Words of kil­ter

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - INSIGHT - By DR LIM CHIN LAM Co-or­di­nated by JANE F. RAGAVAN english@thes­tar.com.my

THE above ti­tle is weirdly worded – de­lib­er­ately to puz­zle read­ers enough to make them want to read on. (More about the ti­tle later.) For now, let us start with a brochure en­ti­tled Trea­sure­sof­spice­and Allth­ingsnice.

The brochure is im­pres­sive. It un­folds like a large road map, but is re­plete with pur­ple prose and il­lus­tra­tions of spices. Pur­ple prose? Pon­der over this excerpt:

“That these un­for­giv­ing wa­ters” (of the Spice Is­lands or the Maluku Is­lands) “could have set sail a thou­sands ships car­ry­ing brazen sailors in search for spice riches five cen­turies ago in re­turn for al­most guar­an­teed death at the hands of ship­wrecks and dis­ease never fails to amaze.”

Let me com­ment on the bits which I have un­der­lined.

1) Set sail, which means “to be­gin a sea voy­age”, is in­tran­si­tive, not tran­si­tive. For ex­am­ple, He­len of Troy was the face that launched (tran­si­tive verb) a thou­sand ships, i.e. a thou­sand ships set­sail (in­tran­si­tive) on her ac­count.

(2) What about brazen sailors? Brazen means “shame­less or im­pu­dent”. Surely in this con­text a his­to­rian would hardly de­scribe the sailors as shame­less when he could have al­ter­na­tives like bold or brave or doughty or coura­geous.

(3) The usual phrase­ol­ogy, in search of, is in­di­cated in the above con­text. On the other hand, the phrase, search for, is used in a dif­fer­ent con­text, e.g. “The po­lice con­ducted a search for the mur­der weapon.”

(4) At the hands of ship­wrecks and dis­ease? This is like a case of mixed me­taphors. Hands? Ship­wrecks and dis­eases have hands?

Let us look at an­other excerpt from the same brochure, un­der the head­ing Nut­meg and Clove. The Malay Ar­chi­pel­ago:

“In 1810 a lone ship car­ry­ing a small party of English­men sailed ashore to Great Banda. Although seem­ingly in­nocu­ous, this vis­i­ta­tion would seal the fate for the Banda Isles and sub­ject its erst­while glory to the pages of his­tory.”

(1) A vis­i­ta­tion to or at Great Banda? The sim­ple word visit is in­di­cated. Vis­i­ta­tion is as­so­ci­ated with spir­its and ap­pari­tions.

(2) The verb sub­ject, as used in the above con­text, mean­ing “to cause or force to un­dergo; to bring un­der one’s con­trol or ju­ris­dic­tion, typ­i­cally by force” ( Con­cise Ox­ford English Dic­tio­nary, 2004), is in­apt; and pages of his­tory is al­most tau­to­log­i­cal. A pos­si­ble rephras­ing would be: “… rel­e­gate its erst­while glory to a foot­note in his­tory”; OR, sim­ply, “… con­sign its erst­while glory to his­tory”.

Un­like ty­pos, howlers, mis­guided pro­nun­ci­a­tions ( noo­dle as “noddle”, and spell as “spe-el”, to em­pha­sise the dou­ble “l” in the spell­ing), and ob­vi­ous er­rors in gram­mar and syn­tax ( the hunter shooted the tiger; the use of the sin­gu­lar you, as in: “If you does not want to do an en­doscopy….”; and the use of the plu­ral you, as in “All of yous keep quiet”; etc), the ex­am­ples from the brochure are sub­tle aber­ra­tions and trans­gres­sions in the use of words.

The above de­scrip­tion brings me to the word kil­ter (also spelt Let’s ex­plore some words that do not quite fit into con­text.

Both ex­am­ples in­volve a noun as­so­ci­ated with any sub­ject) so and a pro­noun, with the pro­noun the mod­i­fier phrase “be­ing a mulin the wrong case. The pro­nouns tira­cial coun­try” is thus cast adrift. I in the first ex­am­ple and she in The phrase could be amended the sec­ond fol­low a prepo­si­tion, of to: “Malaysia be­ing a mul­tira­cial and be­tween, re­spec­tively. Af­ter a coun­try, …” Note a mi­nor point in prepo­si­tion, the pro­noun should the use of the phrase “each other’s be in the ac­cu­sa­tive/ob­jec­tive cul­tures”, which im­plies two en­ti­case, thus: “of my mother and ties. Amend to “one an­other’s culme” and “be­tween her and her tures”, which im­plies more than land­lord”. two en­ti­ties. as kel­ter), mean­ing “good con­di­tion or or­der”– which word is com­monly used in the phrase out of kil­ter, mean­ing “out of har­mony or bal­ance” ( Con­cise Ox­ford English Dic­tio­nary, 2004) – as of ships be­ing out of kil­ter. The ex­am­ples from the brochure are in­ter­spersed with words, which, like ships, are out of kil­ter in a sea of text.

Spu­ri­ous words as well as valid words used in spu­ri­ous ways are to be found in not only pompous prose, but also the most pro­saic of texts. Let us look at some of them.

Words al­most alike

(1) A per­son suf­fer­ing from a cold and said to have a run­ning nose. Ques­tion: “At what speed does a run­ning nose run?” No, it’s not run­ning nose but runny nose.

(2) “A per­son de­scrib­ing his nerve-wreck­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.” Cor­rectly, the ex­pres­sion is nervewracking­ex­pe­ri­ence, although the pa­tient may be a wreck af­ter the ex­pe­ri­ence.

(3) “The storm wrought havoc in the vil­lage.” The past tense of wreak is wreaked, not wrought.

(4) “Amy Wine­house, who died re­cently, is said to have left be­hind her dis­tinct voice and per­son­al­ity in the mu­sic in­dus­try.” The word should be dis­tinc­tive, mean­ing “dis­tinct from oth­ers of its kind” – NOT dis­tinct, mean­ing “read­ily per­cep­ti­ble”.

(5) David Cop­per­field (not the epony­mous char­ac­ter from Charles Dick­ens’ novel) “is a renown ma­gi­cian”. Known and un­known are valid words, but not re­known. The proper word is the noun renown, whose ad­jec­tive form renowned is in­di­cated above.

Un­likely words

(1) “Many peo­ple are anath­ema to racial prej­u­dice. The word anath­ema, mean­ing “an ob­ject of ab­hor­rence” ( Cham­bers Twen­ti­eth Cen­tury Dic­tio­nary) is wrongly used here in a re­versed sense. For ex­am­ple, “slop­pi­ness is anath­ema to Siti”, NOT “Siti is anath­ema to slop­pi­ness”. The quoted sen­tence may be amended by sub­sti­tut­ing the word averse for anath­ema.

Con­sider: “The re­searcher re­ported on the num­ber of in­ci­dences at the poll booth.” An in­ci­dent is an event or oc­cur­rence, whereas in­ci­dence is the rate or fre­quency of the oc­cur­rence. The word in­ci­dents is in­di­cated.

In­ci­dents or in­ci­dence?

The wrong case

It is well to bear in mind that pro­nouns are fully de­clined, un­like nouns for which de­clen­sion is lim­ited to sin­gu­lar and plu­ral and to the gen­i­ti­tive/pos­ses­sive case. Thus one does come across such in­stances as the fol­low­ing: (1) “… it brought back mem­o­ries of my mother and I watch­ing it to­gether ....” and (2) “… her case in­volv­ing a dis­agree­ment be­tween she and her land­lord.”

Mod­i­fier phrase cast adrift

Con­sider the fol­low­ing: “Be­ing a mul­tira­cial coun­try, thought should be given to the cul­tural his­tory of the var­i­ous races to in­cul­cate ac­cep­tance of each other’s cul­tures.”

As writ­ten above, the present par­tici­ple be­ing is dan­gling (not

Du­al­ity of sub­ject?

“The au­di­ence is free to choose the kind of films they want to see.” There is am­biva­lence about the gram­mat­i­cal num­ber of the noun au­di­ence. The lat­ter is sin­gu­lar in “the au­di­ence is” but plu­ral in “they want to see”. How­ever, the above con­struc­tion may be deemed cor­rect in cur­rent English

Num­ber and al­pha­bet

“Top on the list is W123A, with W rep­re­sent­ing Wi­layah, fol­lowed by three numbers be­fore it ends with a let­ter ...” In the ex­am­ple W123A, the 123 is one num­ber, not three numbers. It is one num­ber made up of three sym­bols (called nu­mer­als or dig­its or fig­ures). In the same way, PPSMI is an ab­bre­vi­a­tion (wrongly called acro­nym) made up not of five al­pha­bets but of five let­ters (of the al­pha­bet).

Hey, what about the ti­tle of this ar­ti­cle? The prepo­si­tion of is patently in­cor­rect. The ti­tle it­self con­tains a word that is out of kil­ter – and all the while we were dis­cussing words that were out of kil­ter, or off kil­ter. For the ti­tle, there­fore, read “Words off kil­ter”.

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