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Team up with me in My Media English Watch!

I am inviting Forum members to team up with me in doing My Media English Watch. This way, we can further widen this Forum’s dragnet for bad or questionable English usage in both the print media and broadcast media, thus giving more teeth to our campaign to encourage them to continuously improve their English. All you need to do is pinpoint every serious English misuse you encounter while reading your favorite newspaper or viewing your favorite network or cable TV programs. Just tell me about the English misuse and I will do a grammar critique of it.

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Semantic quandary over news about an income-earning crocodile

In these times when hard news is often packaged as infotainment while showbiz fluff is routinely presented as legitimate news, where do we draw the line between the kind of language used for reporting them? I ask this in the context of the following news story in the website of GMA News Online:

Mayor: Croc Lolong has already earned nearly half million pesos

BUNAWAN, Agusan del Sur — Giant crocodile “Lolong” already earned nearly half a million pesos from donations, entrance and parking fees at the Bunawan Eco-Park and Research Center in Barangay Consuelo, some ten kilometers from the town proper.

Bunawan town mayor Edwin Elorde told GMA News Online the daily average income from entrance, parking fees and donations is around P8,000 in October.

Mayor Elorde said that as of October 25 the local government has already accumulated some P430,000.00 in earnings from the park’s entrance and parking fees which the local government began collecting right after Lolong was placed inside a special cage there.

Frankly, I’m not very sure if the language of the above news report is semantically and logically acceptable. Was it Croc Lolong that made all that money, or was it the town of Bunawan that did by making the fearsome creature a pay-for-view show? If the latter is the case, shouldn’t that lead sentence be rewritten to give credit where credit is due?

I must admit that I’m stumped by this language conundrum, so I’ll greatly appreciate suggestions and comments from Forum members and guests.  


(1) Manila Bulletin: Dangling modifying phrase

Church may seek bells’ ownership

MANILA, Philippines — If proven that they are church property, the Diocese of Malolos (Bulacan) is planning to seek ownership of the century-old bells recently returned by the United States to the Philippine government.

“If they will return it to the Church that would be a welcome development,” Monsignor Andres Valera, vicar general of the Diocese of Malolos, said in an article posted on the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) website.

“But I think that should really be returned to us if they are property of the Church.” he added.

The lead sentence above suffers from a dangling modifier. This is because the phrase “if proven that they are church property” is unable to link or associate itself with a subject that it can logically modify. That subject obviously can’t be the proper noun “Diocese of Malolos (Bulacan),” which it’s trying to modify in vain; after all, there’s really no need to prove that the diocese itself is church property. Logically, that subject could only be the noun phrase “the century-old bells recently returned by the United States to the Philippine government,” but it’s so far removed from this modifier for the modification to take place properly.

So how can we possibly effect the desired modification in that lead sentence?

One quick way is to make “the Diocese of Malolos” the logical subject of that modifying phrase. We can do this by rewording that phrase such that the diocese itself—in the form of the pronoun “it”—will be doing the proving, as follows:

“If it can prove that they are church property, the Diocese of Malolos (Bulacan) will seek ownership of the century-old bells recently returned by the United States to the Philippine government.”

Another way—and I think it’s functionally much better—is to introduce the modifying phrase with the preposition “by” to create the same sense intended by the above rewrite, as follows:

By proving that they are church property, the Diocese of Malolos (Bulacan) plans to seek ownership of the century-old bells recently returned by the United States to the Philippine government.”

(2) GMA News Online: Wrong preposition, faulty logic

Group: High levels of mercury in 19 skin-lightening creams

At least 19 skin-lightening cosmetic products may pose dangers to health after they were found to have high levels of mercury, an ecological group said.

EcoWaste Coalition said the mercury levels in these products were as high as 52,100 parts per million (ppm) – way above the 1 ppm safety limit.

“We have uncovered an ugly truth behind some cosmetics with outrageous amounts of mercury that are directly applied to the skin. These products are terribly harmful to health, totally not pretty and blatantly illegal," said Aileen Lucero, the group’s safe cosmetics campaigner.

The misuse of the preposition “after” by the lead sentence above makes the statement false and illogical. If those 19 skin-lightening cosmetic products indeed contain high levels of mercury, then they have always been dangerous to health from the very start, not just after they were found to contain those high mercury levels.

This serious semantic problem disappears when that lead sentence is rewritten as follows:

“At least 19 skin-lightening cosmetic products have been found to have high levels of mercury and may pose danger to health, an ecological group said.”

(3) The Philippine Star: Wrong preposition usage

Manhunt on for Ligots

MANILA, Philippines - Justice Secretary Leila de Lima yesterday ordered a manhunt against former military comptroller Jacinto Ligot and his wife Erlinda after the couple reportedly went missing following the issuance of an arrest order by the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA) for tax evasion.

De Lima said she instructed the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to lead the manhunt and effect the warrant of arrest issued by the court against the Ligot couple.

By definition, a “manhunt” is an organized and usually intensive hunt for—not against—a person and especially for one charged with a crime. Well, the headline of the above story—“Manhunt on for Ligots”—got it perfectly right but got it badly wrong in the lead sentence, which says that the Justice Secretary ordered a manhunt against the Ligot couple.

The grammar lesson here is, of course, that it pays to be consistent in one’s preposition usage. It certainly doesn’t make sense to be correct the first time and wrong right thereafter, for it gives the sense that the reporter or editor is just winging it with prepositions.

(4) Manila Bulletin: Subject-verb disagreement; misuse of the transitive verb “deplete”

Tarlac’s quarry resources fast depleting

CAPITOL HILL, Tarlac City, Philippines — Noting that the province’s quarry resources is fast depleting, a member of the provincial board has sought that Tarlac should be compensated properly from its natural resources.

In his speech delivered during the recent provincial session, Board Member George “Jojo” Feliciano pointed out at the Sangguniang Panlalawigan that the reported rampant illegal extraction of quarry materials being used in the construction of Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEx) has been a talk of the province but Tarlac should also be compensated enough when the said Expressway operated.

Just an oversight perhaps, but the noun “resources” in the lead sentence above is obviously plural, so the operative verb should be in the plural form “are fast depleting” and not the singular “is fast depleting.”

But an even more serious error in that lead sentence is its misuse of “deplete” as an intransitive verb. Being transitive, “deplete” always needs a doer of the action and a direct object to work properly. In other words, something doesn’t just deplete but is depleted by some agent or agency.

That lead sentence should therefore be grammatically corrected as follows:

“Noting that the province’s quarry resources is fast being depleted, a member of the provincial board has sought that Tarlac be compensated properly for its natural resources.”

In the above passive-voice construction, of course, the agent or agency responsible for depleting the quarry resources is not mentioned but presumed. But the transitive character of the verb “deplete” becomes clear when that sentence is constructed in the active voice:

“Noting that Tarlac is being fast depleted of its quarry resources, a member of the provincial board has sought that the province be compensated properly for them.”

Lastly, I must admit that I really couldn’t make heads and tails of the sense and logic of the second paragraph of that story’s lead passage. For that reason, I wouldn’t even attempt a rewrite here.

(5) GMA News Online: Faulty grammar and semantics

From the lead summary of a major special report:

Fighting and talking: A Mindanao conflict timeline

Despite the recent brutal deaths of soldiers in Basilan, some of them while captured, President Aquino has chosen to continue peace talks with the MILF. But presidents didn't always choose to talk. GMA News has produced a chronology...

The modifying phrase “some of them while captured” is semantically faulty because it wrongly uses the prepositional phrase “while captured.” Getting captured takes place only as a fleeting event in time; captivity is the outcome that has duration. Thus, to say that some of the soldiers met brutal deaths “while captured” doesn’t make logical sense; the grammatically and semantically correct way to say it is that some of the soldiers were “killed while in captivity,” as follows:

“Despite the recent brutal deaths of soldiers in Basilan, some of them killed while in captivity, President Aquino has chosen to continue peace talks with the MILF.”

(6) Philippine Star: Subject-verb disagreement

NPA leader killed in Cagayan clash

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines  – A ranking leader of the New People’s Army (NPA) were reportedly among the four fatalities in last Thursday’s encounter with government troops in a remote Cagayan village.

Lt. Col. Alvin Flores, chief of the Army’s 17th Infantry Battalion, identified the slain communist leader as Dominador Javier, head of the NPA’s Cagayan East Central Committee.

Just a proofreading oversight perhaps, but I found it odd that “a ranking leader” has been treated as plural in the above lead sentence. The word “leader” is, of course,  a collective noun that’s unquestionably grammatically singular, so that sentence needs to be corrected as follows:

A ranking leader of the New People’s Army (NPA) was reportedly among the four fatalities in last Thursday’s encounter with government troops in a remote Cagayan village.”

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