Published: Friday March 25, 2011 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Tuesday August 6, 2013 MYT 11:02:39 AM

Pardon, your slip is showing

A look at some recent goofs and gaffes.

YES, I know that my friend Lucille Dass will be tickled pink by the title, just as she was by the article entitled “Lingering over lingerie?” (MOE, Sept 24, 2010). There was a time when it was polite to discreetly whisper to a lady that her Sunday was longer than her Monday, but not any more. Nowadays, nobody – uh, hardly anybody – bats an eyelid even when sweet young things bare more skin than before. No, Lucille, again I’m not delving into the topic of women’s garments.

For now, I’m pointing out, and commenting on, some goofs and gaffes encountered recently in our local dailies. Once again, I might add that these aberrations are not all of local coinage, some apparently having been reproduced from copy received from foreign news agencies. Why the need to point these out? Well, some of them have the habit of appearing again and again – and there is the tendency for people to conclude that common and frequent usage makes for correctness. Anyway, I’m sharing these observations with my fellow-learners. After all, there is nothing like repeating a point to reinforce the learning process.

The following, with errors or contentious points underlined, are some recent pickings.

The wrong word

“Each performance by the highly acclaimed duo received rapturous applause from the distinguished audience who comprised classical afficinados of all ages.” (New Straits Times/Northern Streets, March 7, p.S8). The correct spelling is aficionados. Furthermore, the phrasing the distinguished audience who ... could be better replaced by the distinguished audience which ...

“United States scientists in the Florida Everglades are recruiting crocodiles and alligators to preserve the fragile wetlands by implanting satellite chips in their necks for the first time. As the mammals make their way through different parts of the sprawling national park, they beam back information on changes in the ecosystem and its impact on their size and movement patterns.” (New Sunday Times, March 13, p.46). What a whopper! Crocodiles and alligators are not mammals: they are reptiles. There’s more. The phrasing is vague. What does the pronoun its refer to? If its impact stands for “impact of the ecosystem” (singular), then the meaning would be more clearly expressed thus: “... they beam back information on changes in the ecosystem and the impact of the ecosystem on their size and movement patterns”; and even then, the latter could be better phrased as: “... they beam back information on the impact of and changes in the ecosystem on their size and movement patterns”.

On the other hand, if the pronoun its stands for “changes in the ecosystem” (plural), then the pronoun should be corrected to the plural their. The text would then read thus: “... they beam back information on changes in the ecosystem and their impact on their size and movement patterns.” The amended text would then contain the pronoun their twice – the first standing for “changes in the ecosystem”, and the second for “crocodiles and alligators”. As in the earlier case, the phrasing would be awkward, and would require re-phrasing. Go figure ...

“Santa Cruz south of San Francisco sustained US$2 million (RM6 million) in damages to docks and vessels.” (from a report on the tsunami causing flooding and damage at the west coast of America, in The Sun, March 14, p.8). The word should be damage – not damages, which is a legal term meaning “a sum of money claimed or awarded in compensation for a loss or injury” (Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 2004).

“More science, less wrinkles” (the heading of an article on anti-ageing, in Sunday Star/StarMag, Jan 9, p.SM10). Wrinkles is a countable noun, so the associated comparative adjective should be fewer, not less.

What is the lesson to be learnt here? Do not blindly take anything in print to be the last word in correctness.

Straining the subject-verb concord

“The great mix of international and local students here offer the cultural exposure need to excel in this industry.” (StarMetro North, March 3, p.T19). The subject of the sentence is mix (singular), not students (plural), and the verb it governs should be the singular offers, not the plural offer. Subject and verb must agree in number, even though the verb is located miles away!

“Realising that the future of probiotic products are highly dependent on science-based claims, probiotic companies are pouring money into research ...” (the caption to a photograph, in Sunday Star/Fit4Life, March 13, p.SF2). Here the subject of the clause is future (singular) – not the adjacent noun products (plural) – which calls for the singular verb is – not are.

“The number of wild African lions have fallen sharply in the last 100 years .... ” (StarTwo, March 8, p.T2). The number, not the lions, has fallen.

“The alumni of Methodist School Nibong Tebal has sent an SOS rallying former students to save the 113-year-old institution from the ravages of floods and termites” (the caption to a photograph of the school, in StarMetro North, March 7, p.M1). The word alumni is here mistaken for a singular noun, thereby governing the singular verb has sent. It is actually the plural of the Latin alumnus, meaning “a former male student of a school, college, or university”, and the verb that follows should be have sent. (Incidentally, the corresponding feminine-gender noun is alumna, plural alumnae.)

Inverted construction

“In legal, accounting, risk, banking, insurance and capital market sectors there have been a high demand from both academia and professional sectors.” (A New Straits Times Special/Postgraduate & Professional Development, March 15, p.2). This excerpt contains an inverted construction, where the usual subject-then-verb sequence is reversed to verb-then-subject. Nevertheless the rule for subject-verb agreement still holds. The subject here is not sectors (plural) but demand (singular), and it governs the verb has been (singular) instead of the plural have been given in the example. (There is another “error”, in respect of balanced construction. The two sectors referred to, i.e. academia (noun) and professional (adjective), could be amended to academic (adjective) and professional (also an adjective).)

The correct verb-form

“We believe that she must have slipped and fell ...” (Sunday Star, Jan 23, p.N8). There are two verbs here, both expressed in equal measure and following from the auxiliaries must have. The sentence should therefore read: “We believe that she must have slipped and (must have) fallen ...”, from which the second set of auxiliaries, in brackets, may be omitted.

Choosing from somewhat similar verbs

Consider the following excerpts: (1) “‘You bought two hunting knives, you tested them for sharpness, you laid in wait in a darkened hallway for your unsuspecting wife and you butchered her,’ judge Thomas Franczyk said.” (New Straits Times, March 11, p.30); (2) “Undercover as human teenager John Smith (Alex Pettyfer), he struggles to lay low while dealing with his overprotective ‘dad’.” (from a film review, in StarTwo, March 11, p.T7); (3) “We knew this would be a tough job to get DNA from stuff that had laid around for 70 years ...” (The Star, March 4, p.W46); and (4) “Martinez ... gave a chilling account at the doctor’s preliminary hearing, saying the pop star (i.e. Michael Jackson) laid dying, while Dr Murray administered CPR but didn’t call an ambulance.” (The Star, Jan 12, p.W43).

Each of the above excerpts contains one of three different verbs which have one or two verb-forms in common: lie/lied/lied (an intransitive verb, meaning “to tell a lie or lies”, e.g. he lied/has lied to the police), lie/lay/lain (an intransitive verb, meaning “to be or remain in a horizontal position or specified position”, e.g. he lay/has lain on the bed), and lay/laid/laid (a transitive verb, meaning “to put something down”, e.g. the hen laid/has laid an egg; the workmen laid/has laid the carpet). I trust that my fellow-learners will substitute the correct verb-form in each of the above excerpts.

The substantive as subject

“... construction work was progressing smoothly despite complaints that there seem to be only a handful of workers at various points along the stretch.” (StarMetro North, March 18, p.M2). Consider the segment “there seem to be only a handful of workers”, which is an inverted construction, i.e. a construction where the subject still governs the verb even though the latter precedes the former. Here the subject is not a handful of workers treated as a plural, but the infinitive to be, functioning as a substantive (noun, singular) and ipso facto as the subject of the verb, which should be amended from seem (plural) to seems (singular).

The following example further illustrates the point that a to-infinitive may function as a substantive to become the subject of a sentence: To err is human, to forgive divine. (Note an analogy: a gerund, which has a verb-like form, may also act as a substantive and be the subject of a sentence, e.g. walking is a good exercise.)

Unlikely comparison

“Heart attack is the No. 1 killer among women ... Its symptoms for women are different from men.” (New Straits Times, March 8, p.3). An implausible comparison has been made in that the symptoms for women are being compared with men. No, no. The comparison should have been between the symptoms for women and the symptoms for men, or, using a pronoun to avoid repetition, between the symptoms for women and those for men. The excerpt should then read: “... Its symptoms for women are different from those for men.”

Dangling participle/modifier

“Although these short cuts are steep and sandy jungle paths, being young and strong, it was no problem for us.” (StarTwo, March 16, p.T15). The sentence as it stands contains a dangling participle, being (incorporated into the modifier phrase, being young and strong), which is seemingly associated with these short cuts or perhaps steep and sandy jungle paths – instead of us. The irregular construction could be amended to: “We, being young and strong, had no problem with these short cuts which are steep and sandy jungle paths.”

Signing off

I, being not so young and strong, could nevertheless go on and on in this tract, but I think that I have made my point.

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle


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