December 04, 2007

Mass songs, mass enemies and muss

A news item on next day's programmes in the metropolis one day described a session as of 'mass songs' by which the writer meant people's songs, from the Indian People’s Theatre Association of theatre-artists and others to bring about cultural awakening among the people in the early 1940s. Mass is a convenient translation of the Bangla word in question, gana. A student of journalism (mass communictions and journalism, gana yogayog o sangbadikata) in a story quoted political party leaders terming their rivals 'mass enemies' (people's enemy, ganashatru). Yet in another report the word was spelt 'muss.'

December 02, 2007

Including or such as

Crimes are crimes, nothing more and nothing less. But a report that landed the desk the other day defined crimes with an abused 'including' --- 'serious crimes including the arrest of a criminal with arms happened...' The arrest of criminals is a crime of a sort and an arrest with firearms is a crime of a more serious nature. 'Including' defines the nature of the phrase that precedes it; it does not make any addition. 'Three people, including a dog...' only equates dogs with humans.

'Including' is also misused in cases where 'such as' fits in. 'Concentrated urbanisation is typical of cities such as Khulna, Chittagong and Rajshahi.' An 'including' would have made the sentence go wrong. But the use of 'including' in 'the government will set up the plants in four cities including Khulna and Rajshahi' is correct. 'Such as' explains the nature of the phrase that precedes it.

November 24, 2007

Sidr: the jujube tree cyclone

A daily newspaper in Bangla the day after very severe cyclonic storm Sidr had roared inland through west Bangladesh coasts in the afternoon on November 15 ran a report on the front page, headlined 'Sidr means eye.' The report said it is a Sinhalese word for 'eye' or 'hole'. A newspaper in English the next day in a report said it means 'hole' or 'eye' in Sinhalese. The origin of the word as laid out in the reports stands little chance to be correct. And the train of thought is perhaps influenced by the analogy that the cyclone had an eye, which is typical of all strong tropical cyclones with an area of sinking air at the centre.

The Sinhalese word for 'eye' is what could be written as 'aesa,' with the first syllable 'ae' pronouncing 'a' as in ash, and the second 'sa' pronouncing with a neutral relase of the vowel. The Sinhalese word for 'hole' is 'sidura.' But that does not help in this argument as the name given to the cyclone has been contributed by Oman, and that too in Arabic. Other names Oman has provided for the series are Baaz, Ward, Mujan, Hudhud, Nada, Luban and Maha.

In keeping with the table of names of tropical or subtropical cyclones in the North Indian Ocean, internationally agreed on and valid between mid-2004 and 2009, the system that developed near the Andaman islands on November 9 as an area of disturbed water and dissipated over the eastern Himalaya on November 16 after striking Bangladesh packing a speed of 240kmph officially at 5:00pm (Bangladesh Time) was christened Sidr, from as-sidrah or as-sidr, the Arabic word for Ziziphus spina-christi, which is commonly known as jujube tree.

The sidr tree, also known as lote tree, Christ's thorn, or nabkh tree, is mentioned in the Qur'an. The tree is also mentioned in Ibn Sina's Cannon of Medicine (al-Qanun fi al-Tibb). In Oman, the crushed leaves of the sidr tree were used to clean the hair, a beauty-care product.

The next possible cyclone of the North Indian Ocean may be named as Nargis, contributed by Pakistan, or Abe, by Sri Lanka, or Khai-muk, by Thailand.

November 14, 2007

That that that does not matter

Standard grammatical norms are in many cases not applied to the writing and editing as English, which is not the cradle tongue of the writers and editors of the Dhaka-based newspapers, remains something to be learnt --- the harder the way, the better the standards adhered to. The house style asks the editors and writers to drop 'that' in cases where it is not important for meaning.

There are two such most-frequented contexts in English --- in relative clause and in that-clause. In both the cases, 'that,' where it does not add substantially to meaning, could be dropped. And the aspects of the grammar have their names too.

Grammatically speaking, the first case in which 'that' is dropped in a relative clause is called 'zero relative clause': 'this is the house Jack built' from 'this is the house that Jack built.' In the second case in which 'that' is dropped in a that-clause is called 'zero that-clause': 'he said he would be late' from 'he said that he would be late.'

A few editors at a review meeting said they should not follow the sequence of tenses when 'that' is dropped in a that-clause; dropping just a 'that' off a that-clause should not allow any writers or editors to flout the rule of the sequence of tenses, although some news agencies do that bit of flouting.

November 02, 2007

Apostrophe ess

A copy out of the desk had the headline printed in the newspaper as 'Court orders freeze on Dhaka Bank accounts of Abba's wife.' The mistake was spotted the next morning when the newspaper reached all its readers. This is an example of how mistakes develop at the layout unit, or on the stone, as they said in the olden days. In this case for instance, an editor, standing by the layout man with the page sprawling in QuarkXPress on the monitor before him, in passing said that this time it was Abba(s)'s wife (abba is the Bangla word for 'father') and the man doing the layout somewhow thought the word should be changed from Abbas' to Abba's.

The repoter in the evening claimed the headline was printed as he wrote it the previous night. And the editor who corrected the copy defended the reporter and said the reporter had written Abbas's and he changed it to Abbas' in consultation with another editor who also thought 's after Abbas might be somewhat incorrect, in which the Associated Press copies might have a role as Abbas', to mean of Abbas, according to the Associated Press Stylebook, is the order.

The house style of the newspaper says: 'possessive in words and names ending in s normally takes an apostrophe followed by a second s: Jones's, James's, this is mostly in case of modern names: use the plural apostrophe where it helps: Mephistopheles' rather than Mephistopheles's.'

The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr, published in 1918, says: 'Form the possessive singular of nouns with 's. Follow this rule whatever the final consonant.... This is the usage of the United States Government Printing Office and of the Oxford University Press. Exceptions are the possessives of ancient proper names in -es and -is, the possessive Jesus''

The textbook Practical English Grammar by AJ Thomson and AV Martinet also says: 'classical names ending in s usually add only the apostrophe... other names ending in s can take 's or the apostrophe alone.' Both forms are correct. The newspaper prescribes its editors, and writers, to make the distinction between the ancient names and the modern ones. Abbas is a man modern, when it comes to grammar.

October 25, 2007

Beyond denotations, thoughts

This was for the second time a report contained the word 'ancient' to mean such an old party as the Awami League. In a report earlier, 'ancient' was used to mean 'old' pipelines (Posting on June 14, 2007 'Ancient pipelines and ancestors'). When people around were asked how old they thought the party was, everyone started counting from 1949 when on June 23 the party was founded at a convention of a faction of the Bengal Provincial Muslim League.

Dictionaries define the word 'ancient' as 'of or relating to a remote period, to a time early in history.' The reporter might have thought anything before his birth, which was in remote past as he could recall nothing of such incidents, was ancient. The dictionary is at fault; it has not given any timeline for being ancient. Dictionaries usually talk about denotations, but the people who trade in words should also think about the connotations associated.

An editor the same day, or the night, to be precise, wrote that some people had gathered at a place at the news of 'the unnoticed closure of a factory.' How can a factory be closed without being noticed? He readily punched in the word 'unnoticed' in the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary the program, where the definition flashed 'without being seen or noticed' with two examples, still having in his mind that 'noticed' meant 'something or someone not served with notices' (Posting on March 22, 2007, 'To notice').

October 23, 2007

An order in adjectives

Many reports that land at the news desk, and also many reports that get in print in other Dhaka-based newspapers, have the adjectives out of order, especially when it comes to the use of adjectival and nominal adjectives --- a situation in which an adjective and a noun modify a noun. Reports often contain 'Dhaka University acting vice-chancellor' 'Awami League acting president,' or 'Sylhet acting mayor.'

A common rule of the English grammar, although exceptions might be around, is that central adjectives, which are gradeable and more adjectival than denominal adjectives, which retain the properties of nouns, are placed farther before nouns. The more adjectival the word is, the farther from noun it is; the less adjectival, or more nominal, the word is, the nearer to the noun it is. The phrases should aways be 'acting Dhaka University vice-chancellor,' 'acting Awami League president' or 'acting Sylhet mayor.'

There is one more point to consider. The phrase unit is Dhaka university vice-chancellor and the word acting modifies the unit, being placed before the whole of it; there is no space for split adjectivisation when someone still holding a position entrusts the deputy to stand in to work as the incumbent during a period of absence.

October 22, 2007

Review and reviewal

An editor replaced the word 'review' with 'reviewal' in a story on a group of administration officials seeking a process to be reviewed. A second look to modify the headline for fitting in the designated space on the page by another editor, who found the word to be a bit news-unlikely, resulted in a mild debate on whether the word should be retained. The word is not there in practical dictionaries, which means it would sound a bit uncommon for newspaper readers. The word is there in Chamber's and in the Concise Oxford Dictionary. It is also there in the Random House and in Webster's. While some sources define it as only being 'the act of reviewing,' some others also tagged the word 'a review' in the definition, after 'the act of reviewing.' A dictionary web site says it is 'the act or an instance of reviewing,' which it lists as the seventh definition of the word 'review.' The Random House Unabridged lists its first instance in text in 1640-50 as a word made up of review + al, a suffix (< Latin -āle (singular), -ālia (plural), nominalised neuter of -ālis) which forms nouns from verbs, usually of French or Latin origin. Revue is French from which the word 'review' has derived. The first editor said the context demands the sense of 'the act of reviewing,' which others differed on and said it meant 'review,' for which the -al suffix was not necessary. Yet some others thought it was an archaic word, but none of the dictionaries listed it as archaic; and its continues to be in use in modern, general English. The word is found in governemnt documents (the planning commission favoured reviewal of the plan) in countries where the language is English and even in a New York Times report on court proceedings (... a writ of certiorari for the reviewal of the action of the tax commissioners). The word is there in text on web sites on technology (In reviewal of nursing staffs on how to deal with patients), academic web sites (peer reviewal) and writeups and even in few blogs, which suggest the word is not so unfamiliar an entity for people to avoid using it. It has also been found in personal e-mail communications (I am in reviewal of a book at the moment). The word was let in print, for the second time. Should writers and editors of newspapers use it? If the context warrants 'the act of reviewing,' yes: as in reviewal fee, the first reviewal study or in the reviewal process, the typeface is a 14th century reviewal, etc. But in almost all the case the suffix-less 'review' should do, in news stories, at least. Some other such words ending in -al are revisal, surveyal or disbursal --- all nominalised forms of verbs, which are also nouns, with the -al suffix; and yet some others are refusal, denial or dismissal -- formed from the verbs, which are not in use as nouns in associated senses. The word 'reviewal' may have fallen out of fashion in everyday use (a Google search returns less than 20,000 instances). But it certainly has continued to be in use in literary text (a critical reviewal of War and Peace, a reviewal copy of the film, which according to Chamber's could be replaced with 'review copy'), legal documents (a reviewal of an agreement, upon attorney's reviewal, the draft will be sent to the commission), or elsewhere. There should also be a difference between 'a review proposal' and 'a reviewal proposal.' But the state of not being reviewed can readily be called 'non-reviewal' of books or plans, as the verbal sense is obviously dominant. 'Reviewal' is also used to mean funeral visitation or viewing: if there is no reviewal and burial occurs within 72 hours of death, embalming is not necessary.

September 27, 2007

Swindlers who drug and loot people

In news for quite a long time though, gangs that drug and loot people, especially passengers on buses and trains, have made Dhaka front-page headlines for a few months. The gang members offer passengers biscuits or similar food items containing sedatives and even drinking water mixed with intoxicants to drug them unconscious before decamping with what the passengers have on them. Among the policemen and in Bangla newspapers, such gangs are known as 'ajnan (or agyan, in popular spelling, or even oggan, in the basest form) party.' As the use of the phrase 'agyan party' sounds a bit awkward in English, a decision was made on 'drugger' (from 'to drug' people) to be used instead. This also sounded awkward and the word is not in dictionaries in the sense. But it kept being used with no other appropriate words or phrases around. Besides, 'drugger' in today's fringe English means 'someone among the friends doing drugs; a polite, friendly way of calling someone like a drug addict' or 'someone who calls in the middle of the night and, being sentimental, talks for minutes even if the mobile is on voice mail or he is not being listened to.' Some proposed the use of 'doper' which is also an agent noun with a sense of intransitivity, someone who smokes marijuana on a regular basis.

A report in an Indian newspaper in 1999, as searched online, called such a group 'biscuit gang' and explained the 'modus operandi' of the gang in a sentence down the second paragraph. Another report in an Indian newspaper said 'the police busted a drugging gang operating in Delhi.' Yes, 'drugging gang.' This is perhaps the best of the options, and 'drugging gangsters.' 'Doping gang' might do, but the instance of the phrase is rarer, compared with the instance of 'drugging gang.' But it is not the drug gang, which will mean a gang involved in the traffic in drug substances. An Agence France-Presse report, datelined Bangkok, January 8, 1997 was headlined 'Thai police investigating tourist drugging gang,' but the copy carefully avoided using the phrase and used narration to describe the event.

September 26, 2007

Hardly hit or hit hard

An out-of-the-station writer in a report on a clash between villagers and a gang of smugglers said 'the villagers earlier hardly protested against the operation of the gang.' He meant 'strongly,' of course. The wrong use of the adverb was spotted and corrected. But another use of the word escaped (?) the editor's eye and this time it was a copy by an in-house writer. The report said 'the poor are hardly affected by the spiralling prices of essential commodities.' He meant 'badly affected' or 'hit hard.'

September 25, 2007

On the loss of hyphens

A news agency report on the de-hyphenation of 16,000 words in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary said the words lost hyphens in the age of the internet. They have either become one word or two separate words. The report contained examples in a sentence: 'Bumble-bee is now bumblebee, ice-cream is ice cream and pot-belly is pot belly.' But the one-word example of 'bumblebee' came out hyphenated, not as used in forming compound noun, but in a way hyphen gets in between two portions of the word when they break down on the edge of a column.

It could perhaps be corrected when the newspaper pages come out on 'whites (paper)' as proof copies for corrections. But hardly a story is read then unless the headline strikes a big mismatch.

September 24, 2007

Indifference of a different sort

The prefix in- does not always make words antonyms. People of different sorts can be equally indifferent and there can be indifference of different sorts. The prefix does not negate the meaning. The draft of a report on electoral reforms dialogues between the election authorities and some political parties, who have entered into an alliance, should have said the parties would put forth identical proposals on reforms. But the writer came up with the word 'indifferent' [in the sense of not being different] to mean 'identical': 'The party on Friday decided to submit indifferent proposals for electoral reforms with all the components of the alliance during the dialogue scheduled for November 4.' One of the editors burdened with load beyond his capacity suggested the word 'indifferent' when the writer asked for the English word of the Bangla expression.

September 14, 2007

Troublesome -ages

Four -ages keep causing inconveniences to writers and editors. Somehow writers and editors take 'damages' for plural of 'damage,' which it is not. Damages are given for a damage done; they are not to mean 'damage in more cases than one.' Another -age, wastage, often appears in problematic contexts. There can nothing be something as 'industrial wastages.' Wastage means the process of wasting, loss by wear or waste or an amount that is wasted or lost by wear. Yet another -age, bondage, is often used in wrong context in reports. Writers prefer to write bondage (the state of a slave or a prisoner) as it sounds more formal than bond, a word which should be correct in most contexts. People can be kept in bondage but no two friendly people can have bondage between them; there should rather be a bond of friendship. There is another -age, a jargon for 'link' in most cases, that troubles writers, and, of course, editors. Linkage is often used in the first meaning of the word 'link' --- (someone or) something that connects two or more people, but the primary meaning of the word linkage, the process of linking or being linked, is often stashed away to be expressed in some complex phrases. When an organisation 'forms linkages with' ethnic minority groups, it, in effect, carries out activities or shares information with them. Forming linkages 'struts and frets,' but other choices signify comprehensibility.

September 08, 2007

Opertationalize... conditionalities

One on the desk with commendable ability at editing business stories, asked by another, with little understanding of financial matters, about the meaning of a phrase that was in the story, said 'classified loans' meant 'bad debts.' That's that. The writer should have changed the phrase in the first place, at least for common newspaper readers. Loans that are substandard, doubtful or loss are collectively known as 'classified loans.' But why should common readers bother about such perfect definitions?

Such pretentious stand-ins, out of social development and financial harangues, keep coming in news reports, which, despite insistence by writers and permissiveness by editors, are best avoided. A report the other day said some funds for flood victims were 'operationalized.' Other such words most frequently used in reports are 'conditionalities,' 'modaliites' and 'utilize,' which should have long been funeralized.

Simple, easy words for 'operationalize' are 'to carry out,' 'to work on,' 'to arrange' or even 'to do.' 'The plan will be operationalized in 18 months' time' could easily be rephrased as 'the plan will be carried out in a year and a half.' Development organisations define 'conditionality' as the principle that access to new loans, aid and debt relief should be conditioned on meeting certain conditions, which is nothing but a condition. The Tribune of India in an editorial in August 1998 wrote 'The World Bank and the IMF gladly offered to help, but with conditions -- or conditionalities in their jargon -- attached.'

Similar is the case with the word 'modality.' 'The programme will operationalize its objectives through two primary modalities' means nothing but 'the programme will work in two ways.' 'The government is planning expansion in the modalities of shelter for flood victims' in effect means nothing but 'the government will offer more kinds of shelter for flood victims.'

Another word that has been consistently abused is 'utilize' which means 'to make use of.' This over-used word is used in place of 'use' in most cases. 'To utilize,' which means to make do with something not normally used for the purpose, is not a synonym of 'to use' with classy cachet --- 'he used the laptop to write the report as his desktop is out of order' and 'he utilised the laptop in the library as a pillow.' The difference is clear.

August 09, 2007

Fixing and fixation

A report on the decision of a government committee on gas prices caused quite a stir. The report was on the price 'fixation' committee which 'fixated' the prices of gas. One of the seniors at the editors' weekly meeting asked them not to use the word 'fixate' to mean 'fix.' There is the catch.

Modern dictionaries do not list 'fixate' as a verb, they consider 'fixated' an adjective to mean 'unable to stop thinking about something.' The Concise Oxford Dictionary lists 'fixate' as a verb to mean 'direct one's gaze on' or 'to arrest at immature stage, causing abnormal attachment to persons or things,' quite the one the modern dictionaries mean by the adjective 'fixated.'

Although the COD has 'to settle, determine, specify (price, date, place)' as a definition of the verb 'fix,' any fixing is usually a crime, as in 'price fixing allegations against four importers...' or 'price fixing prevention act,' or even 'EU fines in price-fixing cases can run as high as....' Instances are there that 'price fixing' is also used not to mean crimes, as in 'the bill includes an agency or distribution agreement, but does not include a price fixing agreement.' When in doubt if fixing prices hints at a crime, in meaning, there is one way out --- 'the government has set the gas price at... .'

But what about 'fixation?' The COD says it could mean fixing, being fixed, coagulation, act or process of being fixated and (popularly) obsession. Modern dictionaries say it means 'an inability to stop thinking about something or someone, or an unnaturally strong interest in them.' If fixation could mean fixing or being fixed, which also has a meaning of specifying prices, it could be used in that sense, although such instances are rare outside the Indian subcontinent. In India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, the word 'fixation' to mean 'setting (the prices)' is in wide use: milk price fixation committee, fare fixation committee, minimum wages fixation commiittee, etc. The 'fixation' has been used in a Western Australian legislation: Wheat Products (Prices Fixation) Act 1938. Note the plural 'prices.'

A gas price committee or a committee on gas prices could have been used, if the people invovled with the committees and the journalists covering the news had not been fixated on the use of 'fixation.'

July 31, 2007

-chari, -swari and -skhali

Some spell Khagrachari, Dhakeswari and Maheskhali while some others prefer Khagrachhari, Dhakeshwari and Maheshkhali. The maps prepared by the governemnt agencies show that the first series correctly spells the placenames. In old documents, h was almost always dropped in -swari and -skhali. The Banglapedia has Khagrachhari, but it is Khagrachari in the Wikipedia.

Rivers are in spate

The flood warning centre forecasts a heavy flooding as river heights keep increasing. every day, because of downpour for days, also upstream across borders. But reports keep coming and out in newspapers with river names misspelt. Most newspapers write Karatoa, Someshwari, Kushiara, Gomati and Kapotakkho. A 1995 map of the river system spells the names as Karatoya, Someswari, Kusiyara, Gumti and Kobadak. A map of a later period, not attributed to any government agency, spells the names as Karatoya, Someshwari, Kushiyara, Gumti and Kobadak. Someshwari and Kushiyara are a kind of attempted correction, deviating from the customary spelling. They should spell as they spell on government maps. The River Sitalakhya, still used by many, has now been changed to Shitalakshya by many others.

William Wilson Hunter, Director General of Statistics for India, developed a system for the writing fo proper names in 1860s and published it in Hunter's Guide to the Orthography of Indian Proper Names, from Calcutta in 1871. The Indian government accepted the system with some modifications in 1872 and it was used in the official Imperial Gazetteer of India (1881 onwards). 'In July 2004, Bangladesh confirmed to the United Kingdom its continuing use of the Hunterian system for the romanisation of geographical names, though since the 1980s the Survey of Bangladesh has no longer incorporated the macron to indicate vowel length.' This statement of an online report of UN Group of Experts on Geographical Names of October 2006 indicates that Someswari and Kusiyara are the correct spellings.

What is striking is that most river system maps has the northern region river spelt as Tista, but Teesta, for no reason, is in wide use. Tista is written Teesta in newspapers and it has been so spelt in the Banglapedia and the Wikipedia. The Bangla spelling even does not have a long i, which could account for ee in the English spelling. One probable explanation: the communication network map of the same year names the river as Teesta.

Tangua Haor, Char Kamrangi, Kantaji Temple

Newspapers often write Tanguar Haor and Kamrangir Char. Some even write Mirersarai and Fakirerpool. Many old documents have the first two names as Tangua Haor or Bil or even Beel and Char Kamrangi. And the last two names as Mirsarai and Fakirapool, dropping the Bangla genitive form -er or -r. Tanguar is the genetive form of Tangua (of Tangua, the name of the place), so is Kamrangir of Kamrangi (of Kamrangi, the name of the [once] char land). Is it extremely necessary to retain the -er or -r of Bangla in English? Tangua Haor and Char Kamrangi sound natural in English. A 1913 railway map has Char Kamrangi written in Bangla. Kamrangir Char might be a corruption of Char Kamrangi. A 1995 map of the Bangladesh river systems prepared by the government shows Tangua Beel, without the Bangla genitive. The GEOnet Names Server has both Charkamrangi and Kamrangirchar, but it has only Tangua Bil, and no Tanguar.

What is known as Kantajir Mandir in Bangla is written Kantaji Temple (not Kantajir Temple, which is also prevalent) in English. The Banglapedia and the Wikipedia have Kamrangir Char. But both of them have Kantaji Temple, not Kantajir Temple. Another entry in the Banglapedia has Kantaji's temple (note the lower case t that temple begins with, in this case).

Mirsarai (or Mir Serai?) and Fakirapool are as prevalent as Mirersarai and Fakirerpool.

July 23, 2007

Mother tongue intervention

Reports came in with phrases such as 'the people who are against the decision are mass enemies' [ganashatru] (enemies to the people), 'he took his birth in 1952' [janma grahan] (was born), 'villages went into the wombs of the river' [nadir gharbha] (washed away by river erosion), and 'the government is planning a single-mouth system of education' [ek-mukhi shiksha] (unified or single-track education), 'I express my firm faith that I can do this' [drirha bishwas] (I am confident), 'he used to make girls prostitute' (he forced girls into prostitution), and the like.

Linguistically speaking, such instances are called mother tongue intervention. Learners of foreign languages try to frame phrases in keeping with the order, sense or syntax of the first language. Culture translation happen in words, but in phrases --- expression for expression, or expression for sense.

Once an editor corrected a copy using with the phrase 'stand in elections' which was, the next day, wrongly thought of as an example of mother tongue intervention by many. But it was not.

Slips and bad words

In the time when typewritten Dhaka University question papers were printed using cyclostyle, it were not unusual, but rare, to come by words such as pubic and sodom, which are in fact public and seldom. The occurence of pubic, definitely a case of mistyping or rather missing out on the l (ell) in typing, was there in copy as 'the ministry is going to spend pubic money...' That fits in with government officials who have grown on a habit of thinking public money of having no worth, said an editor, in reply.

Another report said that a senior leader failed when he tried to reach another leader, who is female, 'over telephone or physically.' Admitting, in public, to reaching such a woman physically might not sound sound in the case of such a man. It should have been 'in person,' with a tinge of Latin, or 'personally.'

Bombs either explode or are exploded. But they can also walk about and do the daily chores as the police, in some reports, 'seize active bombs' which are later detonated or defused.

July 17, 2007

The O syndrome

Placenames, even the names of people, in Bangladesh, may be in other places too where English is not the first language, and some Bangla words used in English have an eerie habit of getting respelt over time, especially in newspapers where language corrupts most. A few weeks ago, a budding editor asked if Amar (Ekushey) should be spelt with an 'o' as 'amor' (Italian for love, not a bad idea!). But is it not likely to leave people, not initiated to Bangla, to pronounce the word rhyming with 'labor' (AmE spelling for BrE labour)? Ay, there's the rub. The spelling of a foregin word in English should not chime in with the pronunciation. No one writes 'fraca' for 'fracas' (French), just because the -s remains silent. It is to let people know that the words are foreign and they need to put in a bit of effort to spell and pronounce them.

About a decade and a half ago, some city places were spelt Dhanmandi (dhan, rice and mandi, open-air farmers' market), Maghbazar (habitation of the Maghs) or even Mahakhali (maha, great). Old maps and some city corporation road signs, in some cases, still speak of the fact.

A place in Gazipur was spelt Tangi in a railway network map of the mid-1940s. The place now spells Tongi. What is now Lalmonirhat was Lalmanirhat in a similar map. There were once two standards: the way the railway spells them and the way the postal service spells them. When one of them wrote Paksey, another wrote Pakshey and both were considered correct. But they too have now ceased to be standards as the people working on such chorse have conveniently been slackers over time.

July 05, 2007

Conscentisation, Paulo Freire's

A photograph on a seminar needed to be captioned. The banner hanging behind the speakers seated on the dais had words such as 'concentisation' and 'sensitisation.' An editor wrote the caption and checked if he wrote the word 'concentisation' the way it spelt on the banner. He did. But doubtful he was still about the existence of such a word as it was not listed in dictionaries kept handy. He asked another, who was also unsure about the existence of the word, but somewhat nodded in favour of its passage. The word could not also be found in Chambers.

A Google search showed it should spell 'conscentisation,' which is the process of the development of critical consciousness through reflections and action, a popular education and social concept developed by Brazilina Paulo Freire 'to address a state of in-depth understanding about the world and resulting freedom from oppression.'

July 02, 2007

Home, house, and residence

The police arrested on the day the rickshaw puller at his residence in a Brahmanbaria village. The law enforcers arrested the chief conservator in possession of a huge sum of money at his home at the forest office headquarters. The leader was confined to her home on Wednesday. After a long break, she went back to her house to stay with her husband and children. --- reports keep coming in with mindless use of the words --- home, house and residence.

Residence, which is a place of dwelling, is often for a certain length of time, especially of a person of rank or distinction. A house is a strucutre serving as a dwelling. It can mean a burrow of a rato ro even an assembly. And 'Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in' by Robert Frost. It is place of dwelling with family ties. The connotation of home is wider than that of house and the word is employed to mean houses which aspire to be home, such as a nursing home or a foster home. Apart from such connotations, good dictionaries list several other definitions for each of the words, sometimes one overlapping another.

So in most cases, the police raid on the house of ordinary people, high government officials live in their residences, someone is confined to a house, and people get back home to spend time with family.

June 30, 2007

Japanese muggles ...

When a page editor handed in a section with a Tokyo-datelined Agence France-Presse story headlined 'Japanese muggles out in force for Harry Potter premiere,' what dawned on just at the moment was that a Japanese was muggling... Not reading any of the Harry Potter books was at the source of the inference.

The word in the Oxford English Dictionary has found a new meaning: 'muggle, n. In the fiction of J[oanne] K[athleen] Rowling: a person who possesses no magical powers. Hence in allusive and extended uses: a person who lacks a particular skill or skills, or who is regarded as inferior in some way,' or simply a non-wizard. That makes a good play on the word in the headline.

The entry in the OED already has some definitions --- a 12th-century Kentish word for a tail resembling that of a fish (muggles heo hafden, they all had little muggles); a 16th-century word for a young woman or a sweetheart (Oh the parting of vs twaine, Hath causde me mickle paine, and I shall nere be married, Vntill I see my muggle againe); and a 1930s word for marijuana, or marijuana cigarette, used frequently in plural, hence muggle-head, a marijuana smoker.

June 27, 2007

Since, for, despite, and till

In most cases, the reporters, and even the editors, use these words in a way that is not quite typical of standard English.

'The death toll from the landslide rose to 126 since Monday' and 'the department is working on the project since Thursday' are two common instances of the abuse of the word. The word 'since' to express a point of time should never be used with any tense other than the perfect. In cannot be used in the simple past tense as in the first example and in the present progressive tense as in the second.

'Since the sky is cloudy, you should carry an umbrella.' 'Since' is used in the sense of 'as' or 'because.' In UK English, 'as' is preferrable, and in US English, 'since' is the order.

'Since' and 'as' are weaker forms of 'because;' 'since' and 'as' means 'given that' when the reason is not very important. 'Because,' 'for the reason that,' 'due to,' and 'owing to the fact that' are more specific.

So is the case with the word 'for,' as in 'I am waiting here for a rickshaw for two hours.' This word to mean a period of time should also be only used in the perfect tense --- past, present or futrue. The use of 'for' for 'because' is a bit literary and is hard to come by in newspaper reports.

'The corporation pulled down the building despite the owner appealed for time extension.' The word 'despite' cannot join two fully functional complete clauses. A similar construction dropped by in a copy a few days ago: 'The ministry took up the project following the directorate carried out a survey.' In this cae, the word 'following' should have been changed to 'after' with the second clause in the past perfect tense.

The word 'till' is used to mean 'up to the time of,' 'before,' or 'up to the time that or when.' A copy a few weeks ago contained a sentence like 'the fair will begin till April 10.' It took a few seconds for the editor to understand that it was a perfect case of a novel use of the word 'till' for 'on.'

June 26, 2007


Drafting of a report is important, for reporters, editors and newspapers. Bad drafting lets verbosity creep in. And editors at times are loath to rephrase sentences. An unpublished example of verbosity is: 'At least half of the country's garment workers, who stitch the robust export growths, are deprived of festival bonus as required laws and collective bargaining agencies that realise such allowances are absent.' The 32-word sentence can easily be rephrased into one with 23 words: 'A half of the garment workers are not given festival allowances in the absence of related laws and trade unionism in the factories.'

A published example, which was not a report by the way: 'The people of the country could not be undaunted from the worries of further price spiral, though the government has assured that there was no possibility of price spiral of essentials during the month of Ramadan.' A bit difficult to understand, too. What the writer wanted to say is: 'People are worried about fresh increase in essential commodity prices in Ramadan although the government said there was no such possibility.

Another (published): 'The administration should fully utilize the extensive BUET research done so far to streamline the Eid traffic and to enable the bringing down the number of accidents considerably along with the suffering of the passengers.' It could be rephrased: 'The administration should use BUET researches to streamline Eid traffic, minimize the number of accidents and reduce people's sufferings.'

Former something...

In a report on a corruption suspect's being remanded in custody, a reporter described the man, a government officer, as 'former something...' He has been arrested by the law men and has been remanded in custody for interrogation, but he has neither resigned nor has he lost his job. Asked to explain, the reporter said he picked up the expression from the edited report published that day. An easy excuse on part of the reporters for which the editors are to blame. The mistake slipped through the editor's mindless correction and it was picked up by the reporter the next time.

Pet expressions again

There are expressions which are better dispensed with. The posting 'Pet expressions' had two such expressions. Another of them is 'collide head-on.' 'The bus collided head-on with another bus coming from the opposite direction.' Buses travelling in the same direction cannot collide head-on. A out-of-station report on an accident said 'a bus collided head-on with a train.' Was the bus running on the railway or the train on the road? It seems people always unknowingly, wrongfully and unlawfully collate 'head-on' with 'collide.' Writers shoudl stand guard agianst such use.

One more such word is 'separate.' 'The police filed two separate cases' or 'the law enforcers in two separate drives.' Two cannot be single; they are, of course, separate.

All of/on a sudden

An editor used the phrase 'all on a sudden' in a report, but another, who was asked to read it for the second time, changed it to 'all of a sudden,' as he found it in the dictionary lying on the table. Every student inside seven or eight years in his schooling in Bangladesh at a point in had to learn the phrase, 'all on a sudden,' along with 'all of a sudden,' both of which mean 'suddenly.' The matter did not end there. Only that the OALDCE has ceased to include 'all on a sudden' was settled at the moment.

A Google search showed there is disagreement among the purists on if it should be 'all of the sudden' as in 'all of a sudden,' there is an indefinite article before an adjective, which is not congruent with the rules of the English language. According to online sources, the phrase was first used in the language in 1558 as 'upon the soden,' which became 'of a sudayn' in 1596 and 'all of a sudden' in 1680. It clearly shows that 'upon the sudden' made its way to 'all of a sudden.' But is 'all on a sudden' wrong? No, it is not.

Towards the end of the 19th century, writers of repute used both 'all on a sudden' and 'all of a sudden' in the same text. Both the forms are correct. According to practical dictionaries, 'all on a sudden' is archaic, and 'all of a sudden' is on its way of being archaic. The Authorised Version Bible does not contain any of them; it has used the word 'suddenly' instead, which now seems to be in currency.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary suggests (all) of/on a sudden and Arthur Conan Doyle towards the 1890s, on several occasions, used 'of a sudden' as in '...yet when Alleyne had passed him, of a sudden out of pure devilment, he screamed out a curse at him.' (The White Company)

The unabridged Oxford also lists on/upon a/the sudden, at a/the sudden and even in a sudden, which are obsolete variants.

June 21, 2007

Killed in lightning strike

Newspapers are coming up with reports every other day on people dying in lightning strike during this season of thunderstorms, or Bengal nor'wester. One of the editors the other day asked about the correct expression for people dying when they are struck by lightning.

A Google search brings up a few constructions, but they are not consistent with what the Dhaka newspaper editors or writers use. The choices are --- killed in lightning strike, die in lightning strike, killed by lightning strike, die by lightning (strike, only in headlines), killed by thunderbolt and killed in thunderbolt strike. There may be other choices too. But these few seem to be standard expressions.

June 14, 2007

Ancient pipelines and ancestors

It is too bad, if old becomes ancient and fathers become ancestors. A report the other day was on the water supply agency's need for replacement of its ancient pipelines which account for a fourth the total network. But if they were ancient, they indicated to about a thousand years' existence of the agency in this part of the human habitation --- quite an old modern civilisation. The word 'ancestor' is also often applied to people who are just fathers of fathers --- grandfathers, they are. Old is old and ancient ancient. So are grandfathers and ancestors.

Top corrupt as in top terror

One of the reporters once asked one of the editors why the phrase 'top corrupt' he had written the previous night was changed to 'most corrupt' in the copy published that morning. The reporter likened the use of 'top corrupt' to 'top terror' as a defence. Yes, but they are not the same. First, 'terror' is a noun and 'corrupt' an adjective. And using 'most corrupt' does not change the meaning as only the most corrupt will top the list of corruption suspects, not corrupt suspects, which is certainly wrong, or suspected corrupt, which is also wrong.

June 11, 2007

misQuote of kinds

‘Political party leaders should have patience as people are not getting busy for the elections,’ he said --- wrote a reporter, quoting an election commissioner. But why should people get busy with elections? The election commissioners are still there, alive and kicking. People can at best become impatient or anxious about why elections are getting delayed. Nothing more, on part of the voters.

A man who had to stomach a great many bad words after he had said something in public much later said, 'It is dangerous whether I talk or not.' --- wrote another. A simple inquiry revealed what the man had said: 'I am at fault if I talk and I am also at fault I do not.'

Quotations tend to get distorted on their way from one language to another, when the agents are weak in, almost, both of them.

May 12, 2007


An editor at the desk the other day asked what should be the word to mean 'to cause something to happen earlier,' the reply was: to earlierise. The editor who asked the question seemed a bit sceptical of the existence of the word. An instant search on Google, with -ise, returned fewer than a hundred instances and with -ize, there were fewer than 150 instances; but none of the instances gave the meaning. Only an online dictionary said it was a transitive verb; but there was no meaning. Dictionaries at hand have not listed the verb. A search later in the 1968 edition of Chamber's Twentieth Century Dictionary showed 'earlierise, v.t. to do at a date earlier than that arranged.' The verb is back-formed, but a verb that is.

Pet expressions

'The bus fell into a roadside ditch after the driver lost control over the steering wheel.' Of course, he had lost control. The accident would not have happened, otherwise.

'The learned judge acquitted one of the accused in the case as his guilt was not proved beyond doubt.' Judges are not that dumb as to acquit the accused proved guilty beyond doubt.

Both the expressions should be banished, immediately.

May 01, 2007

It's the principle

The News and Observer blog on grammar had the April 23 entry headlined 'It's the principal,' which quoted an Associated Press report that said 'payments of both interest and principle...' The other day a news draft landed at the news desk which said 'the Election Commission has in pricipal decided to....' Again, 'principal' and 'principle,' as in the college principle, have so often been interchanged in the news drafts and less so in the final versions that they have come to be concidered pet peeves, only to no dismay of the writers and editors.

Kal baishakhi or Nor'wester

Is nor'wester, as for kal baishakhi which is thunderstorm of a kind, part of the standard English expressions? asked a guest editor in the newsroom the other day as he had seen the word nor'easter in use in reports on storms coming from the United States or Canada and inferred that the word nor'wester is a northern hemisphere variation on nor'easter.

Lookup in the dictionaries and search on the Google failed to establish the existence of any such word as used for a storm. But before going into details on nor'wester, it would be better to have the word nor'wester, or northeaster in full form, defined as a cyclonic storm of the East Coast of North America, so called because the winds over the coastal area preceding the storm's passage are from the northeast. They may occur at any time of the year but are most frequent and most violent between September and April. And there are very insignificant debates where nor'easters should be called nor'westers on the belief that the most strongest winds are not from the east or northeast, which is not true. In northeaster, strong northeast winds are generated by coastal storms and as winds circulate counterclockwise around the centres of low pressures, the areas to the northwest of the centre get the northeast winds.

All the defining instances call northwester, or nor'wester for short, kind of northwesterly wind, and not storm, typical of New Zealand that blows over the Canterbury Plains and is known as Canterbury nor'westers, which is hot, usually 30 to 35 degrees Celsius, incredibly dry and very strong wind which can blow for days on end, typically occurring between . A good nor'wester can also turn crops literally, sucking the moisture out of everything. In Ch. IV of Jack London's Adventure, the text reads: 'By the second day of the northwester, Sheldon was in collapse from his fever.'

The online glossary of the American Meteorological Society defines kal baishakhi as a short-live squall at the onset of the southwest monsoon (April--June) in Bengal, with a bit of technical details from a 1938 paper, Nature of 'Nor'westers' of Bengal and their similarity with others, by Bn Banerji. The article title has nor'westers in quotation marks. A NASA web site says, 'In Bangladesh and adjacent portions of India a type of storm known as a "Nor'wester" occasionally occurs in the spring.' The word in quotations marks does again indicate that it was not a synonym proper or proper synonym of kal baishakhi. A US Navy document on Bay of Bengal storm forecast, which also has the word in quotation marks, says it is a severe type of thunderstorm, with strong squalls, typical of Bengal and is locally described as 'kal-baishakhi' or the 'fateful thing' of the month of Baishakh (April 15--May 15). There are thunder and lightning, followed by downpours of rain and sometimes hail, driven by strong winds, sometimes having almost hurricane force.

Few Indian newspapers have begun to use 'Bengal nor'wester,' although only in headline where the text contains the word storm or thunderstorm, to mean kal baishakhi as opposed to Canterbury nor'wester. I think this qualification of the word nor'wester goes perfectly well with the grammar and the context.

April 24, 2007

Clichéd collocations

A mob is always unruly, money is hard-earned, dacoity is daring, attack is grisly, killing is brutal and a murder is preplanned. On a similar note, a propositions are reiterated and conditions are always preconditions. A mindful reading of newspaper reports can make a long list of such collocations.

But a mob is, by definition, often unruly as it is not organised; money is almost always hard-erned, especially when it relates to the wages of day-labourers; dacoity, robbery in English proper, is almost always daring on part of the robbers and the word means larceny by threat of violence, which is ingredient of most robberies, sometimes resulting in the harm or murder of the victims; attack should look grizly; it might seem affection otherwise; killing is forcing a life to end its journey in this world and it should be brutal on any count; and a murder is in most cases (pre-)planned beforehand; it could otherwise be a case of homicide; and planning always PREfigures an incident; planning of an incident cannot take place after an incident.

Hurried literary flavour

News writing has customarily been (don't know if it has been any longer) considered to be 'literature in a hurry.' And the very proposition, known to all journalism students and their hangabouts, inspires the reporters and even the editors to show a bit of their literary flares, that too, often, with a touch of the easy-to-reach Shift + F7, which invokes a bare thesaurus within Microsoft Word.

There are a number of words that drafts are larded with, by reporters and editers alike, to make them read a bit literary. One such word is 'tiny.' Reporters write 'tiny traders,' very much of a private coin, in place of small traders or retailers and not to mean the people who are called midgets, and the clichéd 'tiny tots' for children. Another wrote that 'bilateral trade between the two countries amounts tiny.' One with high innovative faculty once wrote 'rotund aubergine' to distinguish, in a literary manner, as he explained, the kind of aubergine that is almost round from the kind that is taller, but also with round circumference. Another wrote 'molest' as a synonym for 'harass' in a report on a political arrest, of course with the help of the ubiquitous MS Word thesaurus. They are synonymous, in a sense, maybe; but when the police molest a political party leader aged above 60, the connotation only hints at the hardly-imagined permissiveness of society.

April 16, 2007

Someone 'took his' (was) 'birth' (born)

In the BBC television comedy series Mind Your Language, Barry Evans, who plays Jeremy Brown, a teacher of an English evening class for foreign students, asks the learners to 'take your [their] seats' one day and some of the students, probably not all, hold up high the chairs they stand behind, instead of being seated. To take someone's seat does not mean holding a chair or a bench, or even the floor of a house, it simply menas to be seated, but to the minds accustomed to English expressions and phrases. Every language has its own rule, or misrule, of expressions.

The verb 'take' was twice used in an unusual collocation, which could be spotted before the copy went to production. Much before a reporter did this, an editor wrote that 'someone took his birth in 1940.' That was a literal translation of the Bangla phrase for 'someone was born in 1940.' Although birth and death, and also marriage, are believed to be ordained, independent of the agents of the acts, in Bangla, birth is an action with transitivity done by the agent and not by God --- janma grahan kara. But such expressions signifying transitivity of mother or intransitivity of the action are also possible --- janma deoya or janma haoya. The editor and the reporter, for the moment, forgot the rules or misrules of the English language.

April 04, 2007

Amicus curiae... or the friend of court

Amicus curiae, or a friend of court, is one who is no party to the case and volunteers to help the court with his knowledge. Very often, the legal Latin phrase comes to be pluralised as 'amicus curies,' in newspapers published in English from Dhaka, which in fact should be 'amici curiae.' The writers or editors often forget that in Latin, the head word of the phrase is 'amicus' (friend) which turns into 'amici' (friends) in plural. The word is often encountered in different spellings in newspapers of Bangladesh.

March 28, 2007

The Supreme Court and its divisions

The highest court of law in Bangladesh is known as the Supreme Court, comprising the High Court division and the Appellate division. For reasons unknown, the Supreme Court building in Dhaka has always popularly been referred to as the High Court building, which should be written the Supreme Court building. The newspapers also, still for reasons unknown, write 'the High Court,' but 'the Appellate division of the Supreme Court,' and they also mean the Appellate division when they write the Supreme Court, as opposed to the High Court. If 'the High Court' works fine, 'the Appellate' should also do well. If the phrase 'the High Court' is the order, the phrase 'the Appellate division of the Supreme Court' is over-identification; and the other way round, 'the High Court' would be under-identification, if the 'the Appellate division of the Supreme Court' is the order. The newspapers are also less willing to write the word 'division' after 'the High Court,' but write 'the Appellate division' almost all the time .

In a report that was published in the business section of the newspaper, a story said the 'Supreme Court division of the Appellate division.' It was definitely a mistake on the part of the editor, but when the reporter was asked about it the next day, he replied he had seen it being so printed in other reports.

March 27, 2007

Snaker, tea-stall runner and spring friend

One of the reporters, who are innovative especially in coining words and expressions, once filed a report on the widow of a man. When the reporter was asked how the man died, he said the man just left her wife, and was alive, probably living with his second wife. Another report contained the word 'snaker' by which the reporter meant 'snake charmer.' Yet another report said the government during a drive against encroachment on governemnt land and occupation of public places fined a 'tea-stall runner' --- a man who was running a tea-stall. A weekly report on commoditiy prices printed 'aubergine' to mean 'okra' and the mistake slipped through the editors for months. The writer knew 'aubergine' meant 'okra' and the editor did not know anything of it; he passed it through as it came. One of them once wrote 'spring friend.' Asked to explain, he said he thought he had read it somewhere and used it to mean 'fair-weather friend.'

March 26, 2007

Enemies of the people

One of the reporters who cover political programmes, after attending a news briefing of a major political party, filed a report that quoted the party chief calling some people 'mass enemies,' probably on the analogy of 'mass arrest.' Clear enough, he wanted to mean 'enemy of the people' for what the party chief said in Bangla. Reading literature or even knowing the titles come of help. It's Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of the People.

Residential hotel and passenger bus

Just after evening in Cox's Bazar way back in 1994, a rickshaw puller pointed out a restaurant, where people eat, saying that it is different from a hotel, where people stay, to a group of two, out on the streets looking for an eatery. In reports, the editors often come across an expression --- 'residential hotel.' One of the pet explanations the writers put forth is that the word 'residential' has been used to distinguish it from "hotels" were people dine. Hey, that is restaurant --- altogether a different word. Strange, they never write 'residential houses' or 'residential residences' as houses could also be used for commerical or recreational purpose.

Another such expression that is often found even in the local wire copies is 'passenger bus.' There are passenger trains and goods trains. But nobody has ever heard of any buses used solely for carrying goods. Buses always carry passengers and even when they carry goods, they are known as buses, and not goods buses. So there is no space for writers to distinguish buses, carrying people, as 'passenger buses.'

March 22, 2007

To notice

Usually someting goes unnoticed or something gets noticed; something may even comes to someone's notice, when it is a noun. But on the trails of 'to aware' to mean to make people aware and 'to back' to mean to return, 'to notice' has often come to mean 'to issue notices to or to be served notices' as in, as reporters wrote, and editors allowed the mistake to pass through, probably unknowingly, 'the city corporation authorities said they had noticed the occupants before the eviction drive' or 'the occupants said they were not noticed earlier.' Another substandard English usage, inching its way towards the Bangladeshi version of the English language.

Respectively, separate, already and jointly

Respectively, separate, already and jointly are the most mis- and abused words in newspaper reports, more so in the drafts the reporters file for the desk. In about 90 per cent cases, the words can be safely dispensed with, without any compromise on the meaning. Reporters more often write, and editors often allow, sentences such as 'the deputy commissioner visited the school and the hospital respectively,' 'the man filed two separate petitions with the court,' 'the ministry have already sent the letter to the corporation,' and 'Dhaka University and Jahangirnagar University have jointly organised the debate.'

'Respectively' has no relevance in the first example as no two sets of things are correlated. Even when two sets are correlated with 'respectively,' a rephrasing can help in dispensing with the adverb: 'Shah Alam and Shahin Islam have been elected president and general secretary of the association respectively' can easily be rephrased 'Shah Alam has been elected president and Shahin Islam general secretary to the association.'

Reporters invariably use separate with the modifiers 'two' or 'three' as if 'three single petitions' could also be regarded as semantically correct. In most cases, 'already' loses its significance and it has become clichéd; and when we name two organisers of a single event, should we write that they have done it jointly?