Words of kilter
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.
(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”.