GE 2015 – Kopi, Crosshairs, Us vs. We

SOMETIMES, we don’t edit our work enough to give it the kind of polish it deserves. In the heat of the hustings, we’ve spotted some lines that could have benefited from some revision—lines that have suffered from an odd placement of a word, a twisted turn of phrase, and a misplaced pronoun.

We present three:

1. Kopi With Low Thia Khiang 

In 7 Things Spotted On The Campaign Trail by Ling Chang Hong, published on Sept. 8, the Breaking News Editor revealed that Workers’ Party chief Low Thia Khiang does not have a Facebook account.

In Getting Social Over Kopi (the third thing spotted on the campaign trail), we read about Mr. Low’s brief stopover at a Simei coffeeshop and his conversation with 64-year-old taxi driver, Jason Koh, over coffee. Mr. Koh, we’re told, had taken some photos with the politician and posted them then and there on Facebook. What was Mr. Low’s reaction?

This is what the editor wrote:

“Wow, you’ve got Facebook? I don’t even have one,” said an impressed Mr. Low.

We suggest:

“Wow, you’ve got Facebook? I don’t even have one,” said Mr. Low, impressed.

2. Who Has Been Caught in the Crosshairs of the Workers’ Party? 

Early in the rally, when the Aljunied Hougang Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) was a hot-button issue, Assistant Political Editor Rachel Chang, observed that the only PAP politician steering clear from the fray was Lim Swee Say. Midway through her Sept. 4 piece, Sparks Fly As AHPETC Becomes Lightning Rod, we have these two paragraphs: 

Unexpectedly, the PAP politician most in the WP’s cross hairs, East Coast GRC anchor minister Lim Swee Say, stayed resolutely away from the topic. Mr Lim, who is fighting off a repeat WP challenge after a close win with 54.8 per cent in the 2011 General Election, told a rally audience in Bedok that he and his teammates have “never said anything about our opponents”.

“Because as far as we are concerned, this GE is about we serving you, we caring for you,” he said, adding that the East Coast rally would not be like “most rallies you attend, (where) you see the contesting parties, they scold each other, they shout at each other, they fire at each other”.

The “crosshairs” line doesn’t sound right for two reasons: one, the phrase is “caught in the crosshairs of (someone),” not “be in (someone’s) crosshairs”; two, the adverb “most” has an awkward ring, yet where else can it sit?

Now, do we just fix the words, throw them out, or move things around? Let’s present them all side by side:

Ms. Chang’s line:

Unexpectedly, the PAP politician most in the WP’s cross hairs, East Coast GRC anchor minister Lim Swee Say, stayed resolutely away from the topic.

Our three suggestions:

(A)
Unexpectedly, East Coast GRC anchor minister Lim Swee Say, the PAP politician who has—for the longest time—been caught in the crosshairs of the WP, stayed resolutely away from the topic.

(B)
Unexpectedly, East Coast GRC anchor minister Lim Swee Say, the PAP politician who has—in the most recent times—been caught in the crosshairs of the WP, stayed resolutely away from the topic.

(C)
Unexpectedly, East Coast GRC anchor minister Lim Swee Say, the PAP politician who has been a virulent target of the WP, stayed resolutely away from the topic.

If you insist on the “crosshairs” phrase, there are two options (A) and (B), though (B) tends to capture the meaning of “most” better. Now, you ask: “Why can’t we simply replace “for the longest time” or “in the most recent times” with “most”?

Sure, let’s try that:

– the PAP politician who has most been caught in the crosshairs of the WP

No good? Try this:

– the PAP politician who has been caught most in the crosshairs of the WP

Neither works. The best bet is (C)—completely reworded, but clean, accurate, and brief.

3. Did Mr. Lim Swee Say Mean “We” or “Us”?

I’ve always believed it’s a writer’s responsibility to fix the grammatical errors of the people they quote because the spoken word tends to carry verbal flaws and extraneous words that shouldn’t make their way into print. But then again, if they had so many of such flaws to fix, the reporters would never make their deadlines, so they’re right: “Go verbatim!”

But for purposes of our editing exercise, let’s help Mr. Lim polish his words:

“Because as far as we are concerned, this GE is about we serving you, we caring for you,” he said …

Let’s fix that:

“Because as far as we are concerned, this GE is about us serving you, us caring for you,” he said …

Oh, and while we’re at it, let’s neaten the rest of Ms. Chang’s paragraph:

“Because as far as we are concerned, this GE is about us serving you, us caring for you,” he said, adding that the East Coast rally would not be like “most rallies you attend,” where all the contesting parties do is this: “They scold each other, they shout at each other, they fire at each other.”

It reads better than this:

“Because as far as we are concerned, this GE is about we serving you, we caring for you,” he said, adding that the East Coast rally would not be like “most rallies you attend, (where) you see the contesting parties, they scold each other, they shout at each other, they fire at each other”.

And all we did was to deploy the colon and another set of quote marks, and do a little rewording.

One small but important punctuation note: the period must always sit inside the quote mark, never outside. Looks like Ms. Chang’s copy editor must have missed her typo, not just in the second paragraph, but the first one as well.


Other GE 2015 Posts
Hello, Hustings!
Don’t the Newspapers Just Love the Passive Voice?
After the Sound and the Fury, the Worry


We invite you to share your thoughts if you have other editorial suggestions, or write us at viv@mywritinghome.com if you have any curious, odd encounters with language you’d like us to feature and fix.

Improve It!” offers insights on how to revise, rewrite, snip, edit, move words around for style, clarity, and conciseness. We take a short extract from an article, polish it, and show you how and why we made the changes we did.

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