Thursday, May 21, 2015


I'm really not interested in the petty juvenile dust-up between Amos Yee, the infamous school dropout, and just about everybody else in Singapore. But as I have said many times in my blog, I'm more interested in impersonal concepts such as religion and atheism and in this respect, I don't think I will differ much from Amos Yee except that he obviously is quite unable to see the bigger picture but that's not the purpose of this post and so I won't digress any further.

I happened to read Yahoo News recently and I came across an article about Amos Yee which I wouldn't have read if my eyes hadn't focussed on a small paragraph about grammar. Yahoo News says quite unashamedly that the article "originally appeared on Vulcan Post". So I went to Vulcan Post to read the original article on Amos Yee and grammar. This is the paragraph that caught my interest:

I thought it would be interesting to see how a school dropout went about correcting other people's grammar. I expected the journalist who wrote the article to be reasonably knowledgeable about grammar as all good journalists should be.

I also took the trouble to read Amos Yee's atrocious blog which is rife with grammatical errors and other monstrosities but as I have said in my blog, I do not go about correcting other people's grammar, least of all, that of a school dropout. But I'm interested to see what he has to say about other people's errors. I ignored the parts that dealt with what Vincent Law his bailor did or said because they didn't interest me in the least.

Amos took exception to only one small point in Francis' Facebook post - his use of the phrase "look through". This is an excerpt from Francis' post:

This is what Amos wrote in response:

Let's continue reading Amos' blog post and see why he says it's ungrammatical:

Amos then went on to decry the state of the art scene in Singapore if people thought highly of a piece of writing that contained what Amos termed a grammatical error. He continued to say that there was nothing that you could learn in school that you could not learn as a school dropout.

Well, if we are to look upon Amos Yee as a fine representative of a school dropout, grammar obviously isn't something a dropout can come to grips with. He certainly can't.

Amos makes the same mistake that is made by those who are not comfortable with the English language. They are usually absolutely ignorant of phrasal verbs and they take every English word or phrase to mean literally what it says. But that's not how English works. But to an unlettered dropout like Amos who does not speak English as his native language (even if he puts on a fake American accent that is good enough to fool the hapless writer in Vulcan Post), you can only look through a shop if it's entirely made of glass. It will make a good joke if Amos were to play the role of a UK immigrant from China in the comedy "Mind Your Language" and when asked by his language teacher, Mr Brown, to look through his answer script before submitting it, Amos replies, "I can't look through my script, Mr Brown. The paper is opaque."

English, like every other language, has its peculiarities and a dropout like Amos who's not a native speaker will find it fiendishly difficult to master. While it is true that "look through" does have the literal meaning of looking through something eg "You can't look through a wall to see what's on the other side", the phrase has other meanings. The Oxford English Dictionary defines "look through" to mean also to "direct one's view over the whole of or to every one of".

Since "look through" is a phrasal verb, one can always turn to the Longman Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs which gives a definition that is more brief and to the point - "To examine something carefully".

Now, I don't expect a school dropout to be able to look up a dictionary but surely the writer of the Vulcan Post article should have done that before making a statement that is not just wrong but unjustly so.

As I have said, it is not my intention to slam a school dropout for his atrocious grammar. What puzzles me is why the writer of the article in Vulcan Post should just accept everything Amos says about grammar as correct. Good journalists must have a good command of the language and of course the acid test is always to look through (yes, that phrase again) a person's academic credentials before they are employed by respectable newspaper publishing houses. I don't know what Vulcan Post really is and what their criteria for hiring journalists are but perhaps they aren't so demanding on the kind of writers they have on their team.

Who is the author of this article in Vulcan Post?  The article gives a little writeup about her:

Let's look again at what she wrote:
In response, Yee posted yet another blogpost, titled “Responding To The Molester’s Son“, in which he rebutted some of Francis’s post, while correcting his grammar at the same time. Ouch.
I don't want to be hypercritical but I would be remiss if I did not mention that even that one sentence contains a grammatical error that no respectable journalist should make. But I won't let this article descend to a fault-finding exercise; that is not my intention. But no journalist should make a remark like this without thinking of its implication. She's effectively stating quite categorically that Amos corrected Francis' grammatical errors. That is a statement of fact which is false and irresponsible. The truth is, as I have illustrated, Amos did nothing of the kind. Amos does not even know what grammar is if it stood up and cudgelled him on the head.

I really hope Yahoo News will be more careful when it picks up news articles from sources that are unknown or dubious. And no responsible journalist should assume that a school dropout is right when he speaks on a subject as academically rigorous as grammar.


  1. Amos chooses to drop out like Facebook's founder. His passed school grades for college entry. Such kind of dropouts are smart people. Amos can write in his own style. Who cares? He is not paid to write and therefore does not need credentials. He has huge followers.

    1. Thanks for your comment but I'm afraid you are incoherent. Let's examine what you say line by line.

      You wrote this: "Amos chooses to drop out like Facebook's founder." That's nonsense and it's very irresponsible of you to make a loose and incorrect remark like that. Mark Zuckerberg did not drop out of school. He was in Harvard, for crying out loud. He only left Harvard because of the tremendous success of Facebook and he had to focus his attention on Facebook. Please get your facts right.

      You also wrote this: "Amos can write in his own style. Who cares?". Amos cared enough to make incorrect comments about other people's English. Anyone with atrocious grammar can say the same thing - that they can write in their own style and who cares? But if they have the audacity to attempt to correct someone else's grammar, they had better be right themselves. A person sounds downright stupid when he tries to correct others and he himself is wrong. That's what Amos does in his arrogance and ignorance.

      Finally, you wrote this: "He is not paid to write and therefore does not need credentials. He has huge followers." What on earth do you mean by this? You probably meant a huge following and you were not referring to the physical size of his followers? Then say so clearly. But that's irrelevant.

      The fact remains that anyone who wants to correct someone else's grammar should himself be familiar with grammar. Evidently, Amos Yee is not an exemplary representative of a school leaver if one sets much store by correct grammar.

      And if I may be so bold as to comment on YOUR writing, I would strongly encourage you to stay in school and not once entertain the thought of dropping out.

  2. What do you think should have happened to Amos Yee for criticising Christianity and more recently, Islam?

    I'm also curious as to what you meant by "bigger picture".

    1. Nothing. Criticising a religion is the same as criticising an idea. It's intellectual and rational and it is to be encouraged. Some ideas may be wrong or may be downright destructive. The good thing about a criticism is it allows the proponents of the idea to defend it. Criticism can then be a two-way process. Someone criticises the idea and someone else defends it. I criticise my own religion all the time, sometimes in this blog too. Christianity encourages criticism. The church does not alienate someone for criticising the religion. And certainly, the church does not harm or kill those who criticise the religion.

      When I said Amos Yee could not see the bigger picture, I meant his criticisms of religions seem to be rather shallow and vituperative. He does not examine the theology and instead of coming up with logical arguments, he tends to descend to obscenities.

      In one of my blog posts, I developed on his 'criticism' of Christianity and I examined the Scriptures to see if there might be some truth in what he said. You might want to read it here:

    2. Thank you for replying to my comment. I agree with you that criticism and mockery of religion is important. However, an argument that sometimes make me reconsider my position is the argument for social cohesion and religious harmony. Through observation, it seems to me that there are a lot of Singaporeans that are so offended by what Amos Yee said (which is relatively innocuous compared to the other things I've seen on the internet about religion) that they feel that it is justified for him to be arrested. Do you think it is possible for Singapore to have an open marketplace of ideas (even racist, sexist or anti religious ideas) without tensions or problems arising?

    3. Thanks for taking the time to post your comments. First, I do not agree that many Singaporeans were offended by the things Amos Yee said about Christianity. What he said was extremely mild. When he was arrested, Christians even petitioned the government to set him free. From my observation, people were angry with Amos for insulting LKY. I don't think any Singaporean really believes that Amos was punished for insulting Christianity. Even the foreign press wasn't fooled. Neither were the HK protestors. Everyone knew the real reason why Amos was imprisoned.

      But like I've said, Amos is unable to see the bigger picture. If you had read the blog post I linked above, you will see that what I wrote may very well go much deeper into the truth or otherwise of the Christian faith and have a greater impact on the Christian community, whereas the insults people hurl at Christianity only have the effect of offending Christians without making them think. There are books in Singapore written by brilliant atheists which offer compelling arguments why God, Allah, gods and goddesses of all shapes and sizes are not real. Singapore does not ban intellectual discussions and arguments. But what is not permitted is the mindless gratuitous insults. I recall the prosecution of a Singaporean couple who distributed comic strips that offended Muslims. One of the items was titled "Child Bride", according to the newspaper reports. I can imagine the kind of insults the comic strip probably had. In defence, the accused tried to show that Dawkins and Hitchens wrote books too which are sold in Singapore. One of them is 'God is Not Great' which is actually a negation of the famous Muslim mantra. So why isn't Times Book Shop prosecuted? The court distinguished a comic book insult which is of course dumb and offensive from a serious intellectual examination of God, religion and theology.

      What Amos Yee said of Jesus was that he was 'horrible and power-hungry'. He wasn't really interested in Jesus. He wanted to insult LKY. Everyone knows that. He was punished for insulting LKY, not Jesus. Everyone knows that too. But the article in my blog examined the evidence that may indicate that Jesus really did possess some of those negative qualities that Amos Yee talked about. Such an examination cannot possibly excite anger any more than Dawkins' God Delusion can. Of course there will be people who may be angry with my article and, more so, with The God Delusion but so what? Kong Hee's followers, I'm sure, are angry with the reporting of his conviction too.

      Unless you live in a Muslim country like Saudi Arabia or a communist country like North Korea, you can always publish arguments which are a serious intellectual examination of religion or God or any of the supernatural entities that religious people believe in. What is forbidden (and it's also in poor taste) is gratuitous insults.

      The fact that Singapore book shops are well stocked with all kinds of books for and against religion shows quite clearly that a healthy intellectual discussion of religion is always permissible.

  3. Even if the actual reason for Amos Yee's punishment was insulting LKY (which is even worse since he is a public figure
    who should be allowed to be criticised/insulted even in the event of his death),the charges that were used to convict him
    were that of making remarks against christianity, deliberately wounding the religious feelings of christians and of
    uploading an obscene image. Similar to how the crime of avoiding paying income tax was used to sentence Al Capone to 11
    years in prison, the crime of wounding religious feelings and posting obscene materials was used to sentence Amos Yee to
    four weeks in jail. Even if the intent was to punish him for insulting LKY, there seems to be quite a lot of Singaporeans who
    think that the charge of wounding religious feelings was justified as an excuse to convict him (at least from what I
    observed from the internet). Moreover, he was recently placed under police investigation for insulting
    Islam so he got into trouble for purely insulting religion in that situation.

    I disagree that gratituous insults should not be permitted though I agree that insults are not good at convincing people.
    The chick tracts you mentioned are horrible and asinine indeed but I would still disagree with the prosecution of the couple. Chick tracts are ridiculous propaganda and they
    should be mocked and criticised as many has done, they are currently banned as the MDA has prohibited Singaporeans from
    accessing their site. Refuting its arguments and showing that they are flawed and illogical would be more effective
    than censoring them or prosecuting the couple who distributed them. Amos Yee made a shallow insult at Jesus and he
    would suffer the consequences of not having as great an impact as your analysis on whether or not Jesus was malicious.
    No Christian would change their opinion on Jesus because of Amos Yee's insult and that should have been the end of the story.

    1. My opinion from the start when you asked what should be done to Amos Yee was and will alway be - NOTHING. What I have explained in my subsequent comment is what I see as the real reason for his imprisonment. At no point did I say that I supported or approved such an action. I cannot see what crime he has committed. But most people are unable to separate their dislike for someone from the legal justification for imprisoning him. So a lot of Singaporeans were happy that he was imprisoned.

    2. Oh I forgot to mention this. You wrote: 'I disagree that gratuitous insults should not be permitted'. I'm sure you are aware of this but it's important for me to make it clear to less careful readers that I did not once say that gratuitous insults should not be permitted. What I wrote was this: 'Singapore does not ban intellectual discussions and arguments. But what is not permitted is the mindless gratuitous insults.' I then went on to illustrate this point with a case in which a man and his wife were prosecuted for insulting Islam. I was explaining what Singapore law permits and what it does not. I of course do not agree that gratuitous insults should not be banned. Such insults go against the rules of courtesy and I do not agree that discourtesy ought to be criminalised.