Saturday, November 22, 2014

Be careful who the deceased is.

Recently, a Member of Parliament wrote a lovely letter to his daughter to assure her of his love on the eve of the day when the PSLE results were released. It's one of those heartwarming letters and it has gone viral. Unlike Singapore's captious but ignorant language experts who can't even spell "grammar" to save their lives but who are very quick to pounce on other Singaporeans even when they have made no mistake, I will make no comment on the grammatical errors in the letter. I have said many times before that appearances (which include grammar) don't matter one bit to me and as long as I can understand the substance of what is said, I'm ok with it.

But there is one small matter and I feel obliged to make just a short comment.  It's really quite insignificant and I feel bad having to bring it up but this is my personal blog and I have kids of my own and I'm naturally desirous that they do not make the same error. In fact, it was my daughter who read the letter and brought the error to my attention. She wanted to know if it was a mistake.

The sentence reads, "You asked me to take you to the wake of a schoolmate when her mother passed away last year". A wake is like a funeral. It's only for the dead. If my mother dies (heaven forbid), you do not come to my wake or my funeral. You go to hers.  I won't have a wake or a funeral unless I'm dead. Many people in Singapore are superstitious and I tend to be quite careful when I talk about death and funerals. If they are alive and kicking, they'll be livid if there is any hint, however small, that they're dead. It's for this reason that the number 4 is to be avoided like the plague. If you buy a house, don't pick one with a 4 in the address, even if it's 14 or 40. You may find it impossible to sell the house. That's because in Chinese, the number 4 is homophonous with "death".

But this is a minor error obviously made out of carelessness. This is to be distinguished from the errors made by the Speak Good English Movement which are serious errors made out of pure ignorance of the rules of grammar. There is no comparison at all and this error will not be placed in my List of Grammar Terrorists which is a list of all the shocking errors of the Speak Good English Movement, MOE's language experts and other teachers of English. 

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