Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Mind Your Language

I've said it before many times and I'll say it again.  I'm not a stuffy pedant and I'm not bothered about grammar in speech and writing as long as the meaning is clear.  There are exceptions though and one of them is this - if you are going to write an article about grammar and you are going to highlight the errors of "the masses" (as some of these arrogant pedants would put it), you jolly well make sure that your article is something that won't make a grammarian frown.  For this reason, I used to write to the Straits Times to complain about grammatical errors in articles that talked about grammar.  I'll say a little more about the Straits Times later.

Sometimes an error is just screaming its head off.  It may be the sort of error that no person with an elementary knowledge of basic English grammar would make.  It's particularly bad when it appears in an official document.

That's what I noticed yesterday on a form that I had to submit to the hospital before they would remove a device that had been strapped to my body for 24 hours.  While waiting for my turn (waiting for hours is what you usually have to do in the Singapore General Hospital; see this), I took a shot of the form before submitting it:

What excuse can a hospital possibly come up with for such a glaring error?  One doesn't need a good education to notice the error.  Anyone, from the cleaners to the nurses and doctors, should have noticed the error and have it corrected.  So why has nothing been done?

It's different if the error appears in an email or a personal blog or some other medium that is not an official document.  Most email writers and bloggers are very much like me.  We don't go through what we have typed before we click "Submit" or "Post" or "Publish".  When Singapore Daily included my blog in their list a few days ago and my visitor counter started to jump to giddy heights, the first thing I did was to go through all my photos and remove those that might show me in various stages of undress.  This was supposed to be a private blog that nobody ever read and I had taken the liberty of including photos that I thought nobody would ever see.  But going through the two posts highlighted by Singapore Daily to check for errors was something I just couldn't do.  I can't understand why I have such an aversion to reading what I have written but I certainly have it.

I'm not alone in not reading what I've written before posting or publishing it.  I was just reading someone else's blog this morning (after clicking on a link in the Singapore Daily) and I spotted many errors that the blogger would not normally have made.  It didn't take me long before I noticed that the blogger was one of the journalists I corresponded with a long time ago when I complained to the Straits Times about serious grammatical errors in their articles on grammar!  I don't want to go into the details of my exchange with the Straits Times since I've mentioned them in a few of my previous blog posts and if you want to read them, click here or here or even here.   I will just say that in all the years that I have written to the Straits Times about such errors made by their journalists, they have stoutly refused to publish any of these letters.  They might acknowledge their errors in their replies to me and declare that they would alert the newsroom but they always refused to publish any letter that would show up their journalists' inadequacy in the language.  The only time they published my letter on such a matter was when I wrote on why I disagreed with Jenadas Devan's take on English poetry and the Straits Times editor probably thought that a difference in opinion on poetry interpretation was not so embarrassing as an outright blunder in English grammar.

Errors in her personal blog are of course excusable.  But errors in her newspaper are not, especially when the errors appear in articles on grammar. 

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