Wednesday, December 15, 2010


In Singapore English the verb keep has the meaning of ‘to put away’ — as was obviously intended in the excerpt above.

In Standard English, however, keep describes a state and not an action; and, as noted by Adam Brown in his excellent Singapore English in a Nutshell, it is very often synonymous with possess, remain or retain.

In Standard English, the term marketing refers to ‘the activity of deciding how to advertise a product, what price to charge for it etc, or the type of job in which you do this’.

In Singapore, as the above article (Sunday Times Lifestyle, 28 November 2010) interestingly shows, marketing is used to mean both that and the activity of shopping for groceries.  The latter meaning is in fact also old-fashioned American English.

For some mysterious reason, the Straits Times seems never to be able to handle the collective nouns the young and youth.  Both expressions refer to young people considered as a group, and are grammatically plural.  Hence, make it Young Prefer Newspapers.

What, exactly, is a slight change in venue? Getting people to move from the left side of the room to the right, perhaps? (No, it was a complete change, from one lecture theatre to another.)

The use of slight above is an example of a hedge, i.e. ‘a mitigating device used to lessen the impact of an utterance’.  Using it probably made the writer feel there was no need for an apology.

The verb give is wrong; it should have been giving (Straits Times, 27 November 2010). 

This is because the final clause shares an auxiliary verb with the preceding one, and since it is understood it may be omitted (or ellipted): he is not heeding her words and he (is) not giving in to his grief.
Sentence Construction

The above sign would be improved by the insertion of a definite article before elderly:

This restroom is for people with disabilities and the elderly.

This would make it clear that the restroom is for (i) people with disabilities, and (ii) the elderly.  The definite article would help mark the start of a new, separate noun phrase, so that elderly would not be construed as being part of the postmodifier of the head noun people.  Of course, we might also choose to repeat the preposition (i.e. for the elderly), but perhaps an even clearer way of wording the notice would be:

This restroom is for the elderly and people with disabilities.

The noun phrase a elephant in the cartoon above (19 November 2010) looks like an error arising out of ignorance. However, a more plausible explanation is that the cartoonist had merely been very careless. As an amateur calligrapher myself I know all too well how easy it is to misspell even the simplest of words — and even one’s own name! — when writing (and typesetting) a piece very slowly and deliberately by hand, especially in capital letters.

The second sentence (Sunday Times, 21 November 2010) might have been punctuated better as follows:

They are the first, and only, women to date to break into these two male-dominated elite frontline combat units.

This sign, spotted in a supermarket in Singapore called Giant, is perfectly punctuated (the apostrophe applies, in each case, after the plural forms children, ladies and men have been derived).  In the UK, where I lived for eight years as a student, such a sign would almost certainly have been mispunctuated.