Tuesday, September 15, 2015

TAKE this!

Although I have written more than 50 or 60 articles in this blog alone about the outrageous language mistakes made by the Speak Good English Movement, I would be dishonest if I did not say that most Singaporeans aren't at all so clueless about English grammar and usage as the Movement is. If you would like to look at all these articles, please visit my user-friendly one-page list of all the links to these articles.

But there is a group of Singaporeans who are very much like the Speak Good English Movement - hypercritical but ignorant and stupid. These are the people who first told me years ago that cute really meant "ugly but adorable". I thought it was a joke when I first heard it but the person who told me that, a former colleague who normally spoke quite good English, assured me that this was the dictionary definition of the word. Of course I didn't believe her and I dismissed it as her own personal peculiarity until more and more people (all Singaporeans) told me precisely the same thing. It was like a form of national insanity and I have always been trying to figure out the origin of such a quirky definition. Somebody must have started it just to see how many people would be taken in and how far this obviously wrong definition of such a simple word would travel.

When I was in uni, one of my fellow students told me that take meaning "eat" was Singlish and not Standard English as in "He took his lunch at MacDonald's". Naturally, I didn't believe him. I'm positive I've seen this usage countless times in the works of literary giants such as Jane Austen who, I'm sure, had never been anywhere near Singapore in order to be influenced by Singlish. Right at this moment, I'm in the midst of reading a novel by Sebastian Faulks and I have noted at least two separate occasions when take is used to mean simply "eat".

Knowing how rotten the Speak Good English Movement really is, I was not surprised to see this on their website:

Take has a wide range of meanings and I last counted more than 60 different definitions in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary alone. The title of this post makes use of yet another meaning of "take" and despite its brevity, it can quite effectively conjure up a picture of me in a boxing ring socking the Speak Good English Movement across the face and saying "Take this!"

One other definition in the dictionary is "eat or drink". Here's one example given in the Shorter Oxford:
I take my breakfast at George's Cafe. 
You can't find a better example to prove beyond the smallest doubt that the Speak Good English Movement is once again totally wrong. It's fortunate that the dictionary gave an example that is word-for-word what the Movement says is wrong. From my wide experience with some of these educators in Singapore, I know that if I had picked an example such as "She took tea in the garden" (which I believe comes from one of Jane Austen's novels), they might very well respond that you could say "take tea" but not "take breakfast". The example given in the Shorter Oxford should end all argument on this subject. The Speak Good English Movement is just blatantly wrong, as always.

But I don't want to just stop there. I'm interested in how it all started. Who first came up with this lunatic suggestion that you could not use "take" in this way? One doesn't need much sleuthing skill for that. Ever since I first noted how incredibly ignorant of the English grammar the Speak Good English Movement was some time last year, I've been following them on their website and I've also read their outrageously erroneous grammar book (in two volumes). Those who have been following my blog should know this because I have written extensively on their errors (see the link above). And I think I have discovered the source of this ridiculous notion that take when used to mean "eat" is non-standard Singlish.

When I first noticed that Ludwig Tan, a consultant to the Speak Good English Movement, showed an inordinate respect for an unknown teacher in Singapore's National Institute of Education (NIE) called Adam Brown, I took it upon myself to see what it was that this person had written that appeared to have swept Ludwig Tan off his feet. Adam Brown's book which is published in Singapore (of course) is called Singapore English in a Nutshell. If you have read the articles in this blog in which I slammed Ludwig Tan for his astonishing errors in the English language, you will remember that on a couple of occasions I took a swipe at Adam Brown whom Ludwig Tan cited as an authority. Click here for an example. You will recall Ludwig Tan's irritatingly obtuse failure to understand that you can't pit an NIE teacher against the Oxford English Dictionary.

If you are interested in having a look at Ludwig Tan's laughable blunders that I have blogged about, go to Section 1B of my List of Grammar Terrorists.

I looked into Adam Brown's book and sure enough, I finally stumbled upon the source of this error in Singapore. Adam Brown, in his book, explains that take may be used in 3 different situations:

1. "When the thing to be swallowed is unpleasant, such as medicine..."

2. "When the enquiry is about a particular method of eating or drinking: Do you take sugar in your coffee?

3. "When take means 'have delivered'."

I have said many times before that a good teacher is one who does not make up his own grammar rules or word definitions but we see time and again educators in Singapore doing precisely that. What Brown doesn't know is the above are simply 3 of the 60 or so definitions of the word take. Let's get one thing clear: this teacher in Singapore's National Institute of Education is not an authority on the English language. When you need to look up a point of grammar, you consult Burchfield or Quirk or Greenbaum and there are many others too but you do not consult a Mr Brown from Singapore's NIE. Why then do Singapore's educators including the Speak Good English Movement depend so much on this teacher in Singapore who is an unknown in the world of English grammar? And he is absolutely wrong too. We do not know what peculiar regional variant of the English language he is influenced by but we do know he is wrong and has been shown to be wrong in a couple of my previous blog posts.

Can you imagine what it's like when Brown, a teacher in our National Institute of Education, makes an error in English and it doesn't matter if it's a point of grammar or the definition of a word and its usage? He teaches our teachers who in turn teach our students. If Ludwig Tan is representative of all our English language teachers and Tan has been shown to tenaciously refer his readers to Brown's flawed book despite the clear words of the Oxford English Dictionary to the contrary, do you not think Singapore's language teachers would treat Brown with the same respect, misplaced though that may be?  Do you see now why some of these hilarious quirky mistakes can be perpetuated as a Singaporean peculiarity? All it takes is one self-assured but ignorant teacher with an air of overweening authority to teach something wrong and many language teachers in Singapore will just assume he's right and repeat his mistake to generations of students.


  1. I'm not trained as a linguist, but I continue to be entertained by your writing. Thanks for doing it! :D

    Also, I found this -- http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/take

    a : to receive into one's body (as by swallowing, drinking, or inhaling)
    b : to put oneself into (as sun, air, or water) for pleasure or physical benefit
    c : to partake of : eat

    1. Thanks! A friend once told me not to write on grammar in my blog. He said nobody would read it. I'm glad I have at least one reader.

      You don't have to be a trained linguist to take an interest in language. Language is an integral part of our humanity and any member of our species should take an interest in it.

      And don't be fooled by those who claim to be trained in language. This is just one of my many posts on the countless mistakes made by the Speak Good English Movement, "trained" educators, language experts from the MOE and many others.

      It used to puzzle me why none of these self-styled experts would bother to check before they made fools of themselves. I didn't know the reason until one day when I had to see an English teacher to tell her that she was wrong in one of the exam scripts that she had marked. As we spoke, it dawned on me that she didn't know what I was talking about. You see, although she taught English, she was totally unfamiliar with the terms used in grammar. She could not identify a complement in a sentence and she had no clue what a predeterminer was. I'm quite reasonable. I don't expect anyone to remember the terms but they must know enough to be able to follow a discussion on grammar. But it's easy to tell if someone has merely forgotten the terms or if he has not heard of them before. English grammatical terms were as alien to her as the corresponding Bangladeshi terms are to me. She knew nothing of grammar. There was no way she could have read a good grammar book. And she taught English!!!

      The Speak Good English Movement and many Singapore educators are no different from her. They are clueless about English grammar and yet they shamelessly teach English.

      I do not use Merriam Webster but I'm not surprised. Any good dictionary is sure to have "eat" as one of the definitions of "take". While the Speak Good English Movement may have some trouble looking up a grammar book, they have no excuse not to check a dictionary before making their erroneous pronouncement. Even a child of 6 can look up a dictionary and understand what it says.