Sunday, September 29, 2013

You can go crazy but you can't go toilet!

There's nothing that irritates me more than this strange fashion in Singapore of dropping the preposition in speech.  I first heard it a long time ago and it seems to be catching on today.  The first time I heard it was in a play school where I was seated with my son who was then a toddler next to a woman who also had her son with her.  The woman asked her son in a loud and offensively supercilious voice, "Would you like to go toilet?"  My son innocently asked me in a voice that was quite audible, "Is that right?" and without pausing for even a second to think, I immediately responded, "You can go crazy and you can go mad but you can't go toilet.  Never drop the preposition 'to'!  Remember that!"  From the corner of my eye, I could see the woman looking at me with rage but I felt she deserved it.  I would not have responded in that way if she had spoken less haughtily.

But I would never have expected that I should one day see this same thing in print.  In today's New Paper, there's an article which purports to be humorous and this sentence caught my eye:

I'll simplify the sentence for clarity - you may ignore the bit about wearing Crocs.  It's totally unrelated to the article and it was presumably inserted by the writer as his feeble attempt at humour.  The sense of the sentence is preserved if I reduce it to this: "The prison was where I was sent".  It is obvious that like the woman with her toddler in the play school, the writer of this article left out the preposition "to".  The natural question is why did he leave it out?

Sir Winston Churchill on the English language

At first blush, I thought the writer was averse to ending a clause with a preposition.  But that's something that countless grammarians from Fowler onwards have denounced as ridiculous.  The story is told that Winston Churchill was so infuriated with a subordinate who tried hard not to end his sentences with a preposition in a report that Churchill wrote in the margin of the report, "This is the kind of tedious nonsense up with which I will not put".

Of course there are instances when the preposition may be dropped.  Some direct objects may have a locative role.  A good example is "The policeman walked the streets".  The preposition "through" may in such an instance be dispensed with.  The same with "The horse jumped the fence".  "Over" is left out.  But notice that you can't do it in the passive voice.

Upon further reading, it will become clear to the reader that the writer of the article is just one of those who would drop their prepositions at the drop of a hat.  Here is another excerpt from his article:

The sentence now takes on a ludicrous meaning that the writer did not intend.  It tells me conclusively that the writer really has an allergy for prepositions and it has nothing to do with the all too common but misconceived fear of ending a sentence with a preposition.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Microblog: When do you change a motto?

I went running in Kent Ridge this evening when I saw something that made me stop and take my phone out to snap a pic.  It was the motto of KR Hall printed at the top of its main entrance.  KR Hall was my hostel when it was called King Edward Hall at Kent Ridge or KE Hall.

To Seek, Strive and Excel seems a little jarring and wrong but surely the Hall could not make a mistake about its own motto?

I ran the Hall anthem in my head just to confirm and yes, of course.  The motto used to be "To Seek, To Strive, To Serve".  Someone must have decided that service was something embarrassing and ignoble and they promptly replaced "To Serve" with "To Excel".  I'm glad I was no longer a part of the Hall when that happened.  There are some things in modern Singapore that I don't seem to see eye to eye with.  If I may borrow the words of St Paul and modify them slightly, excellence without service is dead.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


Microblogging seems to be the rage these days possibly because modern folks don't like to read long articles.  Although I have various tumblr accounts and have used them, I don't see why I can't do some microblogging on blogger.  I will be posting microblog posts from time to time on this blog.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Escalating confusion

A few days ago, I took my MacBook power adaptor to Apple Service Centre to replace the wire which has become frayed.  I was told that the warranty did not cover such a damage, which was fine.  But the helpful man at the counter who spoke with a Filipino accent told me that he would try to "escalate to Apple but there is no guarantee".  I asked him to repeat what he said, which he did.  "We will escalate to Apple but there can be no guarantee that Apple will replace the adaptor".   I was tempted to ask him what one did to Apple when one escalated but I brushed it aside.  After leaving my adaptor at the Apple Service Centre, I was given a Service Report.  Here it is.

And there I have it in black and white.  "Will try to escalate to Apple..."

I racked my brains for a word that sounded like "escalate" but which carried the connotation of "appeal" but I could not think of anything close.

A few days later, I received an email informing me that the "escalation" was unsuccessful.  No, I'm only joking; the email made no mention of the word "escalate".  This afternoon I called at the Service Centre and this time, I was served by a Chinese-looking man who I thought was Singaporean.  But when he spoke, I could detect a strong Filipino accent.  He said they had escalated to Apple but Apple was unable to allow a replacement.  Again, I asked him to repeat himself because this was a different person.  He obliged me and again, he used the word "escalate".

I'm now convinced "escalate" used in that sense is a Filipino word which means to appeal to a higher authority.  Who could have started using the word in that sense in the first place?  I tried searching google but it led to nothing.  I then gave it a thought and I came up with a brilliant idea. I don't claim to be an expert on Filipino English etymology but if you are familiar with the ways of the Church and Filipinos are religious folks, you will understand how a word like "escalate" can take on such a meaning.

To appeal to a higher authority is in itself vaguely religious.  And we all know that religions thrive on multi-syllabic words which give an appearance of authority.  Few words in religion are under three syllables in length.  We genuflect, we venerate and we supplicate.  So, when a Filipino appeals to a higher authority within his company, he does not merely speak to his boss; he escalates to his superior.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

White Lies and Holy Lies

Years ago, when I was on the verge of losing my faith, in a desperate bid to salvage my faith, I looked out for debates where Christians could defeat atheists but alas there was none.  In my search for some plausible argument for faith, I discovered a professional debater called William Lane Craig.  From the reviews I read, he seemed like the best bet to set right my flagging faith and so I studied every single debate transcript and watched every video this professional debater was engaged in and there were a lot of them.  Instead of being comforted, I was horrified.  I discovered that Craig was a deceiver and a liar.  Every point he makes is nothing more than sophistry and deceit which can be debunked.  All lies and falsehoods can be discredited but Craig's lies are so sophisticated and cunningly crafted that they require more time to counter and with the time limit imposed in any debate, Craig's opponents have no way of exposing the fallacy of his arguments.

I remember being so angry with Craig that I could not go to sleep.  As I tossed and turned in my bed, I kept rebuking God (let's assume he exists).  "Why is God so false and his religion so fake that he needs a defender who resorts to lies and deceit?" I mused.  Why am I saddled with a religion that is so laughably irrational and a God whose existence is no more plausible than that of fairies, pixies and elves?   But I realized I was wrong to blame a whole religion because of the lies and deceit of one man.  My religion is a total failure in logic but then so are all other religions.  Besides, I soon discovered that most Christians have not even heard of Craig and those who admire Craig are genuinely too feeble-minded to see his deception so they can't be tainted with Craig's dishonesty.  In other words, most of my fellow Christians are either uninterested in the faith and have not heard of Craig or if they do take an interest in the faith and are impressed by Craig's arguments, they are too stupid to see how fallacious his arguments are.  But it's not a crime to be stupid.  It took me a long time to return to the faith after discovering Craig's dishonesty.  Sometimes, I ask myself if the standard of honesty I adopt is too high for my religion.  For me all lies are bad and I can't live with lies but sadly, Christianity does not view untruth in the same way.

Yes, the Bible tells us that "God is truth" and in the Gospel of St John, we are told that Jesus declares that those who tell lies have Satan for their father.  But from a close reading of the passages, it's clear that the lies that the Bible disapproves of are lies that work against God and the faith.  If lies are used to defend God, they are looked upon as wholesome and to be encouraged.

One good example is Rahab, the prostitute of Jericho.  The Bible tells us that Rahab told a lie to conceal two Jewish spies and the lie she told enabled the people of God to kill every man, woman, child and infant in Jericho as ordered by our most merciful God.  It is very clear from the story told that if she hadn't told the lie, the people of God would not have had the opportunity of slaughtering the entire city of Jericho as desired and commanded by God.  Instead of being labelled a liar, a traitor to her own people and an ethnic cleanser, the Bible speaks of her as a great woman of faith.  The Holy Gospel lists Rahab in Christ's genealogy.  The Epistle to the Hebrews (in the New Testament) speaks glowingly of Rahab as the exemplary figure of a woman of faith.

 A painting by James Tissot of Rahab and the Two Spies.

If this is how the Bible treats those who lie and kill for the faith (or in Rahab's case, to facilitate a God-ordained ethnic cleansing), perhaps the deceitful lies Craig tells in a debate are not all that bad.  On the contrary, he may be richly rewarded as a good and faithful servant of our Lord.

NOTE:  I just did a search and I found a blog post that I wrote more than a year ago giving some examples of Craig's deceptive arguments.  Click here