No Informal Words, Please. But Why?

ONE of the greatest disservice English language teachers in school can do to young minds is to taint the value of informal words. No informal words, please. Stay away from informal words. The poor students hear so much of this, they’ve all developed a kind of paranoia, a built-in lexical thermometer that makes them cringe at the sound of informal words. Take “crazy” or “junkie” for instance, or phrases like “two thumbs up.” Don’t ever dream of suggesting words of this flavor if you’re ever working on an essay with them. No, these words can’t—I mean, cannot—appear in written form. Continue reading

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When “Stupid” and “Idiot” Are Fine Words Indeed

STUPID and idiot aren’t two words you would hear in an interview or see in a news article often, but when you do, they tend to send shudders that could either trigger shock and outrage on the one hand, or pleasure and approval on the other.

Last week, I came across these two words uttered by two very different people—one, a German fashion icon, and the other, a retired four-star general. Continue reading

Is the Past Participle a Tense?

EARLIER this week, at the Bukit Timah Food Center, while standing in line for what must be the neighborhood’s hottest hawker breakfast favorite, Sheng Cheng’s Teochew fishball noodles, I heard a lady on a mobile phone three spots behind say: “Eh, I’m at the mee pok long, long queue one. You want what?”

I was amused, and not.

Singlish has a way of grating at the ears, yet there’s something silly and endearing about it—it’s part of our culture and our identity, yet we could demonize it all we want, and still, it speaks of home. Continue reading

Zoe and Her Cupcakes

ZOE, I suspect, has never been taught the subjunctive or the conditional mood, but somehow, she seems to have such a solid grasp of how they work. Zoe is the seven-year-old daughter of my secondary school classmate, Nadine Yap, whose Facebook post on October 6 sparked an online debate I was completely oblivious to until nine days after, when her follow-up piece, An Update on Grammar and Graciousness, caught my eye. Continue reading

‘Alumni’ is the Plural of ‘Alumnus,’ But What About ‘Alumnae’?

JUST like fungus and fungi, the words alumnus and alumni have the same relationship. The former is singular; the latter, plural. But where does alumnae sit in the equation? Well, it’s the plural of alumna, the feminine of alumnus. Gee, doesn’t that remind you of vertebra (singular) versus vertebrae (plural)? Or pupa/pupae and larva/larvae? Continue reading