Grandma's Tales

December 31, 2006

Grammar – 22 Errors never end!

Filed under: Language — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 11:29 pm

Incredibly, I found this on the BBC web site: One in four smokers use roll-ups. Do you see the error here?

What about this sentence? “I should say that his losses would be around Rs five crore a year,” said a top cricket writer who have been following the fortunes of Sidhu as member of parliament closely.

This one is from msnbc: It might be said that editorial interpretations of aggregate data is in itself an indication of the spirit of the time. Because “is” has been chosen, the “itself” that follows is also wrong. The question here is: What are indications of the spirit of the time?
Want to recast this sentence?

II. I mentioned this in an earlier post, but this habit seems to persist. Please remember, pictures are “hung”, people are “hanged”. Don’t you think that difference needs to be there? Read this:
For that matter, it’s amazing to think that the last thing Saddam learned was how to be hung.

Sigh! Guess I’m killing your reading pleasure! Is ignorance bliss?


We’re digging new lows in civility!

Filed under: Society — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 10:26 am

First it was the courier. Unlike the postman who has pre-designated hours – we awaited his arrival – the smelly courier boys can ring and keep ringing the doorbell at any time of the day and night and demand immediate attention. “Attention” includes signing three slips, putting down the time of delivery (like you do at childbirth) and now, adding my phone number. I am not at all sure the numbers will be used for strictly honourable purposes.
All it takes is a phone call to the courier company (guess what the conversation is!) followed by a lengthy e-mail of lists from the said courier company to the caller and the caller knows my “courier habits”. Who sends couriers to me? And what is sent often? Then the telemarketing racket begins.
Talking of telemarketing, the bank we all love to hate has a new technology of torture. Yesterday my phone rang, I picked it up and said a polite “Hello”. I HEARD A LOUD RINGTONE! I was put on hold! I mean the bank calls me with an evil design that goes under the name of “complimentary offer” and puts me on hold! Totally unacceptable! When the live human voice came up, I gave the poor employee a few of my thoughts on this. And what did he say?
“We have a special offer for you, Ma’am. We have selected you for a life-time credit card, with no service charges, no taxes, no nothing.” And no limit to the amount I could spend? “Eh, why don’t I come over to your place so we can talk this over?”
I recently switched to Airtel for my Internet connection. It is not faster, but it is continuous, as opposed to “continual”. I should have known why Airtel gave me a free telephone instrument. This is why. I get recorded calls inviting me to answer the question coming up and join the new KBC show! Mmm… interesting. What show will they be promoting next?

Grammar – 22 Verb, look back for agreement!

Filed under: Language — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 9:50 am

Ashwarya Rai visited Pushkar and gave the priests something to chew about in addition to paan. Allegedly, her bodyguard (wow!) had been drinking too much of a liquid that didn’t come out of the Pushkar lake. The report on the front page of the newspaper went: Pushkar Thirthguru Purohit Sangh Trust, the body of priests at the temple, have called for an emergency meeting to review the situation (?).

Who called the meeting? The Trust (“it”, singular) / the body of priests (again singular, “body” is one unit). So what is “have” doing there? He, she, it – you are a “have-nots”!

It’s so easy. Just check out the subject before you show the green signal to the verb. Now, can you crack this? In this test, you get to choose the verb and its form. Exciting!

[1] The advertisement, which has been placed in local newspapers, _____attracted
a lot of interest.
[2] Only one of the kittens ____ survived.
[3] No one ______ the job as well as you do.
[4] Take care because the scissors ______ very sharp.

[5] Neither the apples nor the basket _______ expensive.
[6] People from the South _______ very friendly.
[7] Either the President or the Vice-President _______ signed the document.
[8] Neither his partner nor his neighbours ______ highly of him.
[9] An advertising campaign or a direct mail effort ______ designed to reach large numbers of people.
[10] Both — either a second or a subsequent call — ______considered to be follow-up calls.
[11] There are trademark laws for anyone that _______ established a business name.

December 30, 2006

Grammar – 22 Agree, verb, agree!

Filed under: Language — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 10:25 am

A note from Subrat.
“I am back after a two week vacation in New Zealand (my gift to myself on turning 30). I am happy to report that bad grammar is a universal phenomenon with wrong usage of apostrophes at its van. NZ, I was happy to note, is contributing its fair share. (Glad to know we are not alone in this endeavour, Subrat. It’s a comforting thought that our co-accused are native speakers of the language. Wish you had collected some of the apostrophe gems for display here.)

Anyway, I am glad to see a test and here are my attempts. (Subrat had no problem with the first nine.)

[10] The team captain, as well as the players, ______ anxious. (is, are)  Ans: Tricky one. I have a nagging feeling that I read a footnote in my grammar text (’Agreement of the verb with the subject’ – Class 7 if I am not wrong) which suggests that in case of a compound subject (one which is singular and the other which is plural), the verb should agree with the subject which is closest to it. In which case the answer should be ‘are’. The sentence also rolls of the tongue better with ‘are’ in it. So I will go with ‘are’. Would definitely like to hear from you on this.”

I totally agree with that. “The team captain, as well as the players are anxious” rolls off the tongue easily. But that’s because we have been hearing people say that. To make the subject plural, we need to upgrade “as well as”. Give it the status of “and”. It’s only then does it become a compound subject. Otherwise “as well as” is considered “parenthetical” – something that should be hidden between two curved doors. It keeps the subject singular. So,
The Mayor, as well as his councillors, is present.
The team captain, as well as the players is anxious.

The proximity principle: Your foot note on this, I’m sure was about “or & nor”.
Here is the rule: When one of the subjects joined by or/nor is plural, the verb must be plural. The plural subject should be placed nearest the verb.
Neither the chairman nor the directors are present.
This is because both the nouns (chairman, directors) are of equal importance. “Or” and “nor” are choices, right? And choices should be of equal importance. The nearest subject, “directors” is plural, so the verb is plural.

If we wrote our sentence this way, giving the captain and the players equal weight (a compound subject): Both the team captain and the players ______ anxious, what would your answer be?

Here are some teasers:
[1] To take pay and then not do the work  ____ dishonest. (is, are)
[2] One of the other fellows ____ stolen the watch. (have, has)
[3] The house, as well as its contents, _____ auctioned. (was, were)
[4] The strain of facing so many difficulties ____ left its mark on him. (has, have)

December 29, 2006

Grammar – 22 Verb, do you take the Subject as your lord and master?

Filed under: Language — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 10:14 pm

A prominent newspaper had this sentence.

Perform@International, a Singapore-based company, in association with Scientific Learning Corporation, USA have brought out a learning intervention programme for school cildren.

Is the mistake obvious? Right! The helping verb “have” does not help grammar here at all. “Have” is used with “I, We, You, They”. Everyone else (“He, She, It”) just has to stay satisfied with “has”.
I know it is discrimination with criminal intent, but that’s how the rules go. All you can do here is to ask in a humble voice, “How do I choose the right one?” That’s easy. Play Treasure (subject) Hunt and you’ll get the prize.
Retrace your steps and find out what the sentence is talking about. What is your subject? About what are you talking here?
In our sentence it is, without doubt, Perform@International. Deny it, you are caught in a patent lawsuit. Who brought out “a learning intervention programme”? Perform@International. And Perform@International is singular (a … company). If you used a pronoun in its place, that pronoun would be “It”. For a subject that plays tag and becomes “It”, the verb is “has”. “It has”. Easy!
Just look around and find the subject. And then choose your verb carefully. It’s silly to argue, “Why can’t I change the subject to suit my verb?” It’s the same as asking, “Why can’t I build my house around my septic tank?”
The verb is for the subject, not the other way round. Subject is what you choose to write on. The verb simply says, “I agree, therefore I am”. Or it gets replaced.

Ok, the next gem.
The latest incident in a series of road accidents are unpardonable.
Again, what are we talking about in this sentence? Not “road accidents”, no, it is “the latest incident”. One incident is “It”. Therefore, the verb should be “is” not “are”. So be clear about your subject and the verb will obediently follow.

The problem is obvious. Sometimes, there is an army of words between the subject (the legit topic) and the verb. Absence does not make the heart grow fonder. The verb forgets the origin and goes astray.

Try and take this simple quiz.
[1] It was the speaker, not his ideas, that _____ provoked the students. (have, has)
[2] The tornadoes that tear through this county every spring _____ more than just a nuisance. (is, are)
[3] The survey covering seven colleges ________ a growth in enrollment. (show, shows)
[4] The news of the discovery _____ spreading. (are, is)
[5] The price of these jeans ______ prohibitive. (is, are)
[6] Collecting match-boxes ______ one of his hobbies. (is, are)
[7] The books borrowed from the library ______ on the desk. (was, were)
[8] The quality of the sweets _________ gone down. (have, has)
[9] The boy who won the two medals _______ untraceable. (is, are)
[10] The team captain, as well as the players, ______ anxious. (is, are)

Happy hunting!

December 28, 2006

Sherlock Holmes is back! He makes History!

Filed under: Language — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 10:08 pm

History channel is now showing Sherlock Holmes episodes on Tuesday nights. These are hour-long mini movies each dramatising one story from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous collection of mysteries. The first half hour of the telecast is without a break, yes, no tiresome ads, but after that you see them regularly, diluting the suspense. Towards the end of the hour they bombard you with more frequency. But there is no mystery in that, is there?

I’m watching it after many years (Sherlock Holmes, not the ads) and I find the stories have not lost any of the original zing and thrill, I mean they have not gone dated. The pace is tight, the editing sharp. The production scores hugely in recreating the time in which the detective practised his art of observation and deduction. The major delight for me is in the “dialogue”, the credit for which should go to the writer. Sample this:

Holmes: Well, it would be absurd to deny that the case is a very abstruse and complicated one, but I can promise you that I will look into the matter and let you know any points which may strike me.
Miss Harrison: Do you see any clue?
H:You have furnished me with seven, but of course I must test them before I can pronounce upon their value.
Ms. H: You suspect someone?
H: I suspect myself.
Ms. H: What!
Of coming to conclusions too rapidly.”

The story was first published by Penguin Books in 1930. This excerpt is from The Naval Treaty.

Our educators now argue, “Why do we need foreign literature? We need “functional” English (also called functional grammar, dry as a two-day-old chappati), just enough competence in the language to “communicate”. Textbooks should have lessons with a regional flavour. It’s colonial hangover to want to include lessons written by foreign authors.”

What they forget (don’t know/can’t make out) is this. [1] These very English stories tell you the correct use of the language. Read the excerpt again and see the way the phrasal verb “pronounce upon” is used. No, I’m not asking you to read Sherlock Holmes with grammar/usage in mind. Far from it. Learning to use the language well is a pleasantly surprising by-product of reading good stories.

Which is a better way to learn a language? Through books on its rules and grammar or through its wonderfully written stories, poems, riddles and plays? Our young have such a problem with the language because all they ever read is faulty SMSish.

Imagine your English teacher reading out one of Sherlock Holmes mysteries. As she reads, she gets a student to put down the clues on the board. At some point, the teacher stops and gets the kids to analyse the clues and try to solve the problem. They could even do it in groups. Which group has the most plausible solution?

In this case, the Naval Treaty, a highly valued government document is lost. Who is the thief? Who profits from taking it? Where could it be? Play Sherlock Holmes if you want to.

Meantime, I’m looking forward to next Tuesday, 9 pm, History channel.

Media hype at its worst! Or best? Mumbai had no water, so?

Filed under: Society — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 8:41 am

Update: Guess what the top news on TV this morning is?

Yes, “Water supply restored in Mumbai!” Before the anchor could complete her sentence, “Water supply will be back in a little more shorter time…” I clicked it off and picked up the paper. And what did I see?

Water shut off…

Talking of faulty English, may be Washington Post should consider an English usage course for its headline writers.

Read this: WP: Saddam to be hung within 30 days?

Sorry, Post. Only pictures and stuff (inanimate objects) are “hung”. People are “hanged”.
Surely, we could extend the courtsey of good English to Saddam? English is not the criminal here, right?

December 27, 2006

Media hype at its worst! Or best? Mumbai had no water, so?

Filed under: Society — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 11:12 pm

Of all the disasters that Mumbai has faced in recent years, the one-day water supply shut off must have been the worst. At least that’s what you would have thought going by media coverage of the “story”.

May be, living in traditionally water-starved Chennai makes me feel disgusted at this overkill. For years, many parts of Chennai have been getting water only once in two days. You know what that means? One day you have supply, the next day you don’t. The third day the taps gush out the liquid, the fourth day they clam up. Sure, I’m over-reacting to all the attention another metropolis in the country gets over lack of water for a day. Just for one measly day, 24 hours!

Why is this piece of news so important that the news channels need to give you tap by dry tap, kitchen by all-vessels-filled kitchen running commentary?

The no-water blitz started on Tuesday. Understandable. The spirited, business-savvy, never-say-die Mumbaikars had to be informed that their water pipelines would go dry the following day. Ok, a couple more times of this warning during news (is this national news?) was fine. We didn’t want Mumbaikars to get up on Wednesday, turn on the tap and die of shock. No, no, we love our brothers and sisters and uncles and aunts in Mumbai. But the news should have stopped with the advisory. STORE WATER OR TAKE A 24-HOUR TIME OUT. A routine announcement.

What you got in the next 24 hours was a deluge. Breaking News – “No water tomorrow” every half hour was followed by “No water today” on Wednesday morning. That was the time the channels got into a contest. Who will have more water on the newscasts? This was truly a water war. Of Niagaran proportions.

The headlines went screaming. “Mumbai goes dry” (ha, ha!)! “Waterless Mumbai!” “No water for 24 hours!” “A day without water!” Then the reporting crew took over, camera in tow. The mike went looking for the suffering sea of minus-water Mumbaikars.
[1] Do you know there won’t be water? Do you? You? You? At one point I thought they were going to ask every denizen of this great city.
[2] Are you storing water? Sad, no one said, “No, I’m not storing water. What do you think? I’m taking a day off from life.” Then the camera and crew went around inspecting kitchens and bathrooms. Yes, people DID store water. Amazing! How well-prepared this city is for any calamity! They filled up even their washing machines! (The camera actually peeped into the machine.) Talk about disaster management!
[3] Then came the post-crisis pictures. “The city is coping up!” crooned the reporter ungrammatically. She looked full of wonder and admiration for the brave people. “They have managed the water crisis!”
[4] The excess didn’t stop there. There had to be another round of interviews. “HOW did you cope?” Even as I began to shake my head, a kid piped in, “I didn’t brush my teeth.” Another said, “No bath today, jolly!”
[5] Were the adults able to survive the catastrophe? “I finished cooking, washing and cleaning last evening,” said a matronly woman. “My family will not bathe this morning. No water for the plants. Everyone has been told to use less water for everything today.” (Yeah, on the other 364 days you could pour water down the street!)
[6] The filmi crowd perhaps didn’t want to expose their unwashed bodies to the camera. But news channels can always depend on filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt for a “dry” quote. You know he has a quirky opinion on every topic under the sun and beyond, but this topped it all. “No cooking today. We’ll order sandwiches and pizzas.” I guess the guys who made them saved water by not washing the veggies.
[7] Reluctant to let go, The news crews trained their guns on the taps, yes, taps! There were old ones (probably produced only air) and new ones, in the streets and in yards. Then a brainwave! The OB van rolled down to dhobhi ghat. “No problem,” said the washers, without looking up. “We always have a day’s supply of water in our tanks.” Tse, tse, no sob story there.
[8] All day, news segments flashed the “latest situation”. Did anyone fall ill due to dehydration? Was anyone taken to emergency? Did anyone commit suicide protesting lack of water supply? Did the sensex come crashing down? Aw, man, no.
[9] But what is this? Something wrong here! Camera, camera! A couple of water tankers making hay while the sun shines over dry Mumbai! (An absolute, un-heard-of horror story for the rest of the country!)
[9] Then the final straw. The handicam panned the face of the wife of the corporation commissioner. “Will there be water in your house tomorrow, ma’am?” The lady Mona Lisa-ed a smile. “Yes, He has promised me (he better keep it!). Not only for me, but for entire Mumbai.” Phew, all clear. Curfew lifted. The danger is past. Mumbai can now drink, gargle and spit. They’ve come out smelly but unscathed!

Significantly, the camera had no time for a hospital survey. But all those shots of every single spare-able dish filled with water made something clear. Either Mumbaikars are water-obsessed or they simply did not believe the corporation would restore the water supply.

December 26, 2006

Grammar – 21 SMSish is news again!

Filed under: Language — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 10:20 pm

Yesterday, Washington Post ran a story titled
IM shorthand slips into schoolwork. Students use ‘b4,’ ‘b/c’ and ‘culd’ in essays

In previous posts I have covered most of what’s being said, but it’s worth repetition. Excerpts:
In 2004, 16 million teenagers used instant messages to communicate, up from 13 million in 2000, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Students say IM language has become so ubiquitous they often do not realize they have lapsed into it.

One student said: “I’m in AP literature, where you just can’t put it into your writing, but when I’m writing something informal, now and again I use it.”

Commenting on the informality of student communication, an associate professor shared one of his favorite pieces of correspondence: “hi prof how are u culd u tell me my xm grade – tim.”

He added: “It bothers me at one level, but I try not to let it get under my skin,” he said. “But I am concerned [students] won’t be successful if they don’t know how to communicate on a formal basis. The first time they send a goofy message to the boss, they’re going to be out.”

One teacher wrote a paragraph on Chaucer using the same phrases that students sprinkled their writing with and asked them to read it. The kids laughed, but one hopes, got the point.

Look what a professor of English said about IM language: “The drawback of text messaging is that most services limit the messages to 30 words, and the ingenious young writers using that service have created symbols and abbreviations that lead to a very cryptic method of communication that does not lend itself to being transferred to academic writing.”

Coincidentally, I found the following in my inbox. It took me quite some time to make sense of this. In fact, half way through I lost all interest and clicked it off. Ironically, the message is supposed to be pleasant reading. It’s supposed to help you decide whether or not to watch the movie. As a piece of communication, this fails. Miserably.

I got to watch XXX 2day. He has tried it v.differenlty this time. The message tht he has conveyed is “Fate is n one’s own hand”—We decide our own Fate…thtz wat z the ultimate msg.
I wudn’t say the movie is gud–but there r lotsaa msges if observed v.carefully. Not everybody will like the movie. I felt many sweet little things–proper ideas showed its head:)… those were really really nice.(I mean lotsa msges…a part of the movie). Well, there are scenes whchz not necessary at all. Cud be framed n a diff’ way.
A (shez cute luking and resemblz “Mandira Bedi”) and B(Heroine nd’ Hero)—>>thy really need to improve  as far as expressions are concerned. Over-xpressions and unwanted xpressions. But at the same time, thy shud equally be aprreciated as this being their first film. We cnt xpect sumthing gr8 4rum sumbody whoz b4 the camera 4 the first time. If seen tht ways, thy hv tried..really tried.
I shudn’t forget to mention abt the songs…2-3 songs are vvvvvv.gud(uff. .forgot the lyrics:( !! And n the climax…”Full dialogue using the word “FINE”…Thtz actually a sweet and v.sensible dailogue. Bits and pieces of Humour also peeped n…I wud say few things will really make us think(only if observed)… otherswise. .on the whole, the movie is okay.

My problems:
[1] The guesswork. I’m constantly asked to read the word properly by contextualising it. If “message” can be “msg”, why can’t “messages” be simply “msgs”? An “e” creeps in here.

[2] If contracting is the game here, why is “lots of” written as “lotsaa” and “lotsa”? Spelling errors in text message language! That’s rich!

[3] And “cud” for “could”? I know, I know, “could” has a silent letter, but the “cou” in it allows me to pronounce it as “coo”. But “cud” rhymes with “dud”. Same with “shud”.

[4]  “4rum” is actually “frrum”, a terrible way to say “from”, where the “r” is soft.

[5] What is really alarming is this: once you begin to write like this on a regular basis, poor spelling gets a thumbs-up. Look how a lot of words are mis-spelt. Since I’m mangling the spellings anyway, why bother about spellings at all? Let my reader make sense of all this!

I take it as an insult to the reader. For me, this writer joins the community of ill-mannered people. His/her mail will now get the “hit-the-delete-button treatment the second it appears in my inbox.

December 25, 2006

What are our young thinking today?

Filed under: Language — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 8:29 pm

I have an ongoing e-mail correspondence with a student who attends my English class. She comments on something I’ve written for the newspaper and that begins a sawal-jawab digital conversation. Our most recent topic was “opting out of the race and doing our own thing”. How is that possible in such a competitive world, she asked. I gave her examples of people who have gone exactly where their hearts took them and succeeded. At the end of the mail, I asked her:

“What is it that you really, really want to do, …?”

And here is her answer. You’ll agree it is a beautiful Christmas gift.

Hey Ma’am!
I should say this it’s always a pleasure to read what you have written so much so that I look forward to every mail from you. Thank you for that.

That’s one question to which the answer has always eluded me. What do I really want to do? What do I want from my life? Finally, after loads of soul searching and deep deliberation and careful retrospection I have arrived at the conclusion that what I really really want to do is something for my family.

To be honest most people find this aim ridiculously clichéd or just plain fake maybe even fickle but to those people, “I don’t care what you think.” Now the question arises is why? Plain and simple – my family means the world to me like the very salt of the earth – that’s why.

At the risk of sounding like a brave survivor of life I can say I’ve been through a lot like being in hell and back but yes, it’s true. Be it at school or with friends the cards dealt out to me aren’t what you would call lucky or maybe I should have played them better I don’t know and through it all my Mom and Dad have been with me…Like those cheerleaders urging their team even though the game is lost. I have seen my parents give up their dreams to make a world for me and today when I speak to them the wistfulness isn’t lost out on me. We’re in a crunch and seeing them struggle every single day makes you want to pull your weight around…do your bit too. Like the Hindi drama we have a few villains in the picture and my aim is to see them bite the words which they threw (flung?) at my parents. I might sound vengeful and not a good gal that I’m supposed to be but I admit to bitterness (a bit) and maybe that’s what leads me on…

Now what makes me happy? Seeing my father go on that world tour, seeing my mother go on that religious trek (thirth yatra), seeing my sister get the best of things the best that life can offer… That will make me happy… About me…hmmm.. I’m content to be an honest lawyer, pursue journalism and do a bit of event management and take up further studies. As ridiculous as it may sound I have this dream to throw a huge bash at the grandest of hotels and invite all the near and dear so called relatives to make them envy my family-my proud parents.

My aim and dream is to fulfill my parents’ aspirations, expectations, hopes, dreams and make them proud of me.

In a Moral examination in my school a question was asked what makes you happy? Undoubtedly it’s the relationships I have forged and my family and why not? Isn’t life made of people? That is when you’re living not just surviving. I have the confidence that I will be able to convert these dreams into reality. In time it will be my family talking not the others. Ma’am I’m not money-minded but have learnt that the world revolves on it. Okay fine, if it is that way so be it. But I bet my talent at being a lawyer (hopefully) a criminal lawyer or maybe a family lawyer or…I can go on but first I need to get into a law college

Yeah,I was saying my talent will be something irreplaceable something that I can give back to the people around me and good literature is always welcome too, right?! A simple recipe to achieve this – God’s grace, loads of good wishes and blessings, loads of support from the people around me, loads and loads of hard work, determination and yeah perspiration and of course late nights….. studying.

Before I forget, wishing you A very very Merry Christmas! May this season of joy, hope, love, cheer light up your home and heart. Hopefully I’ll be online to wish you for the New Year. Can you believe it? 2007?! God I can’t…

Thank you for keeping in touch! My best to you Ma’am.. Take care!

p.s-Peculiar talent in me? I don’t know…People find me peculiar

Thank you …

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