we can say My dear Yasmin, which is a typical noun phrase with the structure Determiner + Adjective + Head Noun.

This reminds me of a restaurant in Serangoon Gardens many years ago, which was justifiably very proud of its famous fish-head curry. Unfortunately, however, there was a surly waitress who always greeted you with Hello, Fish Head — making you feel like the missing part of a decapitated salmon. In slightly better English and with better prosody, she might have said: Hello. Fish head curry for you?


Gillian said...

This reminds me of one particular uncle in the NIE canteen. He loves to yell "fried rice", "fried kuey teow"... =D

The Grammar Terrorist said...

Oh, I think you mean Mr Chua ;--)

Vinodh said...

Wouldn't a colon be better punctuation than a semicolon? 'Relax mom: the next bus arrives in 8 minutes.’

The Grammar Terrorist said...

I think either a full stop or semicolon would be best.

A colon here would suggest there is a causal relation between the two clauses, but there isn't such a strong link here. (A better example would be something like 'He began to panic: he had never stood before such a large crowd'.)