Wednesday May 11, 2011
Errors in Dr M's memoir
Mind Our English
By HUSSAINI ABDUL KARIM
Carelessness mars a good read.
I AM surprised to see common mistakes in Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s memoir, A Doctor In The House, such as words with missing letters, grammatical errors, misspelling the name of a former vice-president, and even incorrect terms.
I believe these are not a “slip of the mind” on the part of the author but are perhaps printing errors or due to poor editing. I hope I am right.
The book is a good read, nevertheless, and I hope corrections are made when it is reprinted. As far as facts, historical and current events are concerned, I shall deal with them at another time and in a different forum. It seems that even a renowned elder statesman makes mistakes too.
Many iconic buildings and structures were built during the 22 years Mahathir was prime minister – among them, Dayabumi, the Petronas Twin Towers, the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, the Penang Bridge and the North-South Expressway. He keeps stating in his book that “tons of cement” were poured into those structures.
Sir, buildings do not just use cement, they use concrete. Cement is just one of the many materials, chemicals and additives used to make concrete.
Concrete is measured by volume (one cubic metre, two cubic metres and so on) and comes in various grades, with “lean concrete” the lowest grade and the cheapest sold at around RM100 per cubic metre, and the highest grade costing RM300 or more.
Those single, twin or triple silos you see processing ready-mixed concrete all over the country are called concrete batching plants, and the trucks that carry concrete are concrete mixer trucks and not cement trucks.
In another instance, Tun calls the rogue foreign minister of Indonesia during Sukarno’s era who was jailed, Subandro. His name was actually Subandrio.
Had the proofreaders done their job well, mistakes like these would not be made.
There’s one other mistake towards the end of the book where Tun uses a common Malay proverb, “melepaskan batuk di tangga”, which he translates as, “cough at the foot of the stairs”. He uses it to mean “empty formality” and “to let you know that they are there and to get some credit for having been around”. This is inaccurate.
That proverb means doing things half-heartedly, or disinterestedly or not seriously, or in a lazy manner. Literally translating “batuk” as “cough” is actually where many people, including Tun, get it wrong.
About five years ago, at a conference organised by Gapena (the Malay acronym for the Federation of Malay Writers Associations) in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, I had the opportunity to meet some of our top Malay writers. In one of the workshops I attended, one of the topics discussed was “common mistakes and myths in Malay literature” (Sastera Melayu/Nusantara).
In the early days, most kampung houses were built on stilts to avoid being flooded and there would be steps or staircases leading up to the living area.
Tanks (tempayan) filled with rain water were normally placed near the staircases and “batok” (not batuk), a ladle made from half a coconut shell tied to a wooden handle with rattan, was used by members of the household or visitors to scoop water from the tank to wash their feet before entering the house.
After using the batok, they would hang it on a hook nailed or tied to the post of the house close to the tank but many lazy people would just leave the ladle on the stairs and that was how the proverb, “Melepaskan batok di tangga” or “leaving the ladle on the stairs”, came about.
“Myth” is wrongly translated as “mitos” in Bahasa Malaysia. A myth is a person or thing whose existence is fictional or unproven, and “mythos” is about the underlying system of beliefs, especially those dealing with supernatural forces, characteristic of a particular cultural group.
The other term commonly used but translated incorrectly in Bahasa Malaysia is “symbolic”, an adjective, which rightly, should be “simbol” (symbol), a noun, in BM.
Malay scholars must have been influenced by the book, The Myth of the Lazy Native, written in 1959 by Syed Hussein Alattas which was translated as Mitos Pribumi Malas by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka in 1977.
Many people translate “black sheep” literally as “kambing hitam” to mean fall guy. The black sheep (of the family) is actually the least favoured child, while a fall guy is a person who always takes the blame for a crime, normally for a fee, even though he is actually not the person who committed the crime. Then there is “scapegoat” which is the same as fall guy.
Someone on the radio recently used the word “childlike” to mean “behaving like a bad child”. The actual meaning is the exact opposite and when one describes a person as childlike, he is referring to the good attributes of a child such as honesty, naïvety (in the positive sense) and purity. For a negative description, the correct term is “childish” which means foolish; immature or trivial; or weak or silly.
Some of the other common mistakes – which I still consider as mistakes – are the mixed use of British and American English. This mistake is even committed by some writers with PhDs. I believe these people are either not aware of the differences between British and American English or they just do not care as English is not important to them. This type of mistake is therefore normally overlooked, even in universities.
Other common mistakes are the wrong use of simple English grammar, including the singular and plural form, present and past tenses, articles and spelling.
The incorrect use of prepositions is also common and many seem to avoid using prepositions altogether when they write or speak, which makes their sentences look or sound awkward.
“I do that, haram you know,” said a listener on ERA Radio when he was interviewed by popular radio DJ Aznil Nawawi, Ray and Haniff in a segment called Can I help you? which I think should be changed to “May I help you?” since “may” is more proper and polite. By the way, Haniff speaks perfect English with a very pleasant British accent.
Mixing English with Malay, Chinese, Indian and even Arabic words is another common practice among Malaysians but now, even some court documents written in the English language include words like ceramah, rakyat, khalwat, nafkah and ummah (Arabic); kongsi, towkay and kiasu (Chinese); and dalang and bomoh (Malay).