Friday September 9, 2011
By DR LIM CHIN LAM
Outlining some irksome words and expressions heard in conversation and seen in print.
I KNOW that hate is an unnecessarily strong word to apply to certain words and expressions that one hears in conversation and sees in print. No, I do not really hate them. Rather they just irk me. Now let us consider some of those irksome things.
Unsound in sound
My friend Shirley-Wong Lee is at odds with one of her Speech & Drama students who pronounces noodle as “noddle” and poem as “pom”? The befuddled student was taught the pronunciations by his holier-than-thou form teacher in school.
I am amused when I hear chain-gang mispronounced as “jin-gang”, and when forensic, morganatic, and terpsichorean are respectively pronounced as if spelt as “forsenic”, “morgantic”, and “terspichorean”. I am, furthermore, tickled pink when awry and prowess are syllabised as “aw-ry” and “pro-wess” in pronunciation, obviously without making sense. However, sense dawns when the words are syllabised as “a-wry” and “prow-ess”.
My sister Audrey tells of a boy in an Oral English examination who pronounced cake as “chuckey” – no doubt a case of interference from the Malindo spelling system now used in our Bahasa Malaysia. In English, however, this mispronunciation must take the “chuckey”. (Incidentally, the usual expression is to take the cake, which, in American English, means “to be the most remarkable or foolish of its kind”. The equivalent in British English is to take the biscuit.)
Would that the offending “speechsters” do themselves a favour by looking up the dictionary more often.
That irksome spelling
I don’t know about my fellow-learners, but that word barbeque (sic) is a constant source of annoyance. We do not cue for a barbeque, but we queue for a barbecue.
Wrong spelling or indifferent editing?
Here are two examples (my underline) not of typos but of indifferent editing: (1) “Sphead to this bustling market if you are staying in Penang for a while ...” – New Straits Times/Northern Streets, Sept 2, 2011, p.S6. One can guess the intended word to replace a typo, but in this case sphead is unguessable. (2)
“Australian police said testing had confirmed that bones found in a northern forest were that of teenager Daniel Morcombe ...” – The Star, Aug 29, 2011, p.39. The pronoun that obviously stands for bones (plural) and therefore should be replaced by the plural pronoun those.
Other examples: (1) “The ‘jelly soil’, which is around 0.5cm in diameter, expands about six times its size when soaked, and blocks intestinal walls when swallowed.” – New Straits Times, Aug 29, 2011, p.10. I can envisage the lumen of the intestine getting blocked, but not the wall of the intestine. Incidentally, how does one block a wall?
(2) “Capital gripped by lack of fuel, water, electricity and stench of rubbish” – Headline about Tripoli under imminent attack by rebels, in The Star, Aug 29, 2011, p.37. The capital is gripped by lack of fuel (yes), lack of water (yes), lack of electricity (yes) – but lack of stench of rubbish?
For some reason unfathomable to me, the expression as such is commonly, but mistakenly, used as if it were a connective (also known as a discourse marker) – to begin a sentence to follow from a previous sentence – and as if it meant “therefore” or “under the circumstances”. The following is a typical flawed construction: “Yesterday it rained heavily. As such, he did not go to school.” No dictionary gives such usage and meaning. The expression as such means “in the true or exact meaning of the word or phrase” (Cambridge International Dictionary of English, 1997). Two examples from the dictionary illustrate the normal usage of the expression: (1) “There wasn’t much vegetarian food as such, although there were several different types of cheese.” (2) “We don’t have a secretary as such, but we do have a student who comes in to do a bit of filing and typing.” Take another example, from Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, 1989: “The officer of the law, as such, is entitled to respect.” I suppose I could rephrase the sentence thus: “He is an officer of the law. As such, he is entitled to respect” – where the expression as such is a connective, which, additionally, has the normal dictionary meaning.
I have previously listed such expressions as comprise of, discuss about, mention about, and repeat again, and pointed out that the prepositions/adverbs that follow such verbs are redundant. I repeat again – oops! I repeat – that such verbs are used on their own without having to tag on a redundancy.
Words that sound the same
Homonyms and homophones can be used in clever and fun ways, but a wrong usage can be annoying. Consider a recent example (my underline): “Since cycling is typically peddling 90 per cent of the time, she said saddle choice, ride comfort and sitting posture is important.” – About folding bicycles, in New Straits Times/Business Times, Sept 2, 2011, p.B5. Yes, the verb is should be replaced by the plural are (for the compound subject “saddle choice, ride comfort, and sitting posture”). Surely cycling is not about peddling (meaning “selling”) most of the time. The correct word is pedalling meaning “moving by working the pedals of a bicycle”. The alert reader will have noted another rather similar-sounding word, paddling.
Other examples (my underline): (1) “... the amount owed to TNB would be adjusted in the following months’ reading to counter the access in the previous month’s bill.” – The Star, Aug 18, 2011, p.12. Surely it is excess, not access. (2) “In the afternoon when it is at its hottest ..., people lay resting on the cool sand in the shade ...” – The Star/Star2, Aug 18, 2011, p.15. There are three verbs that share some common spellings, viz. lie/lay/lain (an intransitive verb), lay/laid/laid (a transitive verb), and lie/lied/lied (an intransitive verb). The intransitive verb lie, as in lie/lay/lain, is indicated in the sentence.
Adjective or verb?
The words commensurate and tantamount are occasionally encountered in our dailies, as in the following typical constructions: (1) “Salary will commensurate with experience.” (2) “His absconding tantamounts to an admission of guilt.” Note, however, that the said words look like verbs but they are not verbs. They are adjectives, and they are used only predicatively. The above constructions should be amended as follows: (1) “Salary will be commensurate with experience.” (2) “His absconding is tantamount to an admission of guilt.”
Adjective or past participle?
I feel queasy when I hear of matured adults and matured gardens. Matured adults and matured gardens conjure a picture of adults or gardens having been placed in special vats or holding chambers to become fully grown or fully developed. I cannot understand why there is a seeming preference for incorrectly using the past participle matured instead of the simple adjective mature. On the other hand, there seems to be no problem in saying “advance copy” instead of “advanced copy” (of a report), “complete report” instead of “completed report”, and “separate rooms” instead of “separated rooms”. Note, however, that there may be occasion to choose between adjective and past participle. For instance, a surprise visitor is one who is unexpected and is a welcome (not welcomed) surprise; whereas a surprised burglar is one who has been taken unawares by, say, the unexpected return of the home-owner.
Singular or plural?
Note the following (my underline): “Injecting a bacteria into mosquitoes can block them from transmitting the dengue virus ...” – The Star, Aug. 26, 2011, p.3. The noun bacteria is plural (the singular is bacterium), so that it does not require the indefinite article, a.
There are many such words which have the same misleading plural form. These include words of Greek origin, e.g. criteria (singular criterion) and phenomena (singular phenomenon); and those of Latin origin, e.g. curricula (singular curriculum), memoranda (singular memorandum), and strata (singular stratum).
The problem with number
A recent report (my underline) reads: “... I am happy that the number of participants have grown ...” – Sunday Star, Aug 28, 2011, p.5. In truth, the participants have grown in number but not in size. In other words, the number (singular) has grown, not the participants (plural). Therefore, substitute the verb “has grown” for “have grown”.
The above seems like a litany of complaints about those irksome things that one meets in speech and in print. Yes, you are right. I am, like, “You busybody, got nothing better to do-ah?” Now everybody they are blur, dont care anymore. English, they say, colonial language only – no use after Merdeka. No need to speak Queen English or King English or whatever. Nowdays we got handfone, can kom-u-nick-8 well enuff – without fancy gramma (and grandpa?). ’Nuff said.