January 21, 2008

Sloppy substitute for 'after'

Grammarians are against the use of 'following' as a preposition; so are the stylebooks of newspapers which ask writers and editors to use 'after,' almost always. 'Following' needs a noun to agree with as this is the participle of 'to follow,' the verb: 'his promotion, following his hard work, was expected.' But 'following the verdict, the judge walked out of the courtroom' sounds awkward. 'After' could best express the meaning. It is also better to use 'in accordance with' in sentences such as 'following the High Court order, the government promulgated the ordinance.' 'As a result of' is better in places such as 'it came to my notice following a recent visit of the people concerned.' 'Following shower last night, the roads collected water' could be rephrased with 'in consequence of' for better. Although 'following' is regarded as a sloppy, and sometimes pretentious, substitute for 'after,' the onslaught of 'following' for 'after' might force its acceptance as a preposition, at least by descriptive grammarians.

January 16, 2008

The digit that sticks out or gets in

Someone can point a, or the, finger at someone else and someone else can equally give someone the finger for that, although giving someone the finger, done by raising the middle finger towards someone, is offensive, and obscene. But fingering someone can only be done with the consent of the person administered, otherwise, it might be considered a felony.

'To finger,' in the literary world, can mean to touch with the fingers, or play on (instruments) with the fingers; but the verb, in the world of slang, can mean to penetrate fingers into women's genitals.

A reporter wrote that the authorities had fingered some people for making troubles; in the standard meaning, this can be embarrassing for the troublemakers and in the other meaning, the authorities might be sued on charge of 'forced penetration with a foreign object.' Expressions matter, even if they involve fingers, or even fists.

Even after all these things, fingering someone is considered polite in the Unix world: 'finger <e-mail>' is the standard command to find out if the person with the e-mail address is logged in to a computer network.

January 14, 2008

Prior to... posterior to

'Prior to' as a preposition, many grammarians say, is close to non-English, although text that lands at the desk remains larded with the phrase. 'Prior to' also finds way to reports published in newspapers where English is the first language for most of the writers and editors, although most house styles advise them not to use it as a preposition. Almost all of the stylebooks say 'before' is simple.

Fowler's Dictionary of Modern Usage does not object to the use use "prior to" at best in cases where the connection between two events is 'more essential than the simple time relation.' Ernest Gowers in his The Complete Plain Words said: 'There is no good reason to use prior to as a preposition instead of before. Before is simpler, better known and more natural, and therefore preferable.' The stylebook of the Times asks reporters and editors not to use 'prior to,' but the newspaper keeps printing sentences with 'prior to' as a preposition, even sentences such as 'they were unbeaten here prior to today,' which sounds awkward.

John Bremner, a teacher of journalism at the University of Kansas, once asked, 'If you don't use posterior to, why use prior to? Would you say "Posterior to the game, we had a few drinks?" So why say "Prior to the game, we had a few drinks?" Make it: "Before and after (and even during) the game, we had a few drinks."'

Most stylebooks also ask the people on the writing and editing panel not to use the phrase 'ahead of' as a synonym for 'before' in temporal relation. The use of the phrase in 'she stands far ahead of him' or 'Bebo is marginally ahead of Facebook' in spatial context is permissible; its use also sounds sound in contexts such as 'she is far ahead of her time.' But its use in 'ahead of polls' as a synonym for 'before' is deprecated.

January 12, 2008

Burglary at bank

Dhaka newspapers keep calling the recent burglary at the Dhanmondi branch of the BRAC Bank a robbery. Why? Perhaps the huge amount of gold and money taken away by the gang led the editors, and the writers, to believe that it could be a robbery. Perhaps there are something else. Whatever the case is, this is a simple case of burglary. No one knew when the incident, detected early January 6, took place. None of the offended was present and there was no use of force; the roof and lockers were broken and money and gold were taken away.

Robbery is taking something away from someone by the use of force, threats or intimidation, committed in the presence of the victim. An unlawful entry of a building, when windows and doors are broken or forced, screens, walls or roofs broken and tools used or even when doors or windows remain unlocked, for a theft or felony is described as burglary. Larceny is burglary only when the entry is not illegal and forcible. Theft is often synonymous with larceny.

The Bangladesh Penal Code defines robbery as robbery when it is committed by less than five persons and dacoity when it is committed by five or more than five persons, punishable with imprisonment for varying periods. Henry Yule's Hobson-Jobson says, 'The term, being current in Bengal, got into the Penal Code. By law, to constitute dacoity, there must be five or more in the gang committing the crime.' In the English laws, the Bangladesh Law Commission in a report in 1998 said, robbery is synonymous with robbery and dacoity. The distinction is still maintained in the penal codes of India and Pakistan, in keeping with the continuity. The Indian Penal Code 1860 became the Pakistan Penal Code after 1947 and the Bangladesh Penal Code after 1971.

January 03, 2008

Literal use of figures of speech

There were jubilations. People were out on the streets at almost midnight. It was a cricket feat. A junior reporter wrote the team and the people were over the moon at winning the game. A senior editor punched his literary acumen into the report and rephrased it as '... literally over the moon...' which sounded an absurd proposition.

The first manned landing on Earth's Moon took place on July 20, 1960 as part of the Apollo 11 mission commanded by Neil Armstrong, joined in by Edwin Aldrin. Since then, 24 astronauts have travelled to the Moon --- 12 walking on the surface and three making the trip twice. There were no players and no common people among them.

Moral: Never use the word 'literally' in reports. Its use, at the hands of reporters and editors, is wrong in most cases, and entails judgement of a sort.