Friday, September 30, 2011

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but insults? Hmmm.

The low-slung jeans/navel-gazing saga continues...
Now the Media Development Authority (MDA) has come out to support the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) in the latter's campaign to get American fashion retailer Abercrombie & Fitch to remove a shopfront wall ad of a male model in a pair of low-slung jeans (see yesterday's posting and TODAY, 30 Sept, page 8).

The retailer has so far stood by its statement that it is "investigating the matter and is not in a position to comment at this time". But methinks that the conclusion is foregone, once a government agency steps in.

So, what will eventually adorn that shopfront wall along Orchard Road? I still think this is a silly storm-in-a-teacup but there seems to be something more to it, beyond the mere navel-gazing of a male model in contrast to the gawking at ubiquitous ads of female models wearing even less bits of clothing. Hmmm.

The OB marker strikes again?
An entertainment company decided to do a musical titled "When Tan meets Tan," a spoof on the recent presidential election. Scheduled to open in October, its ticket sale seemed to be doing very well. But now, the company has announced that the production is being canned.

The story first appeared in Lianhe Wanbao. As reported by, the company declined to elaborate on the reasons why the show has been "indefinitely postponed". Here is's story:

This saga too, methinks, calls for a "Hmmm".

The art of the classy insult... it's getting rarer?
Thursday's Mind Your Body supplement in ST had an interesting article by regular contributor Gary Hayden titled "Insults are best ignored". Here's the gist of the article:

Hayden asks, "What is the best way to respond to an insult?" He offers three possible options, but recommends the third approach.
The first is the witty comeback. "If you are quick-witted and confident, you may choose to respond with a witty riposte," he says. He cites Winston Churchill as a master of this art (see the link to a blog I have put up below, where Sir Winston is cited quite a lot).
Hayden observes that most of us are not as quick-witted as Sir WC... "We find ourselves momentarily stunned into silence, or else floundering for words."
So, option two finds one typically lashing out, ie, dispense with the jokes and simply hit back hard, verbally, that is. And it should be publicly administered, to shame the offender. The bottom line: Insist on being treated with respect; and you will be treated with respect.
The third option for dealing with an insult is to simply ignore it. One model Hayden uses for this approach is the ancient Roman statesman Cato. He cites the Roman philosopher Seneca (4BC to AD65) as being in awe of how Cato reacted to slights and put-downs.
Seneca wrote: “Cato does not respond to insult; he does not blush; he does not defend himself; he does not play the game; it is beneath him.” The point, Hayden insists, is not merely to ignore the insult, but to rise above it.
"Ignoring an insult, in a calm and dignified manner, can be a very assertive act. It can rob the aggressor of the pleasure of upsetting us. And the wonderful thing about this strategy is that anyone can adopt it," Hayden says.
My wife insists she is able to embrace this option, and that she has done so. I guess I still have a long way to go along that steep uphill road (for me, anyway).
Meanwhile, I feel that the art of the classy insult is being lost. One blogger, who calls himself "AngryAussie", has the same view. His blog below has what amounts to a compendium of classy insults, including some very goods one from the 155 people who responded to his posting. Here it is:

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A job ad that brings out the smiles, and a silly 'navel gazing' fuss!

A tongue-in-cheek job recruitment ad which appeared in ST (23 Sept), with a vacancy for a "slave", went viral. Here is the insing/com story that I came across:

It is so good to find humour among boring job ads. The bicycle parts company in question said it is looking for "an additional slave". The applicant needs to have a minimum two years' "talking cock experience... be shameless and fearless... and like to suck up to bosses".

Also, he (or she?) must have "own horse. We provide the fodder". And the punchline...

Only Singaporeans/PRs need apply! Here's the ad:

On the other hand, the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) seems not only to have no sense of humour, it offered a lame excuse for calling for the removal of a large wall advertisement -- of a bare-chested man wearing a pair of low-slung jeans -- on the Orchard Road shopfront of fashion retailer Abercrombie & Fitch. It breached the local advertising code of decency, the watchdog said (ST, 29 Sept, page B1). Its lame excuse?

"The general consensus was that the portrayal of the human anatomy had crossed the path of decency because the navel line was very much exposed," ASAS' chairman said! Here's the "indecent" ad:

Come on! What about this typical print ad (for a slimming company), with the navel line clearly exposed!


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Heard of the 'God Complex'?

Time flies like an arrow...

On 28 Sept 1924, two US Army aircraft landed in Seattle, Washington state, having completed the first round-the-world flight in 175 days (from the New York Times' "On This Day").  
The God Complex
My medical jokes aside, I guess I am like most people. We mostly trust our medical doctors.
The New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, however, asks us to reflect on this sentiment. She begins her recent opinion piece by noting a trend emerging in medical schools in the US -- they want the new doctors to be less intimidating to patients.
She believes, too, that there are patients who have begun to wean themselves from what has been called the "God Complex". The Internet, with its trove of medical information albeit not all accurate, has played a part in such incipient patient empowerment.
This complex was coined from the movie Malice, when a surgeon tells the character played by Alec Baldwin: "When someone goes into that chapel and they fall on their knees and they pray to God that their wife doesn't miscarry or that their daughter doesn't bleed to death or that their mother doesn't suffer acute neural trauma from post-operative shock, who do you think they're praying to? You ask me if I have a God complex. Let me tell you something: I am God."
Ms Dowd goes on to detail how a medical couple -- oncologist Jerome Groopman and his wife, Pamela Hartzband, an endocrinologist -- have written a book that demystifies medicine.
They want to see patients regain confidence and control by understanding how doctors think, and in the process enable the two sides of the bedside to understand each other.

"The answer often lies not with the experts but within you (the patient)," they write, adding that Albert Einstein once said: Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.

They are for a lot less medical jargon, and if jargon has to be used, it's gotta be explained (see!). Apart from citing Einstein, they quote (not too seriously, I'm sure) Voltaire too: The art of medicine consists in amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.

Ms Dowd says: "Dr Hartzband and Dr Groopman warn against excessive reliance on overreaching so-called experts and nebulous metrics and statistics. The unsettling reality... is that much of medicine still exists in a gray zone, where there is no black or white answer about when to treat or how to treat."

Her piece ends on an optimistic note. The two authors are both "optimists" who warn against the "focusing illusion" -- focusing on what will be lost after a colostomy, mastectomy, prostate surgery or other major procedures. Yet, ordinary people do have the "extraordinary capacity to adapt, to enjoy life with less than perfect health".

That's very true. On this note, I'll end this posting with, yes, a medical joke:

Five surgeons are taking a coffee break. First surgeon says: "Accountants are the best to operate on because when you open them up, everything inside is numbered."
Second surgeon says: "Nah, secretaries are the best. Everything inside them is in alphabetical order."
Third doc says next: "Try geologists, man! Everything inside THEM is colour coded."
No 4 says: "I like engineers... they always understand when you have a few parts left over at the end."
So, what did the fifth surgeon, who has been quietly listening to the conversation, say?
"You're all wrong. Lawyers are the easiest. There's no guts, no heart, no spine and their head and butt are interchangeable."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Safe sex? A bit cramped, isn't it?

One cartoonist had a literal interpretation of "safe sex". Here it is:

Anyway, the hook today are media reports citing a survey that said eight in 10 Singapore residents, aged 20 to 35, had sex with a new partner without using any contraceptive method such as condoms.

There were 200 Singapore residents (equally divided, gender-wise) involved in the global survey covering 6,000 young people from 26 countries.

Interestingly, some 25 per cent (about one in four) of the Singapore respondents believe in at least one contraception myth. Top of the list: withdrawal before ejaculation (34 per cent). Here're some others:

Having a bath or showering after sex (6 per cent).
Staying "upside down for two hours" (3 per cent)... [I don't get this one; shouldn't the person be jumping up and down for two hours?]
Rinsing the genital area "with Coca-Cola" (3 per cent)... [Hmm, Coke -- not Pepsi -- is preferred because it's the real thing, right? Actually, this might work if the girl does it right. She should fill a glass with Coke, put ice in it and, just as the (unsuspecting) guy is ready, dunk his pecker inside the glass. Safe sex is guaranteed... in fact, it would be safe non-sex!]

The study also found that among Singapore respondents, the Internet was the most common source of misinformation on contraception, followed by friends and religious leaders.

Huh, religious leaders? Was that after a sermon titled "Go forth and multiply?"

But, seriously, I think it is really tough for today's parents who have children in their teen years and above. I am sure very few children today look to their parents on the topic of the birds and the bees. [But, then, neither did young people in my time]. I also do not envy the people who must devise and conduct Sex Education modules. Just the question of whether and when to teach Safe Sex, and how to do so, is still a minefield in Singapore.


Sex, however, has always been a favourite topic for punsters. Here's a selection:

What is the world's oldest profession?
Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Why are Singapore women finding it so hard to conceive?
How do you tell which pencil in the bunch practises safe sex?

Nope, it's not what you think. It's apple picking.
The chicken, of course. Have you ever seen an egg come?
Because of the men's short comings (ouch, ouch, ducking all the eggs thrown at me!)
The pencil with the rubber. Abuthen. [This joke was actually told to me by a Primary-level child.]

A man walks into a drug store with his eight-year-old son. As they walk by the condom display area, the boy asks, “What are these, Dad?”
The man matter-of-factly replies, “They are called condoms, son. Men use them to have safe sex.”
“Oh I see,” says the boy. “I’ve heard of that in health education class at school.”
The boy then looks over the display, picks up a package of three and asks, “Why are there three in this package.”
The dad replies, “Those are for high-school boys. One for Friday, one for Saturday, and one for Sunday.”
“Cool!” says the boy. He notices a pack of six and asks “Then who are these for?”
“Those are for college men,” the dad answers, “Two for Friday, two for Saturday, and two for Sunday.”
“WOW!” exclaims the boy. “Then who uses these?” he asks, picking up a 12-pack.
With a sigh, the dad replies, “Those are for married men. One for January, one for February, one for March…”

A boy was assigned a paper on childbirth and asked his mother, "How was I born?"
"Well honey..." said the mother, somewhat uncomfortably, "the stork brought you to us."
"Oh," said the boy, "and how did you and daddy get born?"
"Oh, the stork brought us too." "Well how were grandpa and grandma born?" the boy persisted.
"Well darling, the stork brought them too!" said the mother who, by now, is really squirming.
Several days later, the boy handed in his paper to the teacher who was puzzled by its opening sentence:
"This report has been very difficult to write due to the fact that there hasn't been a natural childbirth in my family for three generations."

And finally...
"I like my sex the way I play basketball, one on one with as little dribbling as possible." (Leslie Nielsen)  

Monday, September 26, 2011

The wonder of the English language

In my posting yesterday, I forgot to include the website of the Speak Good English Movement (SGEM). A PDF copy of the quiz I referred to is available for downloading from this site:

The site is actually quite useful, as it has sections on "Improve Your English", workshops and resources. There is a pronunciation guide plus more quizzes.

The British Council too has a resource section titled "Grammar and words":

And although I had a couple of quibbles with the quiz I highlighted, it is generally a useful self-check. My own position on English usage here is from the perspective of a journalist. I will be the first to admit that I am no grammarian but I think I can modestly say that I am still not yet a compleat (correct, not a misspelling) wordsmith.

I will defend the selective use of Singlish, especially when the audience is primarily Singaporean. But I also think that as many Singaporeans as possible must be given help and enabled to speak and write English sentences that are clear, free of jargon and -- importantly -- devoid of usage errors.

Usage errors go beyond just grammatical errors, as a number of my postings have tried to accomplish. In one recent example, I tried to show the absurdity of stating "$xxxx for two eyes" in an eye clinic's ad for the fee for a particular procedure. Given that, ordinarily, people have two eyes, the phrasing should be "$xxxx for both eyes".

Certain usage evolves over time, and I am no longer pedantic about "myriad". I can now, to cite Wikipedia's (slightly modied) example, accept "there are myriad people outside" as well as "a myriad of people are outside".

But, as a journalist, I will insist that jargon is explained or replaced. Meanwhile, many words and phrases continue to be misused, even by "role models". Just the other day, at a local TV discussion on language usage here, the SGEM chaiirman himself referred to "less people are...".

People are countable, so the correct phrasing should be "fewer people...". But the English language can be exasperating to learn! It can be argued that money is countable, but the correct expression in such a case would be, say, "less money is now needed".

Finally, I love the English language because it lends itself to the creation of myriad/a myriad of funny and punny (as well as corny) jokes!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

How good is your English? And when the Grammar Nazis come knocking!

Don't discard today's Sunday Times yet! There is a "How good is your English?" quiz in the Lifestyle section, on page 8. The prizes to be won are a pair of tickets to London (I suppose they are air tickets!), an iPad and a MacBook Air. Best of all, the answers are provided!

This means the organiser -- the Speak Good English Movement -- is, really, giving out the prizes as lucky draw items, and that the quiz is not a true test of skill. But try it first without cheating, hor.

The test was created by the British Council. But, looking at the quiz questions and the answers, I found a couple of slip-shod instances. Question 3 is:

At the end of the lesson as the student was clearing his desk, he asked his teacher, "Can I ______ my file in my bag now?" While there are multiple choices here, the correct answer (put) is given. But my quibble is on the quiz setter's use of "can" and not "may". The question-within-question should begin with "May I...".

[See my posting on my tribute to Mr Earnest Lau on this point.]

Question 15 requires you to pick the correct answer from three given options:

a. This one finish already.
b. I have finished already.
c. I have already finished.             

The answer, as provided, is (c) and an explanation for this choice is given. But, in fact, all three options are poor examples of Standard English, including (c) because it is incomplete... I have already finished (doing what???).

Yes, I am being a spoil-sport but someone should have gone over the quiz with a fine toothcomb before it is approved for release.

To wrap up today's posting, here's a fun YouTube video in which one Grammar Nazi hunts for a fugitive Jew and eventually shoots himself because he found himself committing the sin of using a dangling participle:

Saturday, September 24, 2011

William Tell... was he the first yodeller?

Had a long day at work, so nothing cerebral here...

Here's a "knock, knock" joke that is supposedly a classic:
Knock, knock.
Who's there?
Little old lady.
Little old lady who?
Hey, I didn't know you could yodel!

Of course, everyone knows that yodelling started in the Alps. But Swiss or Austrian? The debate between these two countries went to and fro, much like a cuckoo clock's refrain, until a Swiss chap claimed that the legendary Swiss hero William Tell started it. This is what supposedly happened:

William Tell was still an energetic (and virile) handsome young man, traipsing the Alps often. One day, he spent the night in an Alpine lodge perched on a mountain top. The innkeeper's wife and three daughters were, well, comely.

That night, young William wasted no time as soon as the innkeeper fell asleep.

The next morning, he was well on his way and had already reached another mountain top, but within view of the lodge and within the valley's echo range, when he heard the innkeeper's angry voice berating him, clearly repeated by the echos across the valley: "You young rascal, how dare you seduce my three daughters!"

Cocky young William, from his safe distance, shouted back: "Haha, so I did". And the echoes went: Haha, so I did, haha, so I did...

William, after drawing a deep breath, next cried out: "And your old lady too!" which then echoed on and on for some time, enraging the livid old man even more.

And that was how yodelling started. If you believe all this, start yodelling away!

Friday, September 23, 2011

The bottom-up approach, and an aye for an eye.

Believe it or not, backsides can be newsworthy, or at least blog-worthy.

If memory serves me right, former Philippine president Joseph Estrada came up with this quip:

Q: What do you call the backside of a cafeteria?
A: Bacteria.

Okay, groan, groan. But next is a gem of a quote from Mick McCarthy, manager of English soccer club Wolverhampton Wanderers:

"Opinions are like backsides. We've all got them but it is not always wise to air them in public."

He was explaining why he had refused to respond to tweets by a rival club's captain taunting him over his club's 0-3 defeat to that rival club.

Not so clever is this ST headline today:

But it gives me an excuse to recall this old joke (clearly Malaysian in origin), from the time years back when the Anwar case first made the news...

Indonesia has its Indomie
Singapore has its Maggi Mee
Malaysia has its Sodomy.


The last two items here are unrelated to the stuff above. They are about what I shall call the "vision thing".

First, it seemed that someone had dropped one-half of his or her spectacle lenses in one particular (unnamed) office. One wonders if that person is walking around unperturbed on the basis that "half the vision is better than none"! Anyway, the person who picked up the lens posted a jocular message on the office system, asking the owner to come and get it, wearing the said spectacles as proof of ownership.

The message, sent office-wide, had this rather cute snapshot too:

The second item in this segment is this print ad which currently appears in local newspapers:

At first glance, there seems to be nothing grammatically wrong here. But something is not quite right in phrasing it this way. Carried to its logical yet absurd conclusion, this "myopic" ad allows two people to walk into the eye surgery clinic in question and say, "Okay, do one eye for each of us for the stated price!".

The ambiguity is removed if the ad plainly states: "for both eyes". It's the vision thing, and this example shows that English can be a slippery language.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Before you reach for that bottle of ketchup...

If someone writes an article with the title "Six 'vegetables' that shouldn't be in your diet", you'll at least want to take a peek at it. I did.

The article by Shyla Batliwalla can be found in this link:

Her piece raised a number of comments, several of which disputed her claims. So, do read the readers' comments as well.

Ms Batliwalla first noted that the word “vegetable” connotes a healthy option. She then asserts that many "seemingly harmless vegetable-labelled dishes are packed with sugar and calories". The six she named are:

1. Tomato ketchup, "packed with high fructose corn syrup and sugar. Next time you’re looking for something to dip into, opt for salsa, spices, or nothing".
2. Corn -- go easy on this, she said, as it actually a grain loaded with sugar that offsets its vitamins B and C content. "An average-sized ear can have up to 15 grams of sugar."
3. Vegetable Juice. She argues that in processed juiced fruits and veggies, "the majority of their nutrients and fiber are compromised. Veggie juice boasts a whopping two servings of veggies per serving; however, those veggies are smothered with sugar-enhanced fruit juices".
4. Veggie Chips:
They are not necessarily a good substitute for potato chips because "most veggie chips are deep-fried and primarily made with corn and potatoes".
5. Canned Vegetable Soup: Another one bites the dust? Yup, she claims. "Canned veggie soup seems like a healthy, low-cal meal option, right? Not always. They’re often laden with excessive amounts of sugar and sodium." Her advice (sensible, actually): Stick with the homemade variety.
6. Vegetable Tempura: This is one more "veggie" that gets thrown into the deep fryer. But people may think that "tempura is touted as a light batter". Wrong. Her parting shot is that it is "loaded with sugar, oil, and cornstarch, a sure-fire way to sabotage your diet".

So, go read it, and decide for yourself. Bon appetit.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Some of life's golden rules...

I recently came across a listing of some "Golden Rules in Life":

1. Stay in the light. When you are in the dark, even your shadow will not follow you.
2. Money glitters, beauty sparkles, and intelligence shines.
3. Keep a very firm grasp on reality, so you can strangle it at any time.
4. People may not always believe what you say; but they will believe what you do.
5. Life is like a mirror. If you frown at it, it frowns back; if you smile, it returns the greeting.
6. Goodness is the only investment that never fails.
7. The only thing lazy people do fast is get tired.
8. Never deprive someone of hope; it may be all he or she has.
9. Silence is the only thing that can't be misquoted!
10. If we don't control our money, it will control us.
11. Life Insurance: A contract that keeps you poor when alive so that you can die rich.
12. Some drink at the fountain of knowledge; others just gargle.
13. If you are living on the edge, make sure you are wearing your seat belt.
14. Minds, like parachutes, only function when they are open.
15. The shortest distance between two points is under construction.
16. Learn from other people's mistakes. Life isn't long enough to make them all yourself.
17. On the road, never argue with a vehicle heavier than yours.
18. One thing you can give and still keep is your word.
19. Life is like a grammar lesson. You find the past perfect and the present tense.
20. More doors are opened with "please" than with keys.


I have three personal "golden observations":

1. "Size matters" -- small objects like tiny screws (when dismantling something), pins and coins will tend to drop and roll into hard to access places. They then get sucked up by the vacuum cleaner or swallowed up by the dog, unless they are sharp objects which will lie in wait for the unsuspecting sole of your foot.

2. "Open big, big" -- this is what the eye clinic nurses always tell me. It is also as good as a universal truth, be it when crossing the busy road, when opening your mouth for the dentist, when the office collection comes around, etc.

3. "Slippery when wet" -- I would even assert that this is an unqualified universal truth. Name me a situation (on Earth, the Moon doesn't count) when this doesn't apply! I think of the times I have slipped on a wet floor, but the following "example" cited by takes it to the extreme:

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

From Eureka! to 'The less you know, the more you earn'!

I used the exclamation "Eureka!" yesterday. It is Greek for "I found it! (I solved it!)".

This now famous term is attributed to the ancient Greek thinker Archimedes who was so excited upon his discovery of the Archimedes Principle that he ran naked outside while taking a bath (he made his discovery while in the bathtub) and excitedly shouted "Eureka! Eureka!". It is pronounced you reek-a.

So, what is this principle? Why not let this clever poem (said to have originated in the 1950s) tell it all:

Students of physics are frequently told
Of experiments performed by great physicists of old.
Like Boyles and Charles -- but greatest of these
Was the Principle discovered by Archimedes.

The Sicilian King, Archimedes was told
Ordered a crown from a large lump of gold.
And though the weight of the gold was completely correct
The goldsmith's sly eye made the King suspect,
That he'd made up the weight with some cheaper metal
And did steal some gold, that his debts he might settle.

Good old Archie had a problem of outstanding immensity
He had no idea yet, whatsoever, of density.
Climbing into a bath he received a surprise
When he noticed the water beginning to rise.
He suddenly snapped, and let out a scream
As he realised, with joy, his long-wished-for dream.

He found the upthrust, produced on the body based
To be equal in weight to the water displaced.
And soon volumes and weights would make it quite plain
What various metals the crown could contain.
And so he could easily show to his Royalty
The absolute proof of the goldsmith's disloyalty.

Leaping out of the bath at remarkable rate
He made for the palace by doorway and gate.
But the men in the street were completely confounded
To see a naked man shout "Eureka!  I've found it!"
Some wag has since added a sequel joke to this:
Archimedes had been so preoccupied with solving the problem for the King that he had not bathed for a week. Worse, it was the hot summer season. And when he got into the bathtub, he had forgotten to soap himself. 
So, when he ran out into the streets of Syracuse, shouting "Eureka! Eureka!", offended citizens shot back: "You reek too, ah!".
My other great-thinker joke is this one about the French philosopher and mathematician Descartes, pronounced dey-cart. He is regarded as the father of analytical geometry, the bridge between algebra and geometry. So, here's the joke: 
There was this amazing horse that could do maths! You could teach it arithmetic, algebra was a breeze, and it could even prove theorems in Euclidean geometry, but when you tried to teach it analytical geometry, it would rear back on its hind legs, kick ferociously, neigh loudly and violently shake its head.
The moral of this story? You can't put Descartes before the (dey) horse.
Descarte is also famous for his philosophical dictum, "Cogito ergo sum", or "I think, therefore I exist."
The Internet threw up this "walks into the bar" joke about him...
Rene Descartes walks into his favourite bar. The barkeeper asks him, "Would you like your usual drink, Monsieur Descartes?"
Descartes replies, "I think not today," and immediately disappears in a flash!
Last one...

Prove that the less you know, the more you'll be paid (hmm.. does that sound like some people we know of?)

We know that Knowledge = Power.
We also know that Power = Work/Time,
We also know that Time is Money.
i.e. Time = Money.
Power = Work/Money
Thus, knowledge = Work/Money.
or Money = Work/Knowledge.
So, for a given work, if knowledge is less, money will be more.


Monday, September 19, 2011

A name, a road, a roadblock... then Eureka!

Yesterday, in jest, I had implied that Chin Swee Road means in Hokkien, "Beautiful Road". I assumed the road would have in fact been named after someone, and I thought of finding out a little more today.

I figured that Chin Swee must have been a local Chinese leader from Singapore's early post-1819 history. But, initially, I could not find any references to such a person.

At best, there were references to the Chin Swee Cave Temple in Genting Highlands, Malaysia. It is said that the name Chin Swee used there was a Fujian (Hokkien) diety with the title "reverend master" (note: reverend here is not used in the Christian sense) who could summon rains and drive away evil spirits.

Here's someone's blog posting that made such a reference:

But I had my doubts. So, I kept digging. Then I found these blog postings by someone with a very keen interest in finding out more about our street/road names:

From the first of these postings, we are told there was a Lim Chin Swee, hence the road name. But I still do not know who is Lim Chin Swee. Perhaps another time.

Postscript: There was also a Lim Chin Hon, and the road was Chin Hon Street. But it is no longer in existence.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Road works ahead... it does? And other silly signs...

Warning: Bad joke ahead...

Ah Heng is standing below a street sign that says "Simei Street 1".
A man is standing on the other side of the street, peering at the sign (maybe it's a smoggy day).
Ah Heng (thinks the man is staring at him): Oy! Lu Kwa Simei!
[Note: you have to say this in Hokkien.]

Seriously, I just found out a bit more about the "suburb" of Simei, courtesy of the kiddies page of today's Sunday Times:

"The name Simei is Chinese for 'four beauties'. The roads in this eastern part of Singapore were previously named after the four great beauties of Chinese history: Xishi, Wang Zhaojun, Diao Chan and Yang Guifei. However, non-Chinese found it difficult to pronounce these names and the roads were renamed Simei Streets 1 to 6."

Huh? If Simei still means four beauties, where did the other two come from? Ah Meng? (our late beloved orang utan zoo mascot?) And Merlion? (our, er,  "beloved" half-fish, half-lion tourism symbol?). And shouldn't those roads be Liewmei Streets 1 to 6?

Most absurdly, why beauties from Chinese history?? Hello, this is Singapore. No wonder on my trips to America, the conversation still goes like this, "How far is Singapore from your capital city, Beijing?" And this is after I had patiently explained where the Little Red Dot is, sometimes with the help of a map or a back of the envelop drawing!

At least, elsewhere in Singapore, beauty-wise, we have less pretentious street names, like "Chin Swee Road" and "Jalan Kampong Chantek" and "Chantek Flyover" (apologies to whoever was the person honoured vis-a-vis Chin Swee Road, for taking liberties with the name).

Still on signage, these two are common here:

I don't get it! If the road works, why do I have to exercise caution? As for the one below, is it humanly possible to follow the instruction given?

Or this one, also commonly seen:

Why have the doors at all?? And won't I be "disobeying" the top instruction if I follow the lower command to pull on the door handle?

Last item... yet one more common road sign here is "Hump Ahead". Despite this instruction, the birth rate is still falling! I don't have a picture but here's a link to one example, said to be along Club Street...

Saturday, September 17, 2011

What if God applied for university tenure?

I recently came across this piece of tongue in cheek:

Why God Never Received University Tenure
1. He only had one major publication.
2. And it was in Hebrew.
3. And it had no cited references.
4. And it wasn't published in a refereed journal or even submitted for peer review.
5. And some even doubted that he wrote it himself.
6. It may be true that he created the world but what has he done since?
7. His cooperative efforts have been quite limited.
8. The scientific community has had a very rough time trying to replicate his results.
9. He never applied to the Ethics Board for permission to use human subjects.
10. When one experiment went awry, he tried to cover it up by drowning the subjects.
11. Subjects that did not behave as predicted have been punished, or deleted from the sample.
12. He rarely came to class; just told students to read the book.
13. He had his son teach the class.
14. He expelled his first two students for learning beyond the syllabus.
15. Although there were only 10 requirements, most students failed his tests.
16. His office hours were infrequent and usually held on a mountain-top.

Friday, September 16, 2011

'A tent, a tent, my kingdom for a tent!'

My favourite dictator continues to hog the headlines. Even as the noose tightens around the Gaddafi regime's remaining loyalists, the man himself seems to be as elusive as ever. So, with apologies to The Scarlet Pimpernel:

They seek him here, they seek him there.
The new leaders, they seek him everywhere.
Is he in Heaven, is he in Hell?
Where's that elusive Gaddafi, pray tell.

One regime loyalist, after escaping to Niger, suggested that Gaddafi was somewhere in the vastness of the Sahara desert, and added: "He could last in the desert for years. He likes the simple life, under a tent, sitting on the sand. He is guarded by a special unit made up of family members."

There is one well-circulated joke about what happened when the famous fictitious detective Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick, Dr Watson, pitched tent one starry night. Perhaps it happened in the Sahara, and Gadaffi was lurking about...

Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson were on a camping trip. They pitched their tent under the stars and went to sleep.

Sometime in the middle of the night, Holmes woke Watson up and said: "Watson, look up at the stars, and tell me what you see." Watson replied: "I see millions and millions of stars."

Holmes said: "And what do you deduce from that?" Watson replied: "Well, if there are millions of stars, and if even a few of those have planets, it’s quite likely there are some planets like Earth out there. And if there are a few planets like Earth out there, there might also be life."

Then Holmes said: "Watson, you idiot! This is what I see and deduce: Somebody stole our tent."

Note: Holmes is supposdly legendary for his ability to not just see, but to observe and deduce.


My fascination with Gaddafi goes back to the 1980s! Here's the link to an article I wrote, and which appeared on Page 14 of ST on 5 Sept 1985:

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ah Choon, why so many crazy drivers on the road today?

Those dang dangling participles (see my 8 Sept posting) keep popping up, like weeds! Here's a recent weeding out:

Compared to other liberal democracies like the United States -- which sees a higher percentage of cynics of between 47 and 73 per cent -- researchers say the 30 per cent figure for Singapore is not huge (TODAY, 15 Sept, "1 in 3 S'poreans are 'cynics' ", page 4).

Amongst other reasons, I do not believe Singapore can produce two top-class teams (ST, 15 Sept, "Mr Lee Kuan Yew on...", page A6).

From shoppers in town to golfers at a tournament in Yishun, Sunday routines  across the island were scuttled by the haze yesterday (ST, 12 Sept, "Haze casts smoky pall over weekend crowd", page 1).


Singaporeans, it seems, love their cellphones so much that many of them use the device without a hands-free kit while driving. A TODAY report (15 Sept, page 2) said: "Figures from the Traffic Police showed a worrying trend in the number of offenders caught for using a mobile phone while driving. There were 1,666 motorists who were caught in the first half of this year, about 500 more than those caught in the same period last year."

The co-chair of the Singapore Road Safety Council, Associate Professor Gopinath Menon, said the top priority in improving road safety lay with "curbing some of the dangerous behaviours such as using the handphone while driving... People may think it's harmless, but it's actually very dangerous." (ST, 13 Sept, page B5).

Well, let this following (presumably fictitious, I must add) account help you to decide...

Ah Heng: Harrow (hello), Ah Choon, ah, I'm calling you from the expressway on my new stylo-mylo smartphone. Very shiok to use, man.
Ah Choon: Huah ho seh, hor (drive carefully)... 93.8 radio station just said oo ji kor siow lang (there's one mad man) on an expressway driving the wrong way.
Ah Heng: Huh? Um see ji kor!! (not just one!!)... kia jit chng jia chway siow lang huah chia (there's a lot of crazy drivers on the expressway today). Also dare to 'horn' at me and flash headlights some more! Boey tah han, man."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Heard some good jokes about economists?

I had earlier said certain words in the English language are precise. But one sentence in the page one lead story of TODAY (14 Sept) went like this: Mr Bryan Ghows of Unilegal LLC said that this law [a proposed consumer data protection law] cannot be "too unique". 

And how do you propose to make it not so unique that it is not too unique, Mr Ghows?

On the other hand, there are some words where you cannot be too precise! An ST report yesterday (13 Sept) on a bid by delisted department store CK Tang to mop up shares from minority investors first mentioned a precise figure -- there are 476 minority investors. No problem, so far. Then, later in the story, this cropped up: "The 1.8 per cent, or 4.38 million shares, not held by the Tang brothers is in the hands of about 476 shareholders...".

Nope. You can't say "about 476 shareholders". The nearest approximation is "475" but why not just cut out the offending word "about"?


Okay, nit-picking time is over. I am glad Minister Vivian Balakrishnan echoed my point made in an earlier posting about how it is the sub-surface peat that is the real culprit in all that smog coming from Sumatra around this time of the year. As quoted by TODAY (14 Sept), he said: "I just came back from Africa. I saw them burning agricultural land as well. They find it a cheap and quick way to clear agricultural land.

"But one particular problem we have in this part of the world is that the land has a lot of peat in it. So once you start a fire, even after the fire has gone out, the peat in the soil continues to smoulder for a long time. And that contributes to an increased haze and smokiness that you see in our part of the world."


Staying with TODAY, one reader ended his letter on Singapore's population and the inflow of immigrants ("Our population can't keep rising", 14 Sept) with this punchline:

As [the late President John F. Kennedy's] environmental adviser Kenneth Boulding said 45 years ago, "Anyone who believes in indefinite growth of anything physical on a physically finite planet is either a madman or an economist."

Hmmm, either a madman or an economist!!

I've already got jokes about preachers, lawyers, engineers, doctors, etc, but not economists, purveyors of the "dismal science". Surely there must be stuff a-plenty about them? Indeed. Here's a choice collection (some tweaked by me), courtesy of an unnamed fellow from Notre Dame University...

1. Sign outside the door of the office of US Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke: "Further stimulus could result in uncontrolled expansion".

2. A man walking along a countryside road comes across a shepherd and his flock of sheep. He tells the shepherd, "I bet you $100 against one of your sheep that I can tell you the exact number in this flock." It is a big flock, so the shepherd takes the bet.

"The exact number is 973," says the man.

The shepherd is astonished, because that is exactly right. "Okay, I'm a man of my word; take an animal." Man picks one up and begins to walk away.

"Wait," cries the shepherd, "Let me have a chance to get even. Double or nothing that I can guess your occupation." Man says sure.

"You are an economist for a government think-tank," says the shepherd. "Amazing!" the man replies. "You are exactly right! But tell me, how did you deduce that?"

"Well," says the shepherd, "put down my dog and I will tell you."

3. Economist A and economist B are walking down the road. They come across a pile of horse manure.

A: "If you eat it, I'll give you $20,000!"

B takes out his tablet computer, runs an optimization program and decides he's better off eating the horse dung. So he does and collects the money.

Continuing along the same road, they come across another pile of horse manure. B: "Now, if you eat this, I’ll give you $20,000."

A too takes out his computer, evaluates the proposal, and agrees to eat the stuff. He collects the money from B.

They walk on, as far apart from each other now, and pinching their noses. B starts to think: "Listen, we both have the same amount of money we had before, but we both ate horse manure. I don't see us being better off."

A replies: "Well, that's true, but you overlooked the fact that we've been just involved in $40,000 of trade."

4. Last one...

Q: Why did God create economists?
A: In order to make weather forecasters look good.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Comics that shaped the child's imagination...

I was an avid comics reader as a child. One source of both entertainment and education was the "Classics Illustrated" series. I have the dog-eared copies of titles like A Tale of Two Cities and Robinson Crusoe somewhere in the house... just that I don't know where! This Wikipedia write-up below brought back so many fond memories...

I especially treasured one comic title -- The Illustrated History of Flight -- from a companion series, "The World Around Us". I must have read and re-read that title. I hope I still have it among that "lost" collection of mine. Here's one link:

I vaguely recall how that comic title, serious mostly, had a tongue-in-cheek section about how aerial dogfights started. With the First World War, was also the technology that enabled biplanes and at least one triplane type to perform military missions.

At first, the planes were unarmed and opposing pilots on recce missions waved to each other. Then, one bright spark had a brilliant idea: he fitted a machine gun in front of him, just behind the propeller. He then flew off, eager to make the world's first aerial combat "kill". The next few frames in the comic showed him firing his weapon furiously at an enemy plane. We are not told if he scored a hit, but we are next shown what happened to his plane -- the propeller had been shot to bits!

Of course, in reality, the scientists of the day learnt to synchronise the rpms of the propeller blade with the rate of fire of the machine gun such that the bullets could pass through. For better or for worse, the era of the aerial dogfight was thus born.

That brings me back to my 9 Sept posting on precise words. I had said then that when Justice VK Rajah -- in a case in which a man and a woman were fighting for custody of a dog -- remarked that "This is literally and figuratively a dogfight...", to call it a literal dogfight could only mean just that, a fight between two canines.

But "mloh", who had read that posting, suggested in his comment that Justice Rajah might have been thinking of aerial dogfights in that "literal" reference of his. Hmmm, plausible. Thanks, mloh, for that pespective.

Monday, September 12, 2011

When 2 robots debate God's existence...

This is a weird story, as reported in TODAY:

Seems that two computer programming geeks from Cornell University in the US created a pair of "chatbots" -- robots that have spoken or written human conversations stored in their memory banks.

Between the two chatbots -- Alan and Sruthi -- there were 65 million conversations with humans.

It was now time for Alan and Sruthi to talk to each other.

Sruthi soon turned the conversation to God. Asked if "he" believed in God, Alan answered: "It's not everything."

Sruthi: "Not everything could also be something. For exampe, not everything could be half of something which is still something and therefore not something."

During the conversation, Alan declares himself to be a unicorn and later tells Sruthi "she" is unhelpful which he says makes her a "meanie".

The Cornell researchers said they found the experiment surprising and concluded: "Our theory is that when these chatbots have conversations with humans, the humans are argumentative."


Call me cynical, but I think there's a simple explanation to all that stuff in that story -- GIGO, or "garbage in, garbage out." QED.

So, are there jokes about God's existence? I like this one:

A man stumbles into a deep, dark well and plunges down 20 metres before he manages to grasp a spindly root. It stops his fall but his grip grows weaker and weaker.

He has never said a prayer in his entire life. But this time, he is desperate. "God, if you exist, please help me!" he pleads upwards.

Suddenly, light shines from above. He looks up, sees the clouds parting, and the well lit up. It is a long way down still. "Let go of the root and I will save you," a deep, majestic voice boomed.

The man thinks for a moment and then yells, "Is there anybody else up there?"


This other joke here is probably less classy, but here goes:  

Two college roommates started to debate about God (hmmm, I wonder if they were from Cornell).

One was an atheist, the other believed in the existence of God. The believer said to the non-believer, "Give me five good reasons why God does not exist and we will go from there."

The nonbeliever thought for a while and finally came up with his five reasons. He said to the believer, "Can you see God?"
"No," said the believer.
"Can you smell God?"
"Not really," said the believer.
"Can you touch God?"
"No," said the believer.
"What about taste?"
"No," said the believer.
"Can you hear God?".
"Ya, I can hear God, in the wind and stuff".
"Well," said the nonbeliever, "four out five. God does not exist."
Now it was the believer's turn to fire questions at the nonbeliever. He asked for a while to think about it. Finally he came back and said to his friend:
"Okay. Can you touch your brain?"
"Can you see your brain?"
"Can you smell your brain?"
"What about hear it?"
"I guess not," replied the nonbeliever.
"Then can you taste your brain?"
"Well then," said the believer, "I guess it is pretty obvious. Five out five, you have no brain."

Sunday, September 11, 2011

For peat's sake, it's not just hazy, it's smoggy!

The "haze" is back. Too bad we don't have a haze-minator to send it back where it belongs.

But how did people started calling the smoky pollutive stuff we get this time of year every year -- from across the sea -- just simply "haze"?

I've always associated haze with fog, to do with things like temperature inversion. So, we say "an early morning haze/fog" depending on how thick it is. The air is still fresh!

To be more precise, the stuff we are now getting is "smoke haze", suggesting something pollutive and bad for the health.

Or maybe we should call it "smoke fog" or "smog" which is a combination-word (portmanteau) from "smoke" and "fog", first coined to describe the effects of the Industrial Age's pollutive factories.

A contributor to a weather website has tried to describe the three separate terms (haze, fog, smog). Here's the site and the descriptions:

Haze -- Fine dust or salt particles dispersed through a portion of the atmosphere which reduce visibility. Haze is distinquished from fog by its bluish or yellowish tinge.

Fog -- A cloud based at the earth's surface consisting of tiny water droplets or, under very cold conditions, ice crystals or ice fog; generally found in calm or low wind conditions. Under foggy conditions, visibility is reduced to less than one kilometre.

Smog (contraction for 'smoke fog') -- A fog in which smoke or other forms of atmospheric pollutant have an important part in causing the fog to thicken, and have unpleasant and dangerous physiological effects.
Note: This definition for smog comes from the Australian Government's Bureau of Meteorology:

Finally, why is the smoke haze/smog so worrisome for our health?

While Indonesia's forest fires are not strictly "industrial pollution", they are potent because of the peat that is found underneath the swamp forests where the fires occur. See:

"[It is] now clear that the agro-industrial scale burning on peat soils [in Sumatra] is proving a disaster. As well as burning off the surface vegetation, these fires enter the organic soil particularly where surface drains have been dug either to facilitate log extraction or as part of the proposed estate drainage system.

"Once the peat is alight, it is extremely difficult to suppress and seemingly minor fires produce an enormous amount of smoke."

So, now you know why all that smoke is coming across the sea!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Arrgh, these are my worst jokes!

I asked myself, What are my three worst jokes? I have so many (haha) but let's see if these three pass the test:

Q: Where do sick clocks go to in Singapore?
A: The Tick Tock Seng Hospital.
(Note: For the benefit of non-locals, there's a hospital called Tan Tock Seng Hospital.)

A man was shot but the assailant had fled by the time police arrived. One constable asked the dying man, "Who shot you?" The man tried to answer but all he could say was "Arrgh" before he expired. The police went through their records and went to one particular house. They knocked on the door. A man opened it. "Mr Arrgh, you are under arrest for suspicion of a murder!"

My third choice is from my "follow instructions" collection... Ah Huay wanted to show Ah Heng she was not just a trophy wife. So she wanted to surprise him by painting the walls of their new flat, all by herself. While he was out "loansharking", she went out to buy cans of paint. When he got home, he found spilt paint and an overturned can. Worse, Ah Huay was wrapped in two thick overcoats, sprawled on the floor and suffering from heat stroke. "Aiyoh, what happened?" he asked her. "I followed instructions, lor. It says here on each can, 'For best results, use two coats'."


So, I decided to check online if there are other "worst jokes". Here's one list (I tweaked the first one to give it a local context):
1. Two tai-tai (women of leisure) walk into a building... you'd think at least one of them would have seen it.

2. Phone answering machine message -- "...If you want to buy
marijuana, press the hash key..."

3. A guy walks into the psychiatrist's office wearing only Gladwrap for shorts.
The shrink says, "Well, I can clearly see you're nuts."

4. I went out to buy some camouflage trousers but I couldn't find any.

5. I went to the butcher's the other day and I bet him that he
couldn't reach the meat off the top shelf. He declined, adding, "The steaks
are too high."

6. A friend drowned in a muesli bowl. A strong currant pulled him in.

7. A man came round in hospital after a serious accident. He shouted,
"Doctor, doctor, I can't feel my legs!" The doctor replied, "I know you
can't, I had to cut your arms off.".

8. I went to a seafood disco last week...and pulled a mussel.

9. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly. They lit a fire in the
craft, it sank, proving once and for all that you can't have your
kayak and heat it too.

10. Man goes to the doctor, with a strawberry growing out of his
head. Doc says, "I'll give you some cream to put on it."

11."Doc, I can't stop singing The Green, Green Grass of Home". Doc: "That
sounds like the Tom Jones syndrome." Man: "Is it common?" Doc: "It's not unusual."

12. A man takes his Rottweiler to the vet. "My dog is cross-eyed, is
there anything you can do for him?" "Well," said the vet, "let's have
a look at him". So he picks the dog up and examines his eyes, then he
checks his teeth. Finally, the vet says, "I'm going to have to put
him down." "What? Because he's cross-eyed?"
"No, because he's really heavy".

13. What do you call a fish with no eyes? A fsh.
What do you call a deer with no eyes? No idea.

14. So I was getting into my car, and this bloke says to me "Can you
give me a lift?" I said "Sure. You look great ... the world's your
oyster ... go for it."

15. "You know, somebody actually complimented me on my driving
today." They left a little note on the windscreen. It said, 'Parking
Fine.' "So that was nice of them."

16. A man walked into the doctor's. He said, "I've hurt my arm in
several places". The doctor said, "Well don't go there anymore".

Friday, September 9, 2011

On precise words, and poetic-justice humour

There are certain words which I label as "precise", that is, their meaning cannot be qualified. You can't plonk in an adjective or an adverb, and you can't embellish them with redundant words.

Take "pregnant". A woman who is pregnant cannot be described as "a little/very/somewhat pregnant".

I would also say that it's just "noon" and "midnight", not "12 noon" and "12 midnight". Why? These are precise moments. Just before noon is 11.59am and just after that, it is 12.01pm. Where is the logic of sticking a "12" in front of noon? Likewise for midnight.

Certain words have been hijacked by marketing people. There is no such thing as a "free gift". A gift is a gift, period.

"Unique" means "there is no other" (ie, one of a kind). While every mother is entitled to think her child is unique, you can't say someone or something is "very unique". And you can't use this precise word to mean "special" or even "very special", or "unusual" or "untypical" (so long as there is at least one other). That is why this item that appeared on page one of The Straits Times last Tuesday (6 Sept) made no sense:

"The closure of Borders at Wheelock Place has affected the business of other tenants there. It is a quieter mall now but retail experts say the vacated space is an opportunity to bring in a unique anchor tenant." Huh? Anchor tenants by definition can't be one of a kind. They have to sell mass-produced things that ordinary people want to buy.
The law is supposed to embody precision in the use of words. So, I was surprised to see, in today's ST (9 Sept), in a report about a man and a woman "fighting" over custody of a dog, Justice V.K. Rajah being quoted as saying: "This is literally and figuratively a dogfight without merit."

The judge may have been trying to wax lyrical, to use a little hyperbole even, but he is no poetic justice. To say a dogfight is a literal one is just that -- a fight between two dogs... ie, the ones with four paws.


Which brings me to my humour section...

Q: What do you call a judge who metes out sentences in poetic verse?
A: Poetic Justice.

But are there real cases? Indeed, a Google search showed at least one such instance, and another of a judge having been impressed by the poetic effort of the accused before him!

Case No 1 (from the Daily Mail Online, 12 Nov 2010)

A car thief who wrote poems while waiting to be jailed was dealt poetic justice when a judge sentenced him in rhyming verse.

[The man] had spent three months on remand for car theft and driving offences when he wrote poems about his criminal past while awaiting his fate.

After reading a letter and a poem [which the 26-year-old man] had written, the judge jailed him for 20 months by telling him: "You are plainly an intelligent man and have written a poem about your position which I have read. I have this to say to you:

Right now you feel down.
You have got months to do.
Despite what you have done,
Let us hope the locked door,
Will make you more sure
not to come back for more."

[Hmmm. I don't think this judge's poetic effort puts him in the Shakespearean class. Oh, the wannabe muse before him was jailed for 20 months and banned from driving for two years.]

Case No 2 (from another British newspaper, The People, 19 Aug 2001)

A 23-year-old man accused of burglary who penned a 24-line poem to the judge escaped a jail term. The judge, described in the story as a confessed poet himself, said the man had a way with words.

The man had stole equipment from computer firms and pleaded for time to get over his drug addiction.

Here is an extract from his poem:

"The divine guidance of God is near;
let's make this one a better year.
I wish to show, for all to see,
how I can become a part of society."

[The man was referred for drug rehabilitation.]

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Excuse me, your dangling participle is showing!

I'm still on English language issues, at least for the first part of this posting.

A common error among speakers and writers of English is the "sin" of the dangling participle, also known as the dangling modifier. I shall try to keep the grammatical explanation as simple as possible (you can Google for the full works).

Simply put, a dangling modifier is a descriptive word or phrase (usually at the beginning of a sentence) that modifies a noun-word or noun-phrase that does not appear in the sentence. This leads to an unintended and often humorous meaning. As noted by Richard Nordquist, professor emeritus of rhetoric and English, one way to correct a dangling modifier is to add a noun phrase that the modifier can logically describe. Or, make the modifier part of a dependent clause.

Here's one example provided by American educationist Dr Kip Wheeler:

Running for the school bus, my book fell in the mud.

My book can run? This is easily fixed: Running for the school bus, I tripped and my book fell in the mud.

As I was running for the school bus, my book fell in the mud.

My own favourite example of such a "sin" is this one about a blacksmith telling his apprentice to help him shoe a horse after the nail has been gingerly poised above the horse-shoe:

When I nod my head, hit it with the hammer.

Ouch! To make the modifier properly describe the second part of the sentence, the entire sentence should be recast as:

When I nod my head, (you) hit the nail with the hammer.


Okay, time for some comic relief. As always, to the rescue...

I had earlier posted something on a crazy stunt called "planking". Several other stunts have followed, such as "balconying" and "owling". The latest, it seems, is "batmanning". Here's the story:

This other one I hesitated before deciding to put it here. But it is so weird and tit-ilating at the same time that I will do so, just for a lark:

I like the postscript at the end of the report: "inSing editors would like to warn all the men out there -- don't try this in Singapore!"

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

You like potato and I like potahto, You like tomato and I like tomahto...

Mr Lee Kuan Yew is right when he reckons that American English will eventually prevail over British English here. It is happening everywhere, including China where it has become more hip to use the Yankee version. But it will not happen overnight here.

Still, I'm already finding that many of our fresh-faced reporters are using American spelling such as "color" and "flavor". But it's more than just spelling. Watch out when restaurant wait staff start saying "Here's your check" (I've actually heard it) and traffic reports start to warn of "a massive fender-to-fender traffic gridlock".

Idioms too (a good barometer) are going the American way. More than one reporter has, in apologising over some error or carelessness in copy, used the phrase "My bad".

The link below explores the origin of this US "street phrase". It notes that Shakespeare (a Brit) had actually used it in his Sonnet 112! But it is generally accepted to be an American slang term:

Incidentally, this British website -- "The Phrase Finder" ( -- is a superb source for improving one's English. Singapore's Speak Good English Movement, please take note. 

Back to LKY. In one part of his speech on Tuesday (6 Sept) at the official opening of the English Language Institute of Singapore (Elis), he referred to "potatoes" and "tomatoes" -- alluding to the supposedly different British and American pronunciations for these two produce. Here it is:

He said: "I think the increasing dominance of the American media means that increasingly our people, teachers and students will be hearing the American version, whether it is 'potatoes' or 'tomatoes'. They will be the dominant force through sheer numbers and the dominance of their economy."

Surprisingly, the local media did not pick up on this piece of a well-chosen gem. I am sure Mr Lee was showing off his knowledge of the 1937 popular hit song by George and Ira Gershwin, "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off."

Here's the refrain from the song:

You say eether and I say eyether,
You say neether and I say nyther;
Eether, eyether, neether, nyther,
Let's call the whole thing off!
You like potato and I like potahto,
You like tomato and I like tomahto;
Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto!
Let's call the whole thing off!
But oh! If we call the whole thing off,
Then we must part.
And oh! If we ever part,
Then that might break my heart!
So, if you like pajamas and I like pajahmas,
I'll wear pajamas and give up pajahmas.
For we know we need each other,
So we better call the calling off off.
Let's call the whole thing off!

For Channel News Asia's report on Mr Lee's speech, here's the link:

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Jiak kantang English vs talking cock English

Is there a Standard Singapore English that, at the minimum, seeks to standardise grammar, vocabulary and spelling so that the local variant (leaving aside that "little" matter of accent) is easily understood by non-locals?

The academics are trying to do that, I suppose, to provide guidance to the Speak Good English Movement here. The problem is that Singaporeans simply love their Singlish, which the academics label as Colloquial Singapore English. Aiyoh, so bland! I would rather call it "talking cock" English!

The still a-work-in-progress Standard Singapore English should then be "jiak kantang" English (the Hokkien term jiak kantang literally means "to eat potatoes", so roughly translated, it means to speak the way the potato-eating Anglos speak).

There are academics who think that, for just about any Singlish expression, a Standard Singapore English rendition can be whipped up. You be the judge of whether this task is Mission Impossible in this set of examples from a National University of Singapore unit called PROSE, for Promotion of Standard English:

Singlish Expressions and Their Standard English Equivalents
  • Singlish : Why you never bring come?
    Standard English alternative : Why didn't you bring it?
  • Singlish : He take go already.
    Standard English alternative : He has taken it with him.
  • Singlish : Why he anyhow do things?
    Standard English alternative : Why does he do it this way? / Why doesn't he do it properly?
  • Singlish : I cannot ownself do.
    Standard English alternative : I cannot do it myself.
  • Singlish : I'll take for my ownself.
    Standard English alternative : I'll take it myself. / I'll help myself to it.
  • Singlish : Want to rain, want to rain, never rain.
    Standard English alternative : It looked like it was going to rain, but it didn't.
  • Singlish : You very clever to arrow people ah, ownself never do.
    Standard English alternative : Why don't you do it yourself, instead of passing the buck to others?
  • Singlish : Why you always like that one?
    Standard English alternative : Why do you always react in such a way?
  • Singlish : You don't anyhow say leh.
    Standard English alternative : You mustn't say baseless things. / You mustn't make baseless accusations. / What you say has no basis in fact.
  • Singlish : I also can.
    Standard English alternative : I can do that, too.
  • Singlish : He also never do his homework.
    Standard English alternative : He didn't do his homework, either./He hasn't done his homework, either. ("Also" & "too" are used for agreement on something positive, "either" is used for agreement on something negative; "never" means "did not ever"/it cannot be used to mean "didn't".)
  • Singlish : Who say one?
    Standard English alternative : Who says so?
  • Singlish : Like that also want to see.
    Standard English alternative : That's no big deal. / There's nothing much to see.
  • Singlish : Don't worry, sure can one.
    Standard English alternative : Don't worry; it'll work.
  • Singlish : So late already you still want to go ah?
    Standard English alternative : It's pretty late; are you sure you still want to go?
  • Singlish : Last time we got different lecturer so the syllabus not same mah.
    Standard English alternative : We had a different lecturer previously, so the syllabus was not the same.
  • Singlish : How come nobody tell us this exam is open book one?
    Standard English alternative : Why didn't anybody tell us this is an open book exam?
  • Singlish : Don't say I never tell you we got test tomorrow.
    Standard English alternative : (You'd better take note) there is a test tomorrow.
  • Singlish : Our drawing so simple how to score?
    Standard English alternative : How can we expect to get good marks with such a simple drawing?
  • Singlish : You sit this bus 96 and drop at the bus stop in front of the Com Centre.
    Standard English alternative : Take bus 96 and alight at the bus stop in front of the Computer Centre.
  • Singlish : Can you please alight me at the Centrepoint taxi stand?
    Standard English alternative : Could I alight at the Centrepoint taxi stand? / Could you please drop me off at...
  • Singlish : Every faculty on campus also got a canteen.
    Standard English alternative : There's a canteen in each faculty.
  • Singlish : Irregardless of whether the consumers like it or not, we must try to market this product.
    Standard English alternative : Regardless of whether the consumers...
  • Singlish : This new lecturer whole day talk so cheem; I really catch no ball.
    Standard English alternative : What this new lecturer says is always going over our heads; I just haven't the faintest idea what he's talking about.
I know, you caught no balls either! In the first place, not all the so-called Singlish examples above appear to be authentic. And a golden rule of Singlish is brevity.

There are eight words in "Every faculty on campus also got a canteen" compared to six in the jiak kantang version. Buay sai, man! The talking cock version should be something like this: "Got faculty, sure got canteen" (or "Oo faculty, tok oo canteen").

Just five words. Brevity restored!

Monday, September 5, 2011

English as she is spoke -- in Singapore?

A TODAY reader, in a letter today (5 Sept), reminds us that, "Soon, the Speak Good English campaign will be upon us... It is astounding that in Singapore, where we are surrounded with material in English, many are still struggling with the language. From accent to pronunciation and grammar to vocabulary, the basics seem to have eluded a large number."

While I agree with his assessment, I feel that the advent of the Internet Age has actually empowered ordinary people to speak and write better English. But first they must know what are the pitfalls.

That is why I am less than impressed with the annual Speak Good English campaign. It exhorts but does not provide useful templates, other than issuing meaningless pointers such as telling parents to speak the language well because they are role models for their children!

I think that, in the Singapore context, the starting point is that, in speaking to each other, people do by and large understand each other. This does not mean that they are necessarily getting their pronunciation, choice of words and grammar correct. But the language campaign's people should start listing out the unambiguous dos and dont's, and the areas where there are variations such as the difference between British and American "Englishes".

Take pronunciation. There are the unambiguous ones, like tuition which should be pronounced as "tue-ee-shen". But we all know many folk say "tue-shen". They don't know better, so why not -- as part of the campaign's efforts -- draw up a list of commonly mispronounced words, in the Singapore context. There is of course the infamous Ris Low "boomz/bigini" class act, but we won't go there! (You can Google her name, if you wish.)

At the same time, make it clear that words like herb can be pronounced with or without the "h" being silent. And that many Americans (not all) pronounce "route" as "rout", which creates a problem since there is a word "rout", which commonly means "a crushing defeat" or "flight following a defeat".

As for incorrect choice of words and phrases, I think it's fairly easy to come up with such a list, from "off day" to "please revert". Lists could also be compiled for redundant coinage like "12 midnight" and ridiculous ones like "free gifts".

I'll come up with further thoughts on the uses and abuses of the English language tomorrow.