Monday, August 18, 2008

Grammar on a Banana

Here’s proof that opportunities for language learning and teaching are all around us, if only we care to look.

Instead of the usual sticker on a banana peel with the grower’s or distributor’s name and country of origin, this one exhorts: Buy Me & Win Space Chimps Movie Tickets.

As a grammar teacher, I could use this unexpected resource to teach at least three grammar points:

a. Imperatives: Buy me, Win ....

b. Sentence types: two main clauses coordinated by and give us a compound sentence.

c. Noun phrases: Space Chimps Movie Tickets is a sequence of four nouns forming a noun phrase, of which Tickets is the head noun and the rest, premodifying nouns.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Some Subject-Verb Agreement Errors

‘Not since 1904 have the US seen three siblings in the same Olympic team’ (Today, 5 August 2008).
Although S (i.e. states) in US is plural, the US as a country is thought of as a single entity, hence it takes a singular verb: Not since 1904 has the US ....

‘... the deal, which critics say only serve to boost ...’ (Today, 5 August 2008) is wrong, because the subject is deal (singular).
Make it: the deal, which critics say only serves to boost ....
Was the sub-editor misled by the plural critics, I wonder?
If it makes things easier, perhaps enclose critics say within brackets or remove it altogether when checking grammar: the deal, which ... only serves to boost.

This is from 8 Days magazine (14 August 2008).
Paparazzi is plural, hence make it The Hongkong paparazzi have nothing nice to say ....
The singular form, rarely used, is paparazzo.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Some Sundry Singaporeanisms

In Singapore it is common to see words and phrases enclosed within quotes for the purpose of emphasis and nothing more.

In the above sign, the writer obviously wishes to emphasize that the house is new, yet the quotes suggest that the claim is somewhat misleading or dishonest — it is as if he were saying the house is ‘so-called “new”’ when it was in fact completely rebuilt.

In the long-established Motoring magazine, emphatic quotes proliferate like a disease:

Now for another Singaporeanism: What does the word ‘live’ mean?

An animate object that is live would probably be moving — but how can a crab be live when it’s all hacked up and shrink-wrapped? Evidently, to some Singaporeans, live means something like ‘fresh, never frozen’.

Finally, something from the Straits Times (9 August 2008): ‘The alphabet “b” is for commissioners registered in Selangor’. The word needed here was letter, not alphabet. In Standard English, the word alphabet refers to the entire set of letters from a to z.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Relax, It’s Only Haze

Haze, according to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, is ‘air that is difficult to see through because it contains very small drops of water, especially caused by hot weather: a heat haze’.

In the Southeast Asian media, however, haze is the usual word referring to the yearly phenomenon of thick and often life-threatening smoke thoughtfully sent our way (and Malaysia’s) by Indonesian farmers.

Why not call it what it is, i.e. toxic smoke? Because ASEAN, with its policy of non-intervention, chooses to use vocabulary that it hopes will fool its populations into believing that the ‘haze’ is less serious than it actually is (and hence excuse chronic inaction on the part of ASEAN governments).

Just imagine if the above headline (Straits Times, 4 August 2008) were to read: Toxic smoke returns to region as Sumatra’s illegal fires rage.

Haze in the Southeast Asian context, then, is a weasel word: ‘a word used in place of some other word that would be more direct, honest, or clear’ (Longman).

Monday, August 04, 2008

Subject–Verb Agreement

‘But losses in motor insurance, which accounts for about a third of the market here ...’ (Today, 1 August 2008).

Make it losses ... which account for, since the relative pronoun which has the plural head noun losses as its antecedent.

[Edit: My mistake, owing to a misreading – the antecedent of which is motor insurance, so the singular verb accounts is correct.]

Not ... But ...

‘[Egyptian housewife Ghazala Ibrahim] is not blessed with one but nine babies’ (New Paper, 4 August 2008).

The pair not ... but should mark out the sentence parts that are being contrasted. In the New Paper’s caption, the misplaced not seemingly contrasts blessed with something else: cursed, for instance (i.e. she is not blessed, but cursed).

Hence, make it: ... is blessed with not one but nine babies. Note the contrast between one and nine. (Alternatively, we can say ... is blessed not with one but (with) nine babies — the second with may be ellipted, or left out because it is redundant.)

To Switch a Flick

‘It seems as if a flick had been switched on ... ’ (Straits Times, 29 July 2008, quoting an expert witness).

Odd one, this — the usual expression is ‘to flick a switch’. What’s even more surprising, perhaps, is that ST reported him verbatim (assuming this was what he actually said).

Shared Titles

‘From left: Chef Sammy Leo, Chef Gan Chee Lin, ... Chef Don Neville’ (New Paper on Sunday, 2 August 2008).

Where titles are common, they can be shared: ‘Chefs Sammy Leo, Gan Chee Lin, ... Don Neville’ is much better.

(Not a grammatical error, of course — just a stylistic point.)