Sunday, May 29, 2011


Yesterday, I had a very pleasant lunch with members of my wind ensemble and a lovely couple, Viva and Joy.  Naturally, any conversation with me joining in had to turn light-hearted, frivolous and even vacuous.  I had to stop Teng Siong and Viva from talking about cars!  How anyone can dwell on the subject of cars is something really quite beyond me.  I can imagine having a perfectly enjoyable time talking about bicycles but cars?

Indra spoke with sadness about how he discovered through me that his school song was a flagrant plagiarism of a Canadian patriotic anthem, “Maple Leaf Forever”.  Last year, I posted a video of the Canadian anthem on my Facebook wall and he saw it to his horror.

To continue with the topic that Indra had started, I proceeded to explain how the obviously ungrammatical line in his school song came about: “Oldham dauntless hero came”.  Before I could continue, Joy insisted that the line was not ungrammatical.

At first blush, anyone can tell that the sentence lacks the definite article, “the”.   It’s obvious that the sentence should read “Oldham THE dauntless hero came.”  But what made Joy think that it was grammatical?  Joy has a perfect grasp of the English language and she isn’t the sort who would normally make a mistake of this nature.

The source of her confusion lies (I almost wrote “across the Atlantic” the way most grammarians do but of course my location is vastly different) across the Pacific in the USA.  Burchfield, the grammarian, has written on this peculiarity of Americans in leaving out the definite article that usually goes with an occupational title.  He gave as an example from a newspaper report: “... written by economist Sylvia Ann Hewlitt.”  Burchfield writes that this is “especially common in journalistic work.

Joy must have been confused by this development in American journalistic style which apparently has influenced the writing styles of the entire world.  But this does not excuse ACS (yes, it’s my pet topic – ACS-bashing) because “dauntless hero” is not an occupation.  Even if you take “dauntless hero” to be a profession, it should precede the name, not follow it if you are going to omit the definite article.  Taking Burchfield’s example, we can say something was “written by economist Sylvia Hewlitt” but we can’t say it was “written by Sylvia Hewlitt economist”. But “dauntless hero” is not an occupation in the first place.

On all counts, the sentence “Oldham dauntless hero came” is ungrammatical and ugly.

Why then did ACS have that line in its school song?  True to its school tradition, the person who “composed” (I place the word in inverted commas out of respect for real composers) the school song lazily copied not just the tune but the lyrics too from “Maple Leaf Forever”.  The corresponding line in “Maple Leaf Forever” is:

“Wolfe the dauntless hero came”.

Now you see it!  “Wolfe” is monosyllabic and because Oldham has two syllables, any ACSian will tell you to just drop the definite article which serves no purpose in ACS.  After all, in ACS, isn’t THE Best always a yet-to-be?


  1. Bro Teng, It should read as "Oldham, dauntless hero, came" which is joyfully grammatical.

  2. My dearest brother, "Oldham, dauntless hero, came" is not grammatical. The line has been so deeply engrained into your psyche that you think it is grammatical. I suggest that you think of another example in the same sentence structure and you will be appalled at the gross incorrectness of it. Try "Samantha, pretty girl, came to school this morning." Without the articles "a" or "the", the sentence is clearly ungrammatical. If you don't believe me, try giving me an example with the same sentence structure that will not sound disgracefully wrong. You will find yourself unable to do so. Go ahead and try and post it here. Cheers, Teng Leong.

  3. Basically, if I may add with some heaviness of heart (since I am a pious Methodist and I feel this most keenly), any egregious blunder that emanates from ACS cannot be salvaged painlessly by the mere adding of commas. It's got to be changed with some violent force. Without a doubt, the whole school anthem ought to be changed. And while we are at it, perhaps a more promising and less embarrassing motto can be picked.

  4. Bro Teng, You have to see Dauntless Hero as a title given to Oldham. For example, Stamford Raffles, Singapore's founder, came to town.

    Most music lyrics are ungrammatical anyway. Poetic license is the excuse.

  5. My dearest brother Teng,

    No, we must never use poetic licence to excuse a grammatical error. Poetic licence is not used for that purpose. I will give you an example of a poem later which will demonstrate quite clearly that your argument is wrong. You are saying that it is all right for a school anthem to contain ungrammatical sentences. I can't disagree with you more. I am not aware of grammatical errors in the anthem of a respectable school. Do you know of any? The lyrics of some pop songs may be ungrammatical but who's talking about pop songs? Let's get to the point. What is the cause of this grammatical error we see here? Blind copying of an existing anthem not just in the tune but also in the lyrics and because "Oldham" is one syllable more than the original "Wolfe", the person who did the copying dropped "the" from the original line. This is absolutely disgraceful.

    Now, let's examine the example you gave. "Stamford Raffles, Singapore's founder, came to town". This is not a sentence that corresponds to the ungrammatical sentence in the anthem of ACS and I'll tell you why. If your argument is that "Oldham, dauntless hero, came" is grammatical, you must give an example of an acceptable sentence which has the same sentence structure. Your example is way off. It should be PERSONAL NAME + ADJECTIVE + NOUN + VERB. I am assuming that ACS did teach you the parts of speech and so I don't have to spell these terms out (sorry, I'm being naughty here but I just can't resist it!!!). I do not mind the addition of other words following this structure and so I do not pick an issue with the words "to town". Briefly, a good example would be "Stamford Raffles, great general, came to town". But as you can see, that would be ungrammatical because an article is missing.

    You are absolutely wrong in saying that it is all right to drop an article for a title. I know of no grammar book that suggests this. If "dauntless hero" is a title, we must look for titles which consist of an adjective followed by a noun. I can think of a few and they all require an article to precede them. Examples are "the peerless one", "the matchless one" and "the fearless one". All these conform to the sentence structure at hand but all of them require the definite article to precede them if they are to appear as a title.

    Since you mentioned "poetic licence", I will end by quoting a poem written by Cynthia Taggart, an early 19th century poet:

    "The warrior lies, shrouded in sable gloom,
    While slow they bear him to a native tomb;
    His country called, the dauntless hero sped,
    Where battle raged, mid foul contagion's breath."

    Here again, we see "THE dauntless hero" in an early 19th century poem.

    Ultimately, we just have to be realistic. The copying of the ACS anthem was a shoddy piece of work. He who did the copying probably thought he did not have to put in any effort for this nondescript school in the middle of a tropical jungle. Clearly, he put in no effort at all. He probably thought the natives wouldn't be the wiser. After all, who would notice the missing article? Alas, he didn't consider the possibility that there might come one day a truly dauntless hero (who has been properly educated elsewhere) who is known as the Matchless One riding his snow-white stallion and proclaiming to the world this shameful deed of his.