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).


Vinodh said...


I stumbled across your blog today and find that we have much in common. We both love the English language, we both hate to see it mangled and we both hate the way the Straits Times picks on the uneducated manglers of English when it has many educated manglers of English writing for it.

One recent example which I didn't see in your blog appeared on the front page, right hand column of the Straits Times of 28 July 2008. The writer used "cause of action" when he clearly meant "course of action".

How many readers of the Straits Times read that article and thought that that was correct usage? And is there any chance that the Straits Times will own up to the mistake in its pages to prevent the error from creeping into common usage?

No chance.


The Grammar Terrorist said...

Hi again, Vinodh

It's great to know there're others out there who feel the same way. ST likes picking on easy targets like coffee shops, yet as you say there are so many errors in their pages. So I found their English as it is Broken column a bit of a laugh when it started -- especially since it was hardly an error-free zone! You may remember that they engaged MOE 'master teachers' to comment (usually smugly) on errors, yet they got so many things wrong themselves. Every single week. Apparently, they got so much flak (from myself too) that they begged off the project.

'Cause of action'? Goodness! I also saw, a few days ago, a headline about something having a 'bad rap' when, of course, they meant 'bad rep'. (Sadly, I can't seem to find it now.) And they keep making the same mistake with 'dribs and drabs' (which for some reason they think is 'drips and drabs').

The ST English Unit, headed by a Helen Tan, doesn't seem to know its stuff. If you ask me, Today has far better editorial standards, and they're a freesheet.

Sadly, as you rightly say, the average reader doesn't know any better -- and would probably be horrified if you were to suggest the paper was anything but perfect!