Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Today's a special day!

I started blogging on 31 Oct, which means it has been one month already!

One of the things I told myself to do in my semi-retired status is to devote more time to sports news and events. So what better to post here than something I re-discovered from an old email. Enjoy:

What some sportsmen and commentators allegedly said (no way to verify though!)...

1. Weightlifting commentator at the Olympic Snatch and Jerk Event: "This is Gregoriava from Bulgaria. I saw her snatch this morning during her warm up and it was amazing."

2. Ted Walsh - Horse Racing Commentator: "This is really a lovely horse and I speak from personal experience since I once mounted her mother."

3. Grand Prix Race Announcer: "The lead car is absolutely, truly unique, except for the one behind it which is exactly identical to the one in front of the similar one in back."

4. Greg Norman, Pro Golfer: "I owe a lot to my parents, especially my mother and father."

5. Ringside Boxing Analyst: "Sure there have been injuries and even some deaths in boxing - but none of them really that serious."

6. Baseball announcer: "If history repeats itself, I should think we can expect the same thing again."

7. Basketball analyst: "He dribbles a lot and the opposition doesn't like it. In fact you can see it all over their faces."

8. At a trophy ceremony BBC TV Boat Race 1988: "Ah, isn't that nice, the wife of the Cambridge president is hugging the cox of the Oxford crew."

9. Metro Radio, College Football: "Julian Dicks is everywhere. It's like they've got eleven Dicks on the field."

10. "The Chinese pair was amazing until the end of the syncronised dive when they really screwed up!"

11. When Ronald was interviewed after he beat the World No. 1, he said, "So he Su..Si…Lo"

Monday, November 29, 2010

The idea of 'exceptionalism'


I'll like to come resume my "word of the day" segment, albeit still on an occasional basis. Today's word is "exceptionalism" as used in the political context.

Some conservative American politicians (mostly Republicans) have recently picked up an old theme and made it their new war cry: that their country is exceptional, has a "manifest destiny" and that its norms as reflected in their aspirational ideals are worthy for other countries to emulate, even if in practice they are not always followed by Americans themselves.

Outsiders may see this idea as hubristic but it has deep-rooted broad appeal among Americans, including the "heartlanders", hence no American politician can scoff at it, Democrats included.

 President Obama himself was challenged on his views on it, and his response -- while highly qualified and contextualised -- was at bottom, yes, America can engage with the world on the basis of its own special values, centred on the belief that every individual everywhere has the right to freedom. The word "freedom" is of course a highly subjective one.

Because American exceptionalism is accepted as a powerful aspirational idea in the country, it can be used as a political unifier. American society may be imperfect -- be it past injustices like black slavery or present ills like the rich-poor divide and the warts of capitalism -- but Americans still claim that their country is still ultimately a land of opportunity. And, indeed, many aliens still seek US citizenship.

It is problematic to say how much of this idealism is practised in American policy abroad -- from trade and economics to security and matters of war and peace. I won't go there in this short posting, except to note that critics will argue that America behaves like any other great power, period, while supporters will claim otherwise, saying that Americans have sacrificed blood and treasure internationally when it could have just stood aside in its own self-interest -- if it had not been  driven by its cherished ideology.

What I want to ponder over, to conclude, is: does China -- as it emerges as a great power -- see itself as exceptional too, but of course not as a carbon copy of the American model? A Chinese model, so to speak. Already, it has claimed a different road to democracy -- as it defines it -- at home. Abroad, it has professed high ideals (true, like the Americans) but will it be one based on the tributary system of its premodern heyday -- where regional countries pay tribute to it but are otherwise left to their own devices so long as they do not cross the "out of bound (OB) marker" lines?

Only time will tell. Of course, to be exceptional is to be different from the norm, not unique (one of a kind). So, in theory, two exceptional countries can live with each other... and rule the world? Or they cannot... and a clash of the titans may eventually take place.

The realist school of international relations reject exceptionalism in state behaviour. All states, large and small, behave according to their self-interest, it says. The two scenarios -- either shared global leadership or clash of titans -- can still happen, but not because of exceptionalism. Just plain self-interest and opportunism.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The bright, the light, and the dorky...

Today, I'll share some of the slogans, posters, bumper stickers, etc, I've come across, some going way back. Not all are good, hence this posting's heading. Also, I'll update this list periodically, rather than create new postings on this theme.

"Speak without fear" -- a banner I spotted recently at a community club. I guess you've got to be a Singaporean to really find this funny. Anyway, it was an advertisment for a toastmasters' club at the premises.

"Be like dad. Keep mum" -- this is a classic, and only the Brits, renowned for their dry humour, can come up with it. It was a World War 2 poster reminding citizens not to talk carelessly in public especially on security related matters. The walls may have ears, after all.

"Teachers never lose their class" -- seen on a mug.

"We aim to please. So please aim" -- seen inside a men's toilet.

"Walk this way" -- a common road sign advisory to pedestrians when there is obstructing roadwork. But the directional arrows <----> are not helpful.

"Camel nuts" -- seen on a truck. Camel is a local company that sells nuts (the kind you eat).

 "Yankee go home. And take me with you" -- its origin is uncertain but I first knew about this one as an "unusual" protestor's  placard in the Philippines in the early 1990s, when negotiations between  Manila and Washington over the future of American bases in the Philippines were going to collapse, and the US said it would then pull out its military presence altogether.

"300 years in a convent, 50 years in Hollywood" -- a typical tongue-in-cheek Filipino depiction of Spanish and then American rule over the Philippines.

"Kiss my ash" -- I visited the Philippines not long after the 1991 Mount Pinatubo volcanic eruption. Ash and lahar were everywhere. I bought a Tee-shirt with this slogan and gave it to my nephew. Hmmm, I wonder why he never wore it?

"Drive like lightning. Crash like thunder" -- this was actually a Singapore Traffic Police slogan way back in the 1980s, I think.

"Stop at two" -- this was the early Singapore family planning message.

"Have three, or more, if you can afford it" -- the family planning message proved too successful! Singaporeans were stopping at zero! Hence, this new message.

"Go forth and multiply" -- No, I have not seen this as a slogan yet. But I think it would serve as a catchy sign outside a mathematics department.

"May the floss be with you" -- Dentist's greeting? (A play on "May the Force be with you," from the Star War movie series).

P.S. Ever wondered how the slang word "dorky" came about? The slang meaning is of course "stupid, foolish or inept". I am told one possible source of inspiration is "dork" -- the blue whale's penis, which is the largest among mammals!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Cast your lot with me!

I can look back with pride on some of the house style-related changes in The Straits Times that I played a part in.

One was, way back in the late 1970s or early 1980s, when I managed to get the correct name of a road sorted  out. Somehow I had known that the road in question was "Changi Coast Road" (it was fairly new then, I think). But ST's reporters kept filing stories that referred to "Changi Coastal Road".

Worse, the street directory that the newsdesk consulted gave that latter version. Sigh.

So, one night, after work, I drove out there to check out the signboard. Since then, the correct road name has been used.

Another change I managed to get done was the correct English rendition of Muis -- or Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura. For some reason, ST was referring to Muis in English as "Muslim Religious Council of Singapore". I can't recall how I knew that was wrong, but I approached a senior editor, Zainul Abidin Rasheed (now the Senior Minister of State, Foreign Affairs), and he did a check with Muis.

ST now refers to Muis correctly as the "Islamic Religious Council of Singapore".

My third "mission accomplished!" took much longer. I had started writing an occasional column on the uses and abuses of the English language in the 1980s and, in one piece, I insisted that "parking lot" is an American term that refers to what we here should call a carpark. The individual places where you slot your car in is a parking space or parking spot.

I did not succeed then in getting my interpretation into the house style book.

Meanwhile, I had left ST to pursue a Master's degree, after which I worked in government service and picked up a PhD along the way. I rejoined ST in 2006 but decided in September this year to work part-time. No regrets about having done that.

Ah, yes, did I manage to get "parking lot" banished as an Americanism? One day, I sent a note to the inhouse "language cop" -- copied to the editor -- strongly arguing my case.

My article below, titled "A lot to be said about a parking lot" and published in ST on 10 Aug this year, points out that it is now ST's (and Sunday Times') house style to use "parking space" or "spot". Some other issues are discussed too:

Fellow Singaporeans, the time has come. Let’s call a lot a lot and a parking space a parking space. Our American friends here (and fellow red-and-white Botak Jones and the others who have settled here) should chip in too and declare: “The parking lot is as yankee as apple pie.” So use it right.

Did you notice that The Straits Times has been getting it right for quite some time?

A parking lot, in American usage (it originated there) is, after all, what their Brit colonisers (and ours too) call a carpark.
But here in tiny never enough breathing space Singapore, you will find shopping malls that never fail to impress (yankee?) visitors with such signboards as “300 lots available here”.

Wow. One average-sized mall, 300 parking lots. How many spaces does each lot have? Now think of the similar claims made by the other malls here? How many cars does this nation-state – smaller than the Idaho airspace available to our United States-based F-15 fighter jets – have?

The use of parking lots as an unthinking substitute for parking spaces – or parking spots – is ingrained here.
I suspect a civil servant (probably the same chap who coined “void decks” for the empty decks in public estates, hence reducing a word of biblical immensity to just so-so) was the first culprit.

That act, perhaps to usher in some spanking new carpark in the early years, has since spawned lots and lots of public and private carparks with lots and lots of lots.
Can this linguistic misdeed be undone? I don’t know. There are so many signboards out there that have to be unfixed, if the people who matter cast their lot with the parking space believers.

There are, after all, so many other things in life that merit attention. But this little matter may well be a metaphor for how we here in cosmopolitan Singapore use the English language – actually, the “Englishes” we are exposed to.

We are already adopting a lot of American English, often without our knowing it. Truckers, for truck drivers, is one. Or heist. These words were once disallowed in The Straits Times.

But I believe the newspaper I work for did the right thing, in deciding to use parking spaces or parking spots.

While, as used locally, the American trucker still means the Standard English truck driver, we should have no truck with the widespread hijacking here of the American parking lot – in place of the better choice of words.
There is a lot to be said about the way Singaporeans use words. Many words or phrases have been mangled, as in the use of “off day” to mean “day off”. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Already, “please revert” and “please RSVP” are creeping in.
Will you cast your lot with me?

Friday, November 26, 2010

With friends like that, who needs enemies?

North Korea this week fired artillery shells into a South Korean island, once again raising tensions in the Korean peninsula. The United States has dispatched a supercarrier, the USS George Washington, to the region -- for joint exercises with South Korean forces from this Sunday.

Korea is what we political scientists call a flashpoint -- any political or military miscalculation can spark military action, and the risk of a wider conflict. The situation is serious.

Then Sarah Palin steps in.

The former Alaska governor, vice-presidential candidate in the 2008 US elections, and a possible Tea Party presidential candidate in 2012, appearing on conservative Glenn  Beck's radio programme, said the US "must stand with our North Korean allies".

Later, in her Facebook page, she defended her gaffe -- by pointing out that US President Barack Obama has had his own  share of howlers. One was when -- in a speech -- he said there were 57 states. She has also set her sights on firing a salvo against Vice-President Joe Biden, famously referred to as a "gaffe machine".

We don't know yet if a war will erupt in the Korean peninsula. However, it looks like a Gaffe War is imminent, in the US.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Invasion of the body parts a.k.a. An organ recital (Music: the Limb-o Rock Band)

Just when you thought it was safe again to read the newspapers, you get ambushed by some medical-type articles but mostly all sorts of advertisements, telling you to do something about this or that part of your body.

My colleague Gloria Chandy must have noticed this deluge too. In her editor's note in the magazine supplement Mind Your Body (25 Nov), she wrote that such  ads "urge people to part with their hard-earned cash to address impending horrors like spare tyres, sagging upper arms, eyebags, thunder thighs and love handles."

I second this admonishment of hers: "A gradual change of wardrobe will suffice as the years roll by and your figure goes slightly to pot. (Bottom-heavy middle-aged women who insist on wearing tights, please note)."

That made me think of the wag who twisted a lovely romantic song and retitled it "The first time ever I saw her base."

But what tickled me too were her descriptors like thunder thighs and love handles. So, drum roll please from the Limb-o Rock Band, as I run through a (selective) organ recital.

Let's start with what's right on top. I am a victim of the "hair yesterday, gone today" tonsorial toll. But could it have been my own undoing? I did my PhD in my late forties. "As a result, you have Permanent hair Damage now," someone said. I must have looked nonplussed. "You probably have Permanent head Damage too."

But if you believe the hair treatment ads, there's nothing that money (the customer's of course) can't do.

Male pattern baldness? No prob. Female pattern baldness? Ditto. Fear of the end of your hair follicles? Never fear,  follicle cloning is here, touted as the cutting edge in-thing now, you are told. And the ads always almost feature someone in a white gown: a trichologist. But do note that a trichologist is not a medical healthcare worker.

The eyes? There are ads galore, be it for medical procedures like cataract and glaucoma surgery to aesthetic ones like implantable contact lenses. One ad even advertises its price for "two eyes", not "both eyes". So, A and B can go together and have one eye each fixed?

Skin? "Restore your damaged skin... You are in possession of your own beauty. We help you to own it." I wanna recruit that copywriter to become a copyeditor.

Weight? "It's amazing!  I lost 2 kg in 2 weeks without dieting." So? I know of people who lost 60-plus kg in that time. They got divorced.
The copywriters in all these ads sure had a field day. One ad teased: "Have you been thinking about restoring your youthful curves?" (Hmmm, mine was a cute little yellow Honda 600 car but it has long since gone to the junkyard).

Indeed, the torso is prime meat, er, target, for the ads. Ever since the era of Hollywood, the ideal woman has to have an "hour-glass" figure and the ideal man a set of "six-pack abs".  More recently, one would be blind to not notice the plethora of ads telling women they do not need to suffer unsatisfactory, small, sagging, unequal-sized, post-natal, menopausal, etc, breasts. Keep abreast of today's non-invasive treatments and get a "fuller-looking bust", the ads urge. I guess they expect gratitude after that: thanks for the mammaries?

As for six-pack abs for the men? Curious about what these look like (hey, I'm in the "chest in, stomach out" category), I did a Goggle check for such  images. Ya, they look like the a six-pack all right -- the six-pack an pan bread I buy from my local breadshop.

Checking on what love handles are, I found some interesting explanations  on this site, http://www.urbandictionarv.com/

Likewise, check it out too for thunder thighs. I was intrigued by the "thunder" part and had asked around, but no one seemed to know its origin.

So, there. I am not going any further down the body, and end up being anal retentive but I shall conclude with this "Christmas tree story" my brother sent me recently:

The family is sitting at the dinner table. The son asks his father,'Dad,
how many kinds of boobies are there?'

The father, surprised,answers, 'Well son, there's three kinds of breasts. In her twenties, a woman's
breasts are like melons, round & firm. In her thirties & forties,they are like pears, still nice, but hanging a bit. After fifty, they are like onions.' 'Onions?' 'Yes, you see them, and they make you cry.'

This infuriated his wife and daughter so the daughter says, 'Mom,how many
types of 'willies' are there?'

 The mother, surprised, smiles and answers, 'Well dear, a man goes through three phases.
 In his twenties, his willie is like an oak tree, mighty and hard. In his thirties & forties, it's like
a birch tree, flexible but reliable. After his fifties, it is like a Christmas tree.'

 'A Christmas tree??'
'Yes dear, dead from the root up and the balls are for decoration only.'

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

More wordplay...

I'm adding an extra posting today because the list I posted earlier is actually Part 2. Here is Part 1:

1. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.

2. Ignoranus: A person who's both stupid and an asshole.

3. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

4. Reintarnation : Belief that one will come back to life as a hillbilly.

5. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

6. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

7. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

8. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

9. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

10. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

11 . Karmageddon: It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.

12. Decafalon (n.): The gruelling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

13. Glibido: All talk and no action.

14. Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

15. Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.

16. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

17. Caterpallor ( n.): The colour you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you're eating.

 By the way, it seems that these neologisms (and much more!) can be found on The Washington Post,  at http://www.washingtonpost.com/styleinvitational

See also one blogger who had also posted the above list, and the very, very funny comments that resulted: http://dialogic.blogspot.com/2009/01/washington-posts-mensa-invitational.html

So, if you are the buyer, the person you just made payment to is the buyee?

Thanks Nick, for your comment yesterday about a New Paper headline, "S'pore need exposure" which seemed to intentionally pun on the  rather cheeky swim trucks of the Singapore men's water polo team at the current Asian Games.

The red swimwear in question  features a white crescent moon rising out from the groin area as well as five white stars nearby; ego, it was a creative way to design a competition swim trunk using the Singapore flag.

But the authorities were not amused. Netizens, as usual, were divided. Some saw red (and white?) and were, well, hung up about the issue; others were of the view that if you have it, flaunt it (creative ideas, that is). 

Anyway, that brouhaha is a reminder that life can often be offbeat, so I think I should take a break from my "more serious" posting yesterday and return to some good old fashioned humour.

A friend sent me the stuff below last year. It came from The Washington Post, which  had  asked its readers to supply alternative meanings for common words. These are from the winners:

1. Coffee, n. The person upon whom one coughs.
2. Flabbergasted, adj. Appalled by discovering how much weight one
has gained.
3. Abdicate, v. To give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.
4. Esplanade, v.. To attempt an explanation while drunk.
5. Willy-nilly, adj. Impotent.
6. Negligent, adj. Absentmindedly answering the door when wearing
only a nightgown.
7. Lymph, v. To walk with a lisp.
8. Gargoyle, n. Olive-flavored mouthwash.
9. Flatulence, n. Emergency vehicle that picks up someone who has
been run over by a steamroller.
10. Balderdash, n. A rapidly receding hairline.
11. Testicle n. A humorous question on an exam.
12. Rectitude, n. The formal, dignified bearing adopted by
13. Pokemon, n. A Rastafarian proctologist.
14. Oyster, n. A person who sprinkles his conversation with
15. Frisbeetarianism, n. The belief that, after death, the soul
flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.
16. Circumvent, n. An opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by
Jewish men.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A silly question. Is MSK still a fugitive? And the "last day" of one man.

This is not a political blog, but I cannot not comment on a question raised in Parliament by MP Zaqy Mohamad (Hong Kah GRC). As quoted in The Straits Times (23 Nov), he said: "Based on MHA's findings so far, is the ministry [Home Affairs] satisfied that it's just confined to his family members? Given that Mas Selamat made his escape in a tudung, would the ministry assure the Malay community that there won't be unnecessary scrutiny of Malay women wearing tudung as they enter security areas, when they seek employment or when they move in and out of Singapore?"

What is he alluding to? The first question in the quote is not a problem, unless the MP is trying to draw a link between that and the second question which makes a statement of presumably verified fact -- that Mas Selamat made his escape wearing a tudung (among other articles of clothes I am sure!... "made his escape in a tudung" is intriguing if one pictures it mentally, but I digress).

What stumped me was the question he then links to the statement of fact: that -- so long after the event -- Malay women weaing tudung (note: the tudung does not cover the face; unlike the purdah) may still worry that they can be considered security risks?

Some skill may have gone into the cosmetic make-up applied to MSK's face so he could pass off as a woman (after all, Jack Neo has set a precedent [disclaimer: I'm not saying here JN is a terrorist!] but I do not think most Malay women in tudung now lose sleep over being given the once over as if they were men in drag.

The other way to see this line of questioning is the logical fallacy. MSK, a known terorist, wore a tudung. Many Malay women wear tudung. You follow this to its illogical conclusion.

So, I expect a higher quality of questions asked in Parliament. There is still the issue of women wearing the purdah but that issue was not raised, wisely so. And I'll like to believe the minister, in his reply to Mr Zaqy, was being kind to him by being rather roundabout.

Okay, next.

ST's own Page 1 (23 Nov) lead story intro could have been less sloppy. It said: "Fugitive terrorist Mas Selamat had help in Singapore after he made his dramatic escape from detention -- that was the surprise revelation made in Parliament yesterday by Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam."

I think many readers may not  have noticed what is wrong with it, because they understand the context -- that is, readers know already that MSK has since been recaptured. But that is no excuse for the newspaper not to provide the context. The intro should read:

"After his dramatic escape from detention and while on the run as a fugitive, terrorist Mas Selamat had help in Singapore..."

This is not a mere exercise in quibbling. Likewise, both ST and Today (also 23 Nov) seemed to have condemned a man to his "last day".

ST: "The last day for Dr Ong, who took over as principal in 1994, will be next Tuesday. He had previously told students he would serve six months' notice."

Today: His last day will be on Nov 30.

In both cases, last day as what? Yes, we know. But how difficult is it to insert "at work at ACS (I)" into the text? Words, as I have previously posted, must seek to clarify.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The battle of the sexes

I'll recall today some of the witty, corny, politically incorrect and hopefully funny stuff I have come across. I'm sure I have more; they'll come out of the woodwork by and by.

First, an ode to the power of the well-positioned comma:
A man, without a woman, is a beast
A man without, a woman is a beast

While it is often true that behind every great man is a woman, one wag has suggested that behind every big man is a bigger behind (I can here the hisses already).

This one below, which to be fair to me I heard when I was a callow fellow, is definitely not PC in today's Women Power age, but here it is even as I'm dodging the brickbats:

A man and his wife walk into a restaurant. He starts to order. "I'll have the soup of the day, and this donkey here will have the french onion soup."

The waiter is startled but takes the order. The woman does not seem perturbed.

Then the man orders the main course and coffee for himself and tea for his wife, each time referring to her as "donkey".

The waiter cannot contain himself any longer. "Ma'am, why are you letting him insult you?"

The woman replies: "He hor, always talk like that. He hor, does that everywhere we go to! He hor..."

Ouch, ouch! Okay, okay, in penance here's a bumper sticker as supposedly spotted: "When God created man, she was only joking."

And women will have the last word(s) here.

This is from the late American wit Dorothy Parker: "Don't put all your eggs in one bastard".

And from the (much married) actress Zsa Zsa Gabor: "A man is incomplete before marriage. After that, he is finished!"

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Reflections on a Sunday

I was moved by the lyrics of this worship song "To Love Our God" in church today:

Where does the wind come from? Where does it go?
Blowing north and south, how does it know?
The rain flows gently to the sea, yet the sea is never full.
How can these things be?
Humanity works hard to make a name,
toiling in the sun, yet nothing gained.
We all return to dust from whence we came.
All is empty, all is vain.
To love our God, the reason we live:
To love our God, the highest call.
Nothing satisfies our soul,
gives life meaning, makes us whole
For this purpose we were made to love our God.
To love our God, the reason we live:
To love our God, the highest call.
Nothing satisfies our soul,
gives life meaning, makes us whole.
For this purpose we were made to love our God!
(Words: Ecclesiastes 1 & 2; Music: Mark Hayes)

My other "talking point" today is Saturday's story "MPs unfazed by move to cut speech times" (ST, 20 Nov, Page A4), in which Aljunied GRC MP Cynthia Phua, in pleading that 20 minutes for a speech (down from the current 30 minutes) might be hard to adhere to, is reported to have said: "We ae not lawyers; it's very dificult for us to craft speeches very precisely."

Excuse me, lawyers as role models for succinct speeches? If lawyers speak as they do when drafting stuff in legalese, I can imagine one such speech in Parliament (disclaimer: this is a spoof):

"Mr Speaker Sir, and here I must qualify that this perambulatory introduction does not presuppose or presume to suppose that the gender of the said person I referred to (Exhibit A) is necessarily male -- after all, man embraces woman -- ... now, where was I, oh yes... I would like to introduce a motion which if approved becomes a motion that is passed, and here I must clarify that in the Queen's English, the said passing motion in this august Chamber has a meaning that is not to be articulated in this said august Chamber in any of its variations...."

Everyone else (including the Speaker): zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Now, if the purpose of the proposal is to get MPs to be more concise (and to save time all round), why not speak the way you and I speak in the office, at the hawker centre, etc (and address the minister directly as well)?

"Mr/Madam (name of the Minister himself, or herself), this (proposal) can or not?"


"Mr/Madam (name), I want to bring this issue to your attention... (elaborates, then...) How?"

Short and sharp. QED.

Postscript: My earlier posting titled Air Kindergarten was published in today's Sunday Times (21 Nov)!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Two words, a world of difference

Catholics are currently having a big pow-wow in Rome. I am reminded of a spoof video some time ago. Here's the gist of it:

An elderly learned monk, in charge of his monastery's ancient hand-copied texts, decided to go down to the cellar to check out some scroll for his research.

But he was down there a very long time. A young monk was sent to look for him. The older monk was found slumped on the cellar's floor, weeping. Fnally, the old man looked up -- holding a crumbling manuscript -- and cried, “It says celebrate, not celibate”.

Friday, November 19, 2010

On historical Hokkien

Some time back, someone sent me this. Thought I'll share it here, with the caveat that I am unable to verify the claims made below:

Ancient Imperial Language of China – 2,000 Years Ago

How Did it Sound Like? (Mind you, it's no way similar to Mandarin)
Has this Ancient Language Survived?
Who Speaks it Today?

You'll be Surprised. You have heard it. You, your parents, or grandparents may
still be speaking this ancient, archaic language!
Yes, it's HOKKIEN (Fujian/Minnan Hua)

Hokkien is:

1. The surviving language of the
Tang Dynasty (618-907AD), China's Golden Age of Culture.
Note: The Hokkien we hear today may have "evolved" from its original
form 2,000 years ago, but it still retains the main elements of the Tang
Dynasty Language.

2. Hokkiens are the surviving descendants of the Tang Dynasty -- When the Tang
Dynasty collapsed, the people of the Tang Dynasty fled South and sought refuge
in the Hokkien (Fujian) province. Hence, Hokkien called themselves Tng-lang
(Tang Ren or People of the Tang Dynasty) instead of Hua Lang (Hua Ren).

3. Hokkien has 8 tones instead of Mandarin's 4. Linguists claim that ancient
languages tend to have more complex tones.

4. Hokkien retains the ancient Chinese pronunciation of "K-sounding"
endings (for instance, Hak Seng (student),
Tua Ok (university), Thak Chek (read a book/study) -- the "k" sounding
ending is not found in Mandarin.

5. The collection of the famous "Three Hundred Tang Dynasty Poems"
sound better when recited in Hokkien/Teochew if compared to Mandarin.

6. Consider this for a moment: Today, the Hokkien Nam Yim orchestral performance
still has its roots in ancient Tang dynasty music. Here's the proof: The
formation of today's Nam Yim ensemble is typically seen in ancient Tang dynasty
paintings of musicians.

More Astonishingly:

Although not genetically-related, Hokkiens, Koreans and Japanese share many
similar words (which are different from Mandarin).

That's because Hokkien was the official language of the powerful Tang Dynasty
whose influence and language spread to Japan and Korea (just like Latin – where
many words were borrowed by the English, French, Italian, etc). Here are just a
few words in Hokkien, Korean and Japanese for your comparison:


Sin Boon (news)
Sin Mun
Shinbun - newspaper

Cheng Hu (government)
Chong Bu

Pang (room)

Chhia (car/vehicle)

Mui/M'ng (door)

P'hio (ticket)

Eng Wan (eternal)
Yong Won

Chaek (book)

Ki (flag)

Kang (river)

Poh Hiam (insurance)
Poh Ham

Sio Sim (caution)
Cho sim

Mo Kui (demon)
Ma gui

Cham (attend/join/mix)
Ch'am sok

Kantan (simple)
Gan Dan

Sin Sei Kai (new world)
Shin Sae Gae

Kok Ka (nation)
Kuk Kka

Hya (elder brother)

Choon Pi (prepare)
Jun Bi

Si Kan (time)
Si Kan

Kam tong (emotion, feeling)
Kam Jong

Kamsia (gratitude, thanks)
Kam Sa

Keat Hoon (marriage)
Kyol Hon

Oon Tong (exercise)
Un Dong

Tua Ok (university)
Tae Hak

Aun Chuan (safety)
An Jon
An Zen

Mua Chiok(satisfaction)
Man Jok

Ai Lang (lover)
Ae In

Seng Kong (success)
Song Kong

Chhiu Sat (suicide)
Cha sal

Pu Do (grapes)
P'o d'o

Chin Por (progress)
Chin bo

Thursday, November 18, 2010

On headlines

Thanks Nick, for recalling (your comment, yesterday's posting) a Straits Times headline which in part had "Anwar probed". If the headline writer had done so unintentionally, it was definitely a boo-boo; if it was intentional, bad taste, man!

The story was about the Malaysian opposition leader going to court to clear his name on his earlier sodomy conviction and his being questioned by counsel. I am sure I have the exact phrasing of the actual headline in my collection and I will post it when I find it.

Staying with headlines, one of the most famous was one in 1982 from the tabloid, The New York Post. It is self-explanatory: "Headless body in topless bar".

I tried to recall if there was a headline in 2000, when it was Bush the Younger vs Al Gore in the famously messed-up presidential election, that went like this: "Bush whacked, Al gored". But I could not find anything from an online search and so must assume it was made up by a very witty punster.

The headlines in the Today newspaper are usually punchier than (fill in the blanks) but this one today (18 Nov) is kinda iffy: "For his battlefield heroics, soldier gets rare honour."

The story is about a real hero, an American soldier who risked his life to save others in a firefight in Afghanistan. He was conferred the Medal of Honour, the most prestigious military award and hence a rare one. My quibble is that while "heroics" can indeed mean "heroic deed or deeds", it can also mean "exaggerated behaviour". So why use this word when "heroism" fits the bill?

I know I'm about to be immodest, but I have won two Headline of the Year awards (admittedly eons ago). One was "Hill Street blues", referring to the then Hill Street hawker centre having to be demolished. There was at the time a popular American TV show with that title.

My other award winner was "Cheat chats", which referred to university students who found a way to make free calls from the phone booths in their hostel.

Currently, the Headliners section of The Sunday Times come under me. Two headlines I had fun with were "Diplomatic impunity?" and "Goodbye, Mr Snips". The first referred to the former Romanian diplomat, Silvio Ionescu, who had claimed diplomatic immunity in a hit and run case in which a man later died.

The second referred to Anglo-Chinese School's "famous" barber, Mr Raju, who was finally hanging up his scissors after decades of giving ACS boys and staff members his famous haircut. (Declaration: I was a customer of his, although not an ACS boy). The headline was a play on the book (and movie), "Goodbye, Mr Chips".

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A mission statement of sorts...

I started this blog because I wanted to record, dissect and reflect on words, from their use to their abuse, recognising of course the English language today is dynamic. It belongs to everyone yet to no one in particular.

Words can be evocative, funny, crude, obfuscating, clarifying, etc.

My fascination with jokes, puns and other humorous devices started with my own self-discovery -- that such devices are a powerful medium and a window into how we look at life. Also, like tree rings, they are a record of "time" -- when we can recall which humorous account was related by whom at which point in time. I bemoaned in an earlier posting how I wished I could recall (and understood) the first joke I heard.

I also pride myself on being a fairly decent wordsmith, one who explores the meaning/s of words and their contexts and nuances. I think I was quite dogmatic once but I now accept that I have still a lot to learn.

Just today, I was going to post here -- after seeing a newspaper report on "the myriad of challenges" that China faces -- my insistence that "myriad" is an adjective that takes no article, that is, that it should be "myriad challenges". Some checks with reputable sources proved me blindsided. Someone I respected had taught me the word's rigid usage, and I had accepted his wisdom.

I also learnt today that "myriad" -- meaning "too numerous to be counted" -- once stood, in the original Greek, for "ten thousand". This discovery is fascinating! The Chinese too think of units of 10,000 (zi ban thai, in Hokkien); so too the Japanese (banzai).

Words are thus a window to so many things.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sheep, shot (or a blogger's cheap shot of the day?)

It's a public holiday in Singapore (local time) -- Hari Raya Haji. Sheep, used for the Muslim ritual of Korban for the occasion, have been in the news. It seems the world's trickiest tongue twister has to do with sheep. Here it is:

The sixth sick sheikh's sixth sheep's sick.

I would say a close contender is:

Can you can a canned can into an uncanned can like a canner can can a canned can into an uncanned can? (Seems easy if you recite it slowly, but you gotta say it fast, over and over again to get the full hilarious effect. Ditto for the previous one.)

As for the world's funniest joke, this here is claimed to be the one (but I will leave it to your judgment):

Two men were out hunting in some desolate place. Suddenly, there is a shot. One of the men took out his cellphone and called the emergency service. "Hello, I've just shot my friend. His eyes are glazed and he does not seem to be breathing. What shall I do?"

The operator very, very calmly told him: "Sir, can you make sure if he is dead?"

There is a long pause before the operator heard the sound of a gunshot.

The guy comes back on the line: "Yes, he is now definitely dead. What do I do next?"

A baby boomer reminiscing...

In my posting yesterday, I used the slang phrase "duck's egg", to depict getting a zero grading (the shape is like a duck's egg, meh) in a test or exam. I had quite a few in my time (to quote Bart Simpson, "Underachiever and proud of it!").

But it seemed that not everyone is familiar with such a usage today, certainly not the post-baby boomers. It was common during my schooldays (we used to get more duck's eggs then; but not today's schoolkids?).

I started recalling some of the terms coined and that became currency in my youth. A favourite of mine was RTS. Back then, there was Radio Television Singapore. Someone hijacked it to describe layabouts: "Roaming the street".

Raging hormones were part of growing up, so sizing up the girls was a pastime of me and my buddies. Someone well-endowed was a TNT (twin nuts terror) while "Airport" is self-explanatory. Some were "good from far but far from good". We were merciless.

But I am sure the girls had a similar lexicon to cut us down to size, but I never did find out.

Waiting for the buses back then brought this on: "One no come, all no come. One come, all come". Today, we have BMW -- bus, MRT, walk.

National Service of course ushered in a slew of new terms, from skiving (to shirk or escape from a task) to boh-boh king (someone who can't shoot straight) to "shag". I will not explain this last one.

A good dictionary of slangs will be helpful. But many young men and women, even today, seem to use it as a euphemism for "tired" -- which it is. But one should check out the slang meaning, and one might then be more circumspect about using it.

Then there was this Hokkien usage which I could not figure out -- "gor kor luck", literally $5.60. One day, a pre-baby boomer explained it to me. In the backlanes of Desker Road (in the 1950s?) one going price was $5.60 -- 60 cents was for the prophylactic!

Having touched on a Hokkien term, I'll wrap up today's musing with this, which I found on the Web:

Learning Hokkien is as easy as ABC
Children is kina kia
Boy is da boh kia
Girl is zha boh kia
Bird is chiao kia
Korean car is Kia
Give birth is seh kia
Furniture is Ikea
Police is mata kia
Small house is chu kia
Handphone is Nokia
You are Hokkien kia
Malay is huan kia
Hindu is keh leng kia
Kuai lou is angmohkia
Chinese is deng lang kia
Japanese is jit pun kia
Bad guy is pai kia
Good guy is ho kia
Person who read this is gong kia
If you laugh, you are siao kia

Monday, November 15, 2010

The answer is 140, not 42

In today's posting, I want to wrap up a few more points on the social networking revolution, That 140-character phenomenon, Twitter, in particular.

I'll stay with the foot-in-the-mouth disease first. There was this hard-to-miss apology advert in today's ST (15 Nov). This person, from a  fitness gym, had to declare that the following statements he had made about another gym were "patently false":

"xxxx is closing down soon"
"xxxx might survive one more year".

There are no details but I wonder if these statements were made via SMS or Tweets, or on Facebook -- to an audience possibly wider than intended, as happened to Mr Chambers (in yesterday's post).

Once you hit that "send" button, there's nothing you can do to retrieve your message.

Why do they do it? In last Saturday's New Paper (13 Nov), a Secondary 4 schoolboy taking the O-levels was reported to have -- using his camera-phone -- taken a photo of an exam paper before it started and uploaded it onto Twitter, 10 minutes before the exam started. He said he only took one picture, of the cover.

It is against the exam rules to bring any mobile phone into the exam room. In this boy's case, he was allowed to sit the paper in a room with only one other student. He has a condition in which he makes involuntary movements and sounds.

So why did he do it, even if the uploaded photo was only the cover, and no exam question was photographed? He said he did it "for the fun of it" and because he was "bored". He added that he was fully aware of the possible consequences, including a duck's egg (my phrase here) for the paper.

What else did he say? This, among others: "I won't do something like this again. I just take it as an experience, a learning point, and just grow up from there."

As in Mr Chambers case, people will be divided on their views about his action and his attitude. But why do I get the feeling this boy will go far in life?

On a lighter note, a Norwegian porn star tweeted on the brouhaha over an Indonesian Minister from a conservative Muslim party and the handshake he had with US First Lady Michelle Obama recently. The minister, reacting on Twitter (but of course) to criticisms (on Twitter, spot on) that he should not have shaken a woman's hand, said Mrs Obama had initiated it.

The United States-based porn star then weighed in, tweeting that the minister's hands were free to roam all over her. She added: "Come to the USA and shake anything you want!!!" (yes, there were three exclamation marks).

That's the power of Twitter -- the "right" situation gets you into the media spotlight, and to a vast audience!

So much so that recently freed Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Ky plans to Tweet to reach out to the younger generation.

So, if you are a fan of The Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy, the answer is not 42. It is 140.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tweet or twit? A harrowing experience?

Thanks Nick, for your comments yesterday and that apt depiction of the Bush II era as a "reign of error".

The events of 9/11 certainly changed mindsets, for better or for woes. That play on words is deliberate, as many a hassled and even patted down air traveller post 9/11 will attest.

The true story below, in this instant social networking age, is instructive: where do we draw the line when we jest publicly, when all -- including the eyes and ears of the authorities -- can hear or see?

This Brit, one Paul Chambers, was stuck at Robin Hood Airport (must be near Sherwood Forest) due to a snowstorm. He was irate, having now missed a chance to meet up with a woman he had met online. So he tweeted: "You've got a week to get your [expletive] together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!"

Turns out an airport manager saw the Tweet and in the best tradition of "we are not amused" Brit-ness told his boss, and Mr Chambers was arrested.

Apparently, the Brit police who knocked at his door (time not told to us) were dourless too. They asked him, "Do you have any weapons in your car?"

To which he replied: "I have some golf clubs in the boot". He noted that they did not think it was funny.

To cut a long story short, the judge was not amused too, and Mr Chambers was fined US$4,800 (US$ since this account comes from a New York Times report) for causing a "menace".

But fellow Tweeters and netizens showed their support for him with offers to fund an appeal and with Tweets and posts equivalent to raising the two fingers at the you-know-who.

Some examples: "I am going to blow up the universe with my giant spaghetti bomb".

"If I put LOL [laughing out loud] at the end of every Tweet, will that protect me from prosecution?"

Mr Chambers himself tried to explain to the judge that he was a prolific Tweeter and had sent out 14,000 tweets in the past 11 months, with much facetious bantering with friends. He added: "People who know me and work with me make these commenst all the time -- 'I'm going to kill you if you don't get me a coffee in a minute'." He insisted his message was just hyperbole.

By the way, Mr Chambers -- who now has a criminal record -- was fired from his job at a car parts company.

I guess his case will divide people. The clearcut cases that merit prosecution are the bomb threat hoaxers who make old-fashioned "so last century" telephone calls. But then, some liitle kid will one day ask, "What's a telephone?"

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Pon-shon, oh-maage? Li kong si mi, ah?

I heard on the radio this person saying pon-shon. Someone"corrected" him and kena scolded instead.

And so I too learnt how to pronounce "penchant" with panache. Its origin is after all, ooh la la, French.

I Googled and found a chat forum discussing how to pronounce such words without getting malu (yes, I'm not sticking to Standard English today.... it's been a long work day). The thread also had homage, pronounced as "oh-maage"; and nougat (noo-gah).

Funny, though, how did I learn as a boy to say "ron-dee-voo" for rendezvous. Must be because of that well-known restaurant! In fact, I have never heard any Singaporean mispronouncing this word.Yet, walk on the streets, and you will hear "fee-lim" (film) or hair-loom (heirloom).

But I don't laugh at others on this score. Until fairly recently, I thought sachet (sare-shay) was, well, "sare-cher-et"!

It's good to end this post with a couple of themed jokes, so here goes:

A: Where are you going on your next holiday?
B: I'm going to House-turn, then Sand Juan.
A (puffing up): Oh, you mean Hues-turn (Houston) and Sand Wan (San Juan). So, when are you going?
B (fed up): In Hoon or Hoolie, lor.

Customer: I'll like to buy a copy of that Vo-ghee-u magazine.
Newsagent: You mean Voh-oak (Vogue) magazine?
Customer: Yah lah. I have no time to arrgh with you.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Today is "Why? Day"...

Today  is “Why? Day”. Never heard of it?

Never mind, you have xx hours left to go with the flow of your suppressed curiosity (if you are reading this at 11.59pm, make it "Tomorrow is 'Why? Day'...).

Yes, some people are born curious, others become curious, yet others have curiosity thrust upon them.

So, today, let the child in you ask “Why?” “Why not?” “How come?” “What if?” “But, but…” And let the child or kids in the family have their day, ergo, no question, no matter how wacky it seems to you, is to be dismissed out of hand today.

I’ll like to believe that I have always been curious, and that I have had some role in my children’s curiosity.

Eons ago, when I was a six-year-old, my dad finally got me a mechanical wristwatch (those were the pre-digital days). Of course he conveniently failed to say where he bought it from and what it cost. But it impressed me: shockproof, waterproof, 17 jewels, automatic, it proudly declared on its faceplate.

Yes, I was curious – to see if it could be shocked. A loud “boo!” didn’t do the trick, so the good old very scientific drop test was initiated. That did the trick. Let’s just say that after my experiment I still had a very accurate timepiece: it was very, very accurate twice a day.

Many, many years later, my own six-year-old daughter proved she had acquired my “curiosity” genes. We lived on the fifth storey of a five-storey walkup apartment block then, with a balcony where she would spend her morning playtime. I bought her a battery-operated flying saucer toy, flashing lights and all.

Yes, she tested it. She reported very scientifically that it did not fly when, ahem, the drop test from the balcony was initiated. The good news for me is that she is still curious, and is now a medical scientist-clinician.

My other daughter is just as curious, in a more philosophical way. When she was just three years old, the family took a holiday to the United States. At breakfast in San Francisco, we were served bao. But the bao had a hole on top, presumably to let steam out.

She took a look at the bao in front of her and bawled, “Who bit my bao?” (She could talk very well at that age.)

It was quite a scene as she was inconsolable. Someone chipped in, “Look, everyone’s bao has a hole in it.”

I’ll like to think it was her philosophical curiosity (from the particular to the general reasoning at work) that made her riposte: “Who bit everybody’s bao!”

I think she’ll be all right on her curiosity quotient (CQ), and has taken an interest in philosophical discourse (read: she can out-argue anyone on any subject under the sun).

So, take the family out the rest of today, and together ask ‘Why?” and so on. Look at road signs. Ponder over why a particular sign says “Raised zebra crossing” yet has a drawing of a man crossing a street.

Recall those good old days when you studied, loved or hated science – my Chemistry teacher was nicknamed “Molecule shaker” – and whether you had an education (cramming in useless formulae) or learned useful stuff like “Which organ expands up to 10 times when excited?”

I am still curious and wonder why we still say “The sun rises in the east and sets in the west”.

By the way, it’s not what you think, you dirty-minded you. It’s the pupil of the eye.

Postscript: This article first appeared in the Science Page of the Straits Times. It has been amended and  updated here.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Air Kindergarten

I had great fun penning the article below -- in one and a half hours, with  just one draft. It was  inspired by an item, "Child-free flights music to some ears," (ST, 11 Nov, page A30):

Toffee, teat, or Mickey?

Yes, ma’am, you heard right.

I thought your bawling toddler here might want a toffee sweet to shut him up, and your previously asleep infant – now screaming her lungs out, thanks to that brat, er, your son – could do with a pacifier shoved into her mouth.

As for your sweet little preteen girl here, ever so quiet and all belted up in her seat (you sure she has your DNA?), clearly deserves a Mickey Mouse plush soft toy, compliments of Air Kindergarten.

Haha, oh no, ma’am. It’s just my little joke. The airline’s name is still Red Dot Airways and our iconic branding symbol is still the Red Hot Girl. As you can see, I’m a RHG. My name’s Erica Yong, and I love flying.

I’m also no longer just one of the flight attendants on this plane, I have the additional title of Nanny Onboard, ever since RDA created the “family-only section” on its long-haul flights. Our CEO had read, in the newspapers, about how people – in other airlines, of course – had complained about parents doing nothing while their offspring raised the decibels inside the aircraft higher than what the jet engines outside were emitting.

One irate passenger on one flight reportedly even grabbed the pesky kid behind her, who was incessantly kicking her seat. If not for the fact that aeroplane windows cannot be wound down, she might well have thrown the child out.

We wouldn’t want that to happen on an RDA flight, so our CEO had this special section fitted out pronto.

You and your family are our first guinea pigs, er, our first family section passengers. 

By the way, I’m being very sweet to these two brats, er, children, now because we are still awaiting take-off. Company policy.

But once we are in the air, you’ll find out why Nanny Onboard equals NO.

We received training from child psychologists who believe in tough love. So, no more nonsense from any brat or it’s no toys, no sweets, no teats.

Instead, NOs like me will put on the scariest face masks imaginable – leftovers from the last Halloween – and literally scare the, er, poop, out of the brats.

I assure you it works. We tested this method on, haha, the families of our own staff. It works so well that one “take-away” from the trial runs was that it was imperative to make the kids wear disposable diapers. So, as you can see, your toddler is already being led away to the maternity area to have diapers put on him.

You’ll sue? Oh, you didn’t read the fine print when we asked you to sign on the dotted lines in that form with words in big print offering you extra mileage points? Yup, you signed away any rights to sue us.

Anyway, kids are smart. They’ll learn that only by staying quiet will they get the coveted Mickey Mouse toy, which has a built-in Donkey Kong game. As for your infant, see, she’s already fast asleep. We didn’t provide that pacifier for nothing. Which part of the word “pacifier” don’t you understand? Okay, it has some special harmless ingredients, but that’s our secret recipe.

So, ma’am, sit back, fasten your seat belt, relax and enjoy what we are sure will now be a pleasant flight. One more thing. We do have adult-sized pacifiers, on request of course.

Bakso diplomacy, bakso curiosity

So, President Obama has finally gone to Jakarta, Indonesia, his "hometown" of a few years when he was a boy.

He seemed to have wowed many common Indonesian folks, especially when he spoke in praise of bakso (a beef ball spicy mee soup) and satay. He also uttered some phrases in Bahasa, which some pundits dubbed as "bakso diplomacy".

I have never eaten bakso, so this curious cat post haste himself to Seah Imm hawker centre (near Harbourfront) to partake of the bakso at a Muslim stall there. The stall holder said an added dollop of her chilly paste was a must-have.

And so I ate and slurped away. It was good, and spicy. How did Obama finish his? Or did he?

As his predecessor of long ago, Harry Truman,  said, "The buck stops here." In Obama's case, "The bakso stops here". Hopefully, not at an emergency stop, before he boarded Air Force One, bound for Seoul, South Korea.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A blooper or two spotted...

My wife is the typical casual newspaper reader but she immediately spotted something not quite right in today's ST report (10 Nov, page A3), "Men armed with parangs slash 7 youths".

I took a look at the offending sentence and, indeed, it was a blooper in an otherwise well-paced story. Here it is:

"His attackers fled only after a friend who was jogging saw the attack and started screaming for help -- but not before stabbing him in the back."

Newspapers do have layers of proof checks but "collective" eyes can still miss glaring errors until the cold light of the next day show these up.

Here's another example, from Monday's Today.

Headline: 1 in 10 Singaporeans are obese
Introduction (1st paragraph): One in 10 Singaporeans or 10.8 per cent of the population is obese...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Quip-witted, naughty, naughty, and analyse this...


In an earlier post, I opined that The Straits Times used an inappropriate word, "misplaced", in a court story it published. The Today newspaper used a better word, "missing" for its account of the same court case.

There is a word that journalists seem to like to use: quip (see link above).

It can mean a witty remark, perhaps said sarcastically, or is a clever response, often spontaneously, to something someone else said. But the context is important. The setting is usually social, whether friendly or otherwise. Certainly, a judge hearing a case concerning a man who killed his own daughter would not want to be said  to have made a quip.

But the Today report today (9 Nov), "Killer dad gets four years more", has this longish paragraph: "Two days before she died, Nikie had also played with Sallehan's cigarettes. This led Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin... to quip to Sallehan's lawyers: 'One would have thought that a two-year-old child would be playful and curious. Why did he not place his cigarettes somewhere else? It looks like your client is in need of disciplining more than the child."

Sarcastic? Certainly. A quip? Nope.

The Straits Times did not try to be too clever. This is its version of that last remark: "If anyone needed disciplining, he [Sallehan] needed disciplining," said the judge.

Moving on, I thank "L" for sending me a list of "twisted puns", in response to my post on 7 Nov. I have in my own collection the item with the heading "Small medium at large", about a midget fortune teller who escaped from prison (L's version). But my version comes from my "naughty" collection -- here, a small-sized temple medium, having taken advantage of a young woman, has gone missing.

I might as well put here -- for the record -- a few more naughty ones; hopefully, no one is offended.

The first also has a woman who had been taken advantage of. The perpetrator is a fellow of unsound mind. The pun heading goes like this, "Nut screws and bolts".

Next, with worries about living costs (hard times?) in mind, I found this double entendre very classy: "Newly weds face mounting problems".

I'm a bit afraid to put up this one, but what the heck. This poor-sighted chap goes to the optician to get his eyes checked. He keeps getting the letters on the chart wrong. The optician finally yells out: "A you see B. F you see (sorry, you have to fill in the blank to complete this one. I'm not putting that in.)

Last one, and it is rendered here all in caps so that anyone who is still clueless stays that way: MEN RISE AT THE CRACK OF DAWN.

Switching to serious mode now...

 In yesterday's post, I referred to the fluidity and uncertainty  in world politics today, centred on the rise of China and the alarm this seemed to have sparked in the United States and many other countries. But I wonder how many Singaporean lay readers find the countless commentaries that have since spewed forth enlightening. The really good ones are well argued by experts who know their stuff and likely have access to good sources, stick to a theoretical perspective rather than pick and choose (mix and match) from different schools of thought, and avoid jargon or at least explain such terms if they have to be used.

What am I saying? If you don't understand what the writer is saying, don't waste your time. Put your antenna up, if say, some "expert" talks about "the security architecture of the region". What the heck is that? If an expert is writing for a lay readership, nothing should be fudged.

On this score, I found the commentary "The weary titan" by Pierre Buhler, a former French ambassador to Singapore, in today's ST (9 Nov, page A20) well written, soundly argued and lucid. It is also premised on a theoretical model, the Hegemonic Stability Theory.

If you want to see this commentary online at its original website, Google for it thus: "The weary titan" "Project Syndicate".

To find out more about the theory he used, likewise Google "Hegemonic Stability Theory".

Homework assignment? Hey, I used to teach political science at NUS.

Monday, November 8, 2010

None so blind as those who do not see

I'm still going on about jokes today.

Actually, I wanted to write something serious, like analysing the emerging fluidity of the international politics of the Asia-Pacific, since I have written (when I'm serious) articles on this subject matter and have taught  this area of political science at NUS up to Honours level.

But I had wanted also to add a quick follow up to my missive yesterday, to say that when I outgrew the jokes in Movie News, those in Reader's Digest provided a new wellspring.

Then, Googling, I found this gem by RD's "humour editor", Andy Simmons, on How Not to Tell a Joke:

A classic joke goes as follows: "A nurse says to the doctor, 'Doctor, doctor, there's an invisible man in the waiting room.' The doctor replies, 'Tell him I can't see him now.'"

Pretty simple, right? Not according to my friend Mitch.

"Why couldn't the doctor see him?" he asked after I told him the gag at a party.
"Because the patient's invisible," I grumbled under my breath in a way that implied he should just laugh and move on.

"See, I didn't get that," he continued. "I thought the doctor couldn't see him because he was busy with another patient."

"Well, yeah, he was, but the fact that the guy was invisible..."

"When you say he was 'invisible,' does that mean his clothes were invisible too?"

Here's where I turned my back on him.

"Because if his clothes weren't invisible," Mitch said, stepping between me and the people whose conversation I was trying to join, "then the doctor could see him, right?"

"Yeah, I guess..."

"Unless he was naked."

"Okay, he was naked."

"Why would he go to his doctor naked?"

"Oh, never mind!"

I cite the above because it has happened to me! There I was, regaling my captive audience with a sure-to-laugh joke... and someone with a serious demeanour -- amid the contorted faces -- starts asking me questions like Mitch above, did. It makes one want to die laughing.

Okay, since I'm staying with jokes, this one is from my yesteryear memory (again, I can't remember when or where I first heard it).

Back in the days when public buses were operated by the likes of the Singapore Traction Company (STC), Green Bus, Tay Koh Yat, etc, one service plied the Holland Road area as part of its route.

An angmoh (Caucasian) got on board somewhere else and asked the bus conductor (yes, such a person existed in those days) to let him know ahead where a certain bus stop along Holland Road was, so he could alight. The conductor obliged.

But the bus got increasingly crowded along its route -- before it was anywhere near Holland Road -- and people were not moving in (yes, some things don't change). The exit was being blocked.

Exasperated, the conductor shouted in Hokkien, "Ho lang lok, ho lang lok".

The angmoh got off.

PS: If you are not Hokkien, get someone who is to explain what that dialect exclamation was all about.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Corny? It's a-maize-ing, isn't it?

What was the first joke one has heard? At what age? I can't recall my first joke but I do know that, as a boy, I found copies of Movie News (late 50s and 60s era) my brothers had bought. My favourite page was the funny bones page. Many of the jokes were corny, but I was tickled. That is why I never pooh-pooh low-brow jokes. A joke is a joke, a pun a pun -- never mind the critics who insist that "a pun is the lowest form of wit".'

And if a joke is corny, isn't that "a-maize-ing!"

So here are my "six of the best" low-brow jokes:

What's the world's longest rope?

If the people of Poland are called Poles, what are the people of Holland called?

It was all dark in the house. Jane heard a noise downstairs. Nervously, she dialed 999 for the police. But she dialled 666 instead. The police came upside down.

Shutup and Trouble were brothers. But Trouble went missing and Shutup went everywhere to look for him. A policeman came by.
"What are you looking for?" he asked.
Trouble, came the reply.
Temper rising,the cop demanded, "What's your name?"
As expected, poor Shutup got arrested after he opened his mouth again.

What has four wheels and flies?
A garbage truck.
What has eight wheels and flies?
Two garbage trucks.

You don't need to be a Chinese to grasp (or groan at) this one... There is a street in Chinatown where on one side is a shop with the proprietor's name, "Wee Kian Fatt" (note: for non-Chinese, the last part of this name, well, rhymes with "part"). On the other side of the street, facing this shop, is a shop with the sign, "Soh Kian Wee".

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Once upon a heart-warming story...

Just got back from work (past midnight, Singapore time), so this post will be short and sweet.

The story below (adapted  from USA Today, but covered by all major newspapers everywhere including The Straits Tines), is a reminder that, in this materialistic age, there is hope....

What would you do with a C$11.2 million (S$14.3 million) lottery win? One Canadian retired bworking class couple decided to give 98 per cent of  it away.
Allen and Violet Large, an elderly Nova Scotia couple (aged 75 and 78 respectively, he is a retired welder, she is a cancer patient), decided to give away almost all of their C$11.2 million in lottery winnings to charity. According to thestar.com, the couple -- who depend on retirement savings --  won their fortune in a July 14 Lotto 649 draw, and decided to take care of family and various organizations and institutions instead of spending it on themselves. Now that's an act of kindness.

Postscript One: Poor Qantas. Another of its planes, a Boeing 747 bound for Sydney, had to turn around  and return to Singapore on Friday, because of an engine problem.

Postscript Two: This contribution is from my brother Tee Chuan. Garuda -- Good and reliable under Dutch administration.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Qantas... Quite A Nice Trip, you say?


I'll kick off today with a Phrase (or Idiom) of the Day... "salt of the earth". I am aware  of its Biblical origin, but I was bemused that this idiom was used to describe a local politician in today's Straits Times (Page A44). Then again, if you do like the man, you will agree that he is "reliable and unpretentious". More about "salt of the earth" in the hyperlink above.

Also in today's ST was the headline "Mid-term results a shellacking: Obama". The copy itself used the word "shellacking" once, with no attempt to explain what the word means. Yet, as a reader of an online news service yesterday, I was already curious about this word and I benefited from the BBC's explanation, which I shared in this space yesterday. That's the way to serve readers!

But the news of the day was about the Qantas A380 super-jumbo jet liner that was forced to turn back to Singapore on Thursday while it was over Batam. An engine had caught fire following an explosion.

The plane landed safely. Still, it got me recalling the humorous variations given by creative wags to -- fairly or unfairly -- describe certain airlines, Qantas included. Before I go further, I must say that Qantas (original name: Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services) has never ever had a plane crash since it started using jet-powered aircraft in the 1950s.

Here are what the cheeky pundits coined up about some airlines:

Quite a Nice Trip, All Survived
Quite a Nice Trip, Any Survivors?
Quick and Nasty, Typical Australian Service
Quick and Nasty, Try Another Service
Queers and Nuts Travel Aussie Style

MAS (Malaysia Airlines, previously Malaysian Airline System)
Mana Ada Sistem (system)

SIA (Singapore Airlines)
Sistem Ini Ada
Sex in the Air

BA (British Airways)
Bloody Awful

Doesn't Even Leave The Airport

Aircraft Landing in Tokyo, All Luggage in Amsterdam


Thursday, November 4, 2010

A word from Obama first...


Word of the Day: Shellacking

This word was used by United States President Barack Obama yesterday to describe the "sound defeat" or "thrashing" that his Democratic Party suffered at the hands of the Republican Party in this week's US mid-term elections.

I was not the only one who noticed this unusual word; the BBC did too (see hyperlink above).

Ok, I will try to let go of the US elections, now that they are over.

I will, from time to time, use this space to recall jokes (broadly defined) I have collected since I heard my first one. The problem is I can't remember when or what was that first joke, who told it, or how old I was then!

What I can remember is the first joke my wife (then my girlfriend) told me. It goes like this:

Chief Sitting Bull was very upset. His unmarried daughter, Wild Flower, was now, er, very round you know where. He felt scandalised and also, still did not know who "he" was!

As the great tribal chief was morosely smoking his pipe in his wigwam, Wild Flower came in. "How," she greeted  him apprehensively.

"I know how," he roared. "I want to know who".

Stay tuned, as I dig into my brain cells for jokes from the high-brow to low-class ones to the definitely corny.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

COEs up in latest bidding round. Yet $2 COEs are possible...

Word for the Day: Gubernatorial.

One can understandably be quite clueless about this word. It means "of or pertaining to a governor". Its origin is Latin: gubernare (to govern); gubernor (governor).

So, in the United States mid-term elections just ended, candidates who sought state governorships were competing in gubernatorial races. But why use an archaic  Latin derivative?

Anyway, still on the US midterm elections, the "trifecta" did not happen. The Democrats retained the Delaware and Nevada senatorial seats, losing only Illinois to a Republican chap. But, hey, that was Barack Obama's old seat!

My main post today reflects on the latest COE bidding results, just out today. All categories were up, except for motorcycles. Yet the system actually allows for bidders to submit $1 bids, and secure COEs at $2. It happened once, in Category A (1600cc and below, as well as taxis). Why only once?

I wrote an article on this issue  in The Sunday Times, and for some reason the CPF Board liked it, and put it on its iSavvy section. What appears below is the full article, that is, before editing for space:

Someone asked me: Will you bid for your own Certificate of Entitlement (COE) if you see your dream car beckoning from the showroom?
Then I had a dream.
I dreamt of snagging a $2 COE and dashing over to get my metallic object of desire.
Why a $2 COE?
It has happened before – on a day in November 2008.
True, it happened amid a banking crisis-sparked recession. The COE price for Category A cars (up to 1600cc) crashed to $2.
As my colleague Chistopher Tan wryly noted to me:
“On the afternoon of the freak $2 result, those who were monitoring the tender closely noticed that a crash might be imminent.
“Hence they went in with ultra-low bids.
“It was a confluence of many aligned stars: the world economy was tanking, people were losing their jobs, salaries were being cut, and last but not least, COE supply was near its highest.
“Plus, the car ‘population’ had become very young after years of abundant COEs. Plus, many people were stuck with cars bought at high loans, and were not able to trade them in for new ones.”
In other words, car showrooms were empty and it was mostly individuals, not the dealers bidding on behalf of buyers, who put in bids that fateful November 2008 day.
Maybe it was because I had recently seen the movie Inception, but in my dream, people bought into the idea that they should do their own COE bidding, that they did not need car dealers to provide a package deal.
Hence, the $2 COE for Category A was replicated, without most of those underlying factors my colleague cited.
This was what happened in my dream. I first “entered” the mind of the person who devised the scheme, to really grasp the fuel-injected mechanics of the COE system.
He or she must have had a devilish sense of humour and understood Fallen Man.
This person created a bidding set-up that tantalised would-be car buyers with a minimum $1 bid price (a cup of kopi-o at a foodcourt) yet set the actual bidded price at the sum Bidder X is prepared to pay.
Simply put, Bidder X is the price setter.
He epitomises you and me, who desire a "low" COE (who does not want a cheap and good deal?) but who is prepared to pay for a "high" COE simply because you and I have already made up our minds to buy a car, and so many others are rushing to the showrooms (the best shorthand here is "kiasuism" -- the fear of losing out).
In my dream, this kiasuism was expunged from our human nature.
Instead, a number of bidders were prepared to become what I shall call “suckers”. But that is not a fair label, because these people did want a new car but were prepared to wait many, many months to get it. They were motivated by public-spiritedness.
Remember, it was a dream.
You can go to the Land Transport Authority's website on how COE bidding works, or you can Google "how COE works" for simple yet accurate examples. I'll use a simplified illustration myself.
Supposing there are 10 Category A COEs for the current bidding round. Technically, everyone -- say, 20 bidders -- can bid at $1.
But Bidder X will not emerge because there is no price setter to enable 10 bidders to secure the 10 COEs. All 20 have "lost" and the 10 COEs go into the next bidding round.
But Bidder X comes into being, in this example, if 10 people had bid only $1 and the 11th bidder had put down $2. He is the price setter. The 12th to 20th bidders, together with Bidder X, have now secured all 10 COEs.
These others (apart from Bidder X) had all bid more than $2. Bidder No 20 can even bid $1 million or more and still get his COE at $2.
In fact, this kiasuism was understood by the devilish creator of the scheme, since a high bid ensures the bidder’s success! It also, typically and across the board, ensures in the real world that COE prices are not freak $2 ones.
But should everyone be like the 20th bidder, and bid outrageously?
As the ancient Chinese said, "You may get what you wish for." The $1 million sum may well become the price setter if bidders 1 to 10 bid from $1 to $999,999 and bidders 12 to 20 bid above $1 million.
If you have now truly, truly grasped this Nobel Prize-worthy scheme, you can enter my dream world and bid, with me, in such a way that the outcome is $2.
Indeed – and this is real, not from the dream – the LTA has been on our side, helping us out, by allowing realtime transparency in the bidding. You can actually monitor the first to the last bid.
To repeat my dream scenario, individuals – not car dealers – did the bidding.
Also, there were enough "suckers" who bid $1 to enable Bidder X to set the price at $2. But who wants to be a sucker?
Think of it this way: even with the current annual COE quotas, how many genuine car buyers will be thwarted from getting their new cars within a reasonable time?
Even if the patient ones wait a year, remember – that COE will cost only $2!
Assuming there are 600 Category A COEs up for bidding (I use only one category to simplify my model), 599 people must bid more than $2, and only one must bid $2.
The rest (just one person if there are only 601 bidders) must bid $1.
Hence, an alternative model would see only 601 people come in to bid in this round, and plus or minus 600 in the next round, based on the actual available COEs each time.
In this case, only one person puts in the $1 bid and the other 600 can put in $2.
Come on, we can do it. Just hold back on your need for a car this round. It's worth it, for $2. Haha.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


One word in my earlier post was misspelled! It should be "bettor", not "better".

Newspapers are a treasure trove, but first you gotta dig...

I'll start today with an occasional Word of the Day. Today's is "trifecta", from a story in The Straits Times (2 Nov) on the mid-term Congressional elections in the United States later today (US time).

The story said three key states -- Illinois, Delaware and Nevada -- were being closely watched by political pundits.

"Winning any of these Democratic seats would be a major Republican coup. Capturing all three -- the 'Trifecta' -- would be a stunning victory."

Checking Google, I found that one popular use of this word is in horse racing betting. A better who correctly predicts the first three placings (in their order) has achieved a trifecta.

Moving on but staying with newspapers, ST used an inappropriate word in a story (Page B6) on a man who dragged a woman into some bushes and raped her. One paragraph read: "He also promised to help her look for her mobile phone, which was misplaced during the struggle". Misplaced?

Compare this with what Today (also 2 Nov) said: "After raping her, Dai offered to look for her missing handphone...".

Spot-on. "Misplaced" conjures up something ludicrous -- during the struggle, she actually had the presence of mind to try and leave her phone in some place (among the bushes!), but ended up misplacing it!

So, as Phua Chu Kang would say, don't anyhow "pray pray" with words, when you are in the newspaper business.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Coming down with literalitis

Someone wrote in The Straits Times today (1 Nov) that while he and his friends "do not admit to practising perfect English, we often find ourselves in stitches when we notice a grammatical error, usually overheard or spotted on a signboard".

Well, I would not laugh at mistakes made by anyone who is humble enough to learn, yours truly included. But I do have a fascination with grammatically correct words that are open to a sometimes more hilarious interpretation. The article below was published in The Straits Times, albeit edited to fit the available space:    

I now suffer from literalitis. Maybe you do too.

If so, like me, a recent  newspaper report about a "passing out parade"
must have puzzled you. I wasn't always like that, for in my schoolday youth
and national service days, I had been through several passing-out parades
and never once buckled under.

But, searching the Internet, I did find a fellow literalitis sufferer, a
blogger from some foreign country. From her account, she was at one such
parade to see her husband, er, pass out from the navy. Here is the
appropriate abstract from her blog:

"The recruits, in my mind, did an awesome display of marching, and then
standing still. For the whole ceremony.

"This is why they call it a Passing Out Parade. Those guys and gals have
to stand stock still for the whole ceremony of about one and a half hours.
After 45 minutes into it, two girls went down. As Admiral Whatsisname was
thanking the families of the recruits for trusting the Navy in looking
after them, two guys went down.

"It was after this that some dude went and told Admiral Whatsisname to
wrap it up."

I know of someone else,  who when he was a young officer in a foreign navy,
had a sudden seizure of literalitis. It all started when, in the process
of writing up a dress code for formal functions, a project officer had
written "trousers, optional" when he had meant "trousers, gold
lace optional". The brave young officer turned up at the next formal dinner
graced by the top brass -- in his uniform top only (and underwear of course).

He avoided being court-martialled only because he had a copy of the dress
code manual with him.

Is there something about navy chaps, or are my two examples above mere

Anyway, my first  inkling of my  literalitis condition was when I was
rushed to a hospital's emergency department in the wee morning hours three
days after Christmas in 2008. I had bled profusely three times, and in
rapid succession, from the rectum. Subsequent events were to justify my
labelling 2008 (at least the year-end) as my year of anus horribilis.

But I digress. What disturbed me no end was a big you-can't-miss-it sign in
the emergency doctor's room with this legend: "Wash hands thoroughly
in-between patients". Considering that the young doctor had just done a
digital rectal examination of me, I looked in fear to see if there was any
other patient within sight of me. Fortunately, there was no one and my
imagined "what can happen next" did not happen.

I was later found to have a condition known as diverticular bleeding. But I
also knew I now had this "other", probably incurable, condition.

So much so that, when I returned to work, certain words etched on the
hands-free paper towel dispenser in the men's loo (I can't vouch for the
women's toilet, obviously) now took on  a new meaning. The words? "Motion

Moving on, and given my condition, I now have a small list of occupations
that I have issues with. What's a plastic surgeon? Why not go to the real,
flesh-and-blood variety for that body part enhancement? Why a child
psychologist? Are we running out of adults who can do the job?

I also have a literalitis-related issue with some street and expressway
signs too. The too obvious one is "Road Works Here". Heck, we pay good
tax payers' money, so it better. But, really, if I have a magic wand, all I
need to do is to wave it, and the words will be rearranged to read as
"Roadworks here". Crystal clear now, isn't it?

A more subtle traffic sign, which may require a bit of a double-take, is
"Raised zebra crossing". I have no problem with it if there's no
illustration tacked above these words in the warning sign.

Ergo, a zebra (they are oh so common in urban jungle Singapore) had fallen
asleep, it has awakened and is now crossing the road, so dear motorist,
please do be careful and try not to hit it? But right above such wording is
a silhouette of a man crossing the road! What am I to make of this disjuncture?

Entering an expressway tunnel, I often see this: "Do not leave veh in
tunnel". Oh, definitely. But what is a veh?

And recently, some lasik surgeries have been advertising their services. At
least one declares, "One eye xxx dollars. Two eyes xxx dollars." I
think I have just one eye that needs lasik surgery, not both. Now all I have to do
is to find someone who has the same condition, and we can pair up. Anyone
out there who sees eye to eye with me on this?

I had wanted to take a picture of a particular  traffic sign at a major hospital here which warned, "No horning". But I never got round to it.

Recently, I was at the hospital and, happily, the sign now reads "No honking". There is hope yet...