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.