Jose Carillo's Forum


Jose Carillo’s English Forum invites members to post their grammar and usage questions directly on the Forum itself, but every now and then, readers of my “English Plain and Simple” column in The Manila Times e-mail their questions directly to me. I make an effort to reply to every question individually. When the answer to a question is particularly instructive and of wide interest, however, I find it such a waste not to share it with users and learners of English in general. It’s for that purpose that I opened this special section. I hope Forum members will find reading it informative and enjoyable.

What does “sic” in brackets mean when used in articles?

From ruelski, a Forum member (February 26, 2010):

Hello, Mr. Carillo, I’ve been reading your postings in this excellent website for more than a year now, reading everything, especially your English grammar lessons/corrections. I cannot lie to you sir, the moment I read your lessons and articles I became an instant fan of yours, and one of these days I’m going to buy one of those books of yours. I would say that you’re doing a great job running this website especially for self-taught English learners and future call-center agents.

My simple question to you now, sir, is—I’m not sure if this question has been asked already—what does it mean when we see the term “sic” in brackets in articles we come across in our everyday readings?

My reply to ruelski:

The bracketed notation “sic” in quoted material is used to indicate the intentional verbatim reproduction of an incorrect or unusual word, spelling, phrasing, or grammatical construction. It is meant to highlight the fact that the material is not an error in transcription, typography, or proofreading. The brackets that set off “sic” are meant to indicate that the notation is not an integral part of the quoted material. Usually, the bracketed “sic” is set in italic type, like this: [sic]

Here are the usual uses of the “sic” notation:

1. When quoting verbatim grammatically flawed material from a major government or legal document: 

The introduction to the history of the Philippine Senate says: “Long before the Spanish rulers came to the Philippines, the people in their barangays were already governed by a set of rules by their chief [sic].”

Here, I use the “sic” notation to indicate the flawed and awkward grammatical construction of the phrase “were already governed by a set of rules by their chief.” It’s my way of indicating that I’m not responsible for the bad grammar of the phrase.

Assuming that I’m actually making a grammar critique of that sentence, I probably would suggest the following correction right after:

“Long before the Spanish rulers came to the Philippines, the people in their barangays were already governed by a chief who strictly enforced a set of communal rules.”

2. When faithfully reporting an uncommon or archaic usage:

The biographical movie, which starred Will Smith in the title role, was entitled The Pursuit of Happyness [sic].

The “sic” notation here—I didn’t italicize it because the term being “sicced” is already in italics—is meant to indicate that I’m aware that the spelling of “happyness” departs stylistically from the standard “happiness,” and is not to be construed as a spelling error. It is also meant to alert typesetters, proofreaders, and copyeditors that the unusual spelling should be left uncorrected.

3. When one would like to ridicule or question the judgment of the author or source of a doubtful or flawed quoted material:

Would you believe, that job applicant with a PhD in comparative literature wrote this sentence in his application letter: “After nine years of teaching the European literary classics at the Sorbonne, I quitted [sic] my tenured job to accept a professorial chair at Harvard University.”

That would be a way of indicating one’s misgivings or contempt for the doubtful English proficiency of that highly experienced professor, for the irregular, uninflected past-tense “quit” is more commonly used than the regular past-tense form “quitted.” This latter form isn’t grammatically wrong, but in academic and professional circles, the clause in question is expected to be normally be written as “I quit my tenured job to accept a professorial chair at Oxford University.”

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The virtue of elliptical sentence constructions

From Isabel Escoda in Hong Kong (February 22, 2010):

Hello there! As you’ll see below, my brother in SF and I have been discussing your work. He tutors some foreign students in the US. Please explain why he can’t get into your forum, and answer our question about the verb “is” after situation. Many thanks!

Isabel attached to her e-mail the following exchange of e-mails between her and her brother in San Francisco, California:

On Feb 22, 2010, Isabel wrote:

Hi, Dick—have I ever sent you this fine website? It’s a big help for English teachers.

Dick Taylor replied: 

I like him but in trying to subscribe to his service, I can’t seem to get beyond “What color is each letter....” —I don’t understand why this is asked to begin with. Will keep trying.

By the way, are you comfortable with his sentence: “The situation then and now are largely the same.”

Isabel replied:

I’m sure that sentence must be a typo error—though the "then & now" probably calls for a plural verb. Good point, I must ask him.

My e-mailed reply to Isabel:

About this sentence construction: "From the language standpoint, of course, the situation then and now are largely the same."

Now that you have brought up the point, I realize that this construction indeed could make some people uncomfortable. I am therefore offering the explanation below.

Semantically, two situations are referred to in that sentence—the situation before, and the situation now. They are two distinct and separate entities. The scrupulously grammatical way to write that sentence is therefore this: “From the language standpoint, of course, the situation then and the situation now are largely the same. “Here, it’s obvious that two nouns are being compounded into a plural subject, which would then require the plural form of the verb. (It’s not the adverbs “then” and “now” that are being compounded but the two mentions of the noun “situation” as distinct entities.) 

The sentence construction I used is what is called the elliptical version of that sentence: “From the language standpoint, of course, the situation then and now are largely the same.” It deliberately dropped the second use of the term “the situation” on the presumption that it’s already understood to be there, so there’s no need to repeat it; the reader, who is presumed to be conversant with English, is expected to just supply the missing words in his or her mind. This is done by professional writers to make their sentences more concise and streamlined.

Elliptical sentence constructions use the ellipsis, which by definition is the omission of one or more words that are obviously understood but that must be supplied to make a construction grammatically complete. There are at least five forms of the ellipsis: (1) the routinely omitted “that” in modifying clauses, (2) the elliptical noun phrase, (3) the ellipsis of the verb and its objects and complements, (4) the medial ellipsis, and (4) the ellipsis of clause.

I'll tick off one example of each to show how the ellipsis works:

1. The routinely omitted “that” in modifying clauses:

Normal:  “They knew that two years would be the shortest time that they would need to subdue the enemy forces.”

Elliptical:  “They knew […] two years would be the shortest time […] they would need to subdue the enemy forces.”

2. The elliptical noun phrase:

Normal:  “Jennifer asked for the pink blouse but the salesclerk gave her the red blouse.”

Elliptical: “Jennifer asked for the pink blouse but the salesclerk gave her the red […].”

3. The ellipsis of the verb and its objects and complements:

Normal:  “The beleaguered Supreme Court chief justice will fight it to the very end if he could fight it to the very end.”

Elliptical:  “The beleaguered Supreme Court chief justice will fight it to the very end if he could […].”

4. The medial ellipsis:

Normal: “Arlene will take care of the girls and Eduardo will take care of the boys.”

Elliptical: “Arlene will take care of the girls and Eduardo […], the boys.”

5. The ellipsis of clause:

Normal: “They can leave now if they want to leave now.”

Elliptical: “They can leave now if they want […].”

It takes some practice to get the hang of elliptical usage, but once you get the hang of it, it sounds even better and more idiomatic than normal usage. It’s more professional sounding, too!

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Should it be “take back the unit” or “take the unit back”?

From jolie_frondosa, new Forum member (February 20, 2010):

Hello, just a quick question:

In this sentence, “When did they take back the unit?”, is the syntax incorrect? Surely, “When did they take the unit back?” sounds better. I am not sure of what grammar or syntax rule applies to this. Any advice is appreciated. Thanks!

My reply to Jolie:

Yes, the syntax is correct in the sentence “When did they take back the unit?” Its syntax is actually as good as that of “When did they take the unit back?” I have not seen myself any grammar or syntax rule on which construction is better, but I can tell you that even if the second construction does sound better than the first in this particular case, the first construction is actually more flexible and versatile than the second.

Why do I say this?

In both sentence constructions, the object of the verb is the single-word noun “unit.” Both sentences work beautifully whether the noun-form “the unit” comes after the verb phrase “take back”—“take back the unit”—or is positioned in-between the verb phrase—“take the unit back.” However, you will discover that this syntax works only when the object of the verb is a single-word or at most a two-word noun. When that object is a multiword noun phrase—say, “the unit with the defective billing” (modified by a prepositional phrase), “the unit awaiting repairs” (modified by a participial phrase), or “the unit that was delivered yesterday” (modified by a “that”-clause)—the second construction that you favor can no longer work properly.

Look: “When did they take the unit with the defective billing back?” “When did they take the unit awaiting repairs back?” “When did they take the unit that was delivered yesterday back?” In all three cases, the syntax fails miserably; in fact, the modifier ends up as a misplaced modifier.

Now see what happens if we use the first construction: “When did they take back the unit with the defective billing?” “When did they take back the unit awaiting repairs?” “When did they take back the unit that was delivered yesterday?” Everything is in its proper place.

We can summarize the rule as follows: In sentence constructions using the “take back” verb phrase, when the object is a single-word or at most a two-word noun, you can sandwich the object of the verb between “take” and “back”; when the object is a multiword noun phrase, however, you need to position the noun phrase after the verb phrase “take back” to ensure proper syntax. (Of course, the same rule would apply to similar verb phrases like “bring back,” “send back,” “buy back,” and “call back.”)

This sounds like a very complicated rule for a simple question, but as in war, Jolie, doing the simplest could be the most difficult.

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Is “fiscalizer” a legitimate word in the English language?

From Fred Natividad in Livonia, Michigan (February 5, 2010):

Upon receipt of the Yahoo group e-mail below, Fred sent me a copy with this laconic question: “Any comments, Joe?”

The e-mail message runs as follows:

“Ever heard the word ‘fiscalizer’ used extensively on Philippine TV by politicians esp. senators and their supporters?

“Well, sorry to burst the bubble, but ‘fiscalizer’ is another IMBENTO NG PINOY!!

Follow this link to read on the history of the word... :)

My reply to Fred:

I checked out the site indicated in the e-mail above and found it very informative, if a tad too partisan for my taste. I’d like to be as dispassionate as possible about English vocabulary matters, you see.

Anyway, what I know is that “fiscalizer” isn’t really a new Filipino neologism; if my memory serves me well, it was already in vogue way back in the late ’60s and would resurface every time a national election or a showdown in the Philippine Senate or in the Lower House was in the offing. I know that some politicians way back then would appropriate the word to describe themselves or media would tack on the name on one, then both would liberally use it for its strong publicity recall. This would be regardless of whether “fiscalizer” really fit the self-image or the public image of a righteous fighter, or whether they had first checked the word out with a reputable dictionary to find out exactly what it means. What’s important is for the politician so labeled to develop a reputation as a fierce combatant for some cause or anything worth ranting or railing against. Of course, all the while I knew that no respectable dictionary had recognized it yet as an English word, but then who had ever stopped an enterprising Filipino wordsmith or politician from inventing a new English word from scratch—words like, say, “salvage” for “kill” (which actually means the opposite)?

Just to be doubly sure, I checked my digital Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary a while ago and found that it still has no entry for either “fiscalize” or “fiscalizer.” All it has is this entry for “fiscal”:

Function: adjective
Etymology: Latin fiscalis, from fiscus basket, treasury
Date: 1563

1 : of or relating to taxation, public revenues, or public debt  <fiscal policy>
2 : of or relating to financial matters
fiscally adverb

I would imagine that since the adjective “fiscal” denotes money things and not fighter things, the most appropriate meaning “fiscalize” could have is “monetize,” and “fiscalizer,” well, “monetizer.” Of course, I’m sure none of the self-proclaimed fiscalizers would want this meaning to stick; it’s, ummh, so demeaning—as if an honest-to-goodness fiscalizer is doing it only for the money.  

Anyway, I did a media check on “fiscalizer” and found that a story of the Philippine Star in its November 18, 2008 issue identified Senator Manuel Villar as such in the headline, “‘No regrets, I’ll serve as fiscalizer’,” although nowhere in the story is there any mention that he had described himself as such. (Question to the Philippine Star editor: Was it deliberately or inadvertently edited out?) You see, this was when he was ousted as Senate President, and what he actually said (as quoted in the news story), was this: “I don’t see how it will affect me. Being Senate president had tied me down to this job. At least, I can say that I’m free to move around and have more time now to attend to the poor, to assist needy overseas Filipino workers, to serve the public more.” (Sounds like he was already campaigning for the presidency that early!) But that doesn’t sound to me like “fiscalizing” or a “fiscalizer’s” job at all! I therefore suspect that it was the reporter or the paper’s desk editor who had stuck that tag on Villar, whether he wanted it or not. So perhaps it’s also media’s fault that “fiscalizer” continues to have its phantom semantic existence up to this day!

I say this in all seriousness because it looks like even Senator Joker Arroyo—a genuine, bona fide lawyer—had appropriated “fiscalizer” to describe himself way back in 2007. A Philippine Information Agency (PIA) news story on April 12 of that year reported:

Joker stresses role as Administration’s “fiscalizer”

Tacloban City (12 April) -- Re-electionist Senator Joker Arroyo defended his position in running under the Administration ticket during the Team Unity’s campaign sortie here in Samar yesterday saying he will continue to act as “fiscalizer” of the Arroyo administration.

According to Sen. Arroyo, his position of being an “opposition within the administration” will not change despite the fact that he is running under the Administration’s Team Unity as there was no agreement at all that he will stop being critical to the Arroyo government in exchange for his being picked up as its candidate.

For the current national election season, it appears that it’s Senator Benigno Aquino III who had appropriated “fiscalizer” as campaign tag and persona. It seems that he had described himself as such in an interview on “Probe Profiles” on ABS-CBN. So now “fiscalizer” has just gotten a new lease on life in an altogether new context. Anyway, I suppose that its fate and formal acceptance as a legitimate word by reputable English dictionaries will ultimately depend—or at least depend largely—on the outcome of the coming Philippine presidential elections. So let’s just wait and see what happens to “fiscalize” and “fiscalizer” when the final poll tallies are out. It just might land a well-deserved place in the English lexicon—or be consigned to semantic oblivion for posterity.

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How do “I hope” and “hopefully” differ and is the latter acceptable?

From Mr. Roger Alvarez in the United States (January 23, 2010):

In an article entitled “How to sound smarter?” in the February 2010 issue of the Reader’s Digest, some of the explanations did not help nonnative English speaker like me. Can you please elaborate on the differences between “I hope” and “hopefully” and between “nauseous” and “nauseated” as well as on the unnecessary use of “most” when saying “most everyone”?

My reply to Roger:

On “I hope” and “hopefully.” In a posting last January 2 about the adverb “overly,” I actually took up the objection of some grammarians to the use of “hopefully” as a frontline adverbial modifier, as in “Hopefully summer this year won’t be so hot.” The objectors point out that such usage of “hopefully” in the sense of “in a hopeful manner” is nonstandard and grammatically wrong. They insist that there should be a subject doing the “hoping” in such constructions, as in “I/we/they hope summer this year won’t be so hot,” or, if the subject can’t be specified for some reason, at least the sentence should take the form “It is hoped summer this year won’t be so hot.”

I mentioned that the controversy over the usage of “hopefully” had been so fierce that William Safire, the late American grammar maven, was quoted as having remarked: “The word ‘hopefully’ has become the litmus test to determine whether one is a language snob or a language slob.” He fiercely opposed the use of “hopefully” in such frontline adverbial constructions, but he eventually relented in the face of the growing currency of that usage.

So, the question that I’m sure is topmost in your mind is this: Is such frontline use of “hopefully” acceptable or not?

Simply as a stylistic preference, I personally make every effort to avoid that usage of “hopefully,” but at least two language authorities now recognize that usage as standard.

Here’s Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary on “hopefully”:

Function: adverb
Date: 1593
1 : in a hopeful manner
2 : it is hoped : I hope : we hope <hopefully the rain will end soon>

usage In the 1960s the second sense of hopefully, which dates to the early 18th century and had been in fairly widespread use since at least the 1930s, underwent a surge in popularity. A surge of criticism followed in reaction, but the criticism took no account of the grammar of adverbs. Hopefully in its second sense is a member of a class of adverbs known as disjuncts. Disjuncts serve as a means by which the author or speaker can comment directly to the reader or hearer usually on the content of the sentence to which they are attached. Many other adverbs (as interestingly, frankly, clearly, luckily, unfortunately) are similarly used; most are so ordinary as to excite no comment or interest whatsoever. The second sense of hopefully is entirely standard.

And here’s what the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language has to say about “hopefully”:


  1. In a hopeful manner.
  2. Usage Problem It is to be hoped: "Marriage is a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring" (William O. Douglas).

Usage Note: Writers who use hopefully as a sentence adverb, as in Hopefully the measures will be adopted, should be aware that the usage is unacceptable to many critics, including a large majority of the Usage Panel. It is not easy to explain why critics dislike this use of hopefully. The use is justified by analogy to similar uses of many other adverbs, as in Mercifully, the play was brief or Frankly, I have no use for your friend. And though this use of hopefully may have been a vogue word when it first gained currency back in the early 1960s, it has long since lost any hint of jargon or pretentiousness for the general reader. The wide acceptance of the usage reflects popular recognition of its usefulness; there is no precise substitute. Someone who says Hopefully, the treaty will be ratified makes a hopeful prediction about the fate of the treaty, whereas someone who says I hope (or We hope or It is hoped) the treaty will be ratified expresses a bald statement about what is desired. Only the latter could be continued with a clause such as but it isn't likely. · It might have been expected, then, that the initial flurry of objections to hopefully would have subsided once the usage became well established. Instead, critics appear to have become more adamant in their opposition. In the 1969 Usage Panel survey, 44 percent of the Panel approved the usage, but this dropped to 27 percent in our 1986 survey. (By contrast, 60 percent in the latter survey accepted the comparable use of mercifully in the sentence Mercifully, the game ended before the opponents could add another touchdown to the lopsided score.) It is not the use of sentence adverbs per se that bothers the Panel; rather, the specific use of hopefully in this way has become a shibboleth.

On “nauseous” and “nauseated.” I haven’t read what the Reader’s Digest says about the usage of these two words, but I would presume that it’s about the insistence of some grammarians that the adjective “nauseous” can only be used in the sense of “causing nausea or disgust,” and that it’s wrong to use the adjective “nauseated” in the sense of “affected with nausea or disgust.”

I really don’t feel strongly about the usage of either “nauseous” and “nauseated.” In the admittedly few occasions that I found use for these adjectives, I actually thought of them as synonymous and practically interchangeable. I therefore won’t loss sleep over the choice between them. Formally, though, here’s what the Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary thinks about the usage of the two:

Function: adjective
Date: 1612

1 : causing nausea or disgust  : NAUSEATING
2 : affected with nausea or disgust
nauseously adverb 
nauseousness noun 

usage Those who insist that nauseous can properly be used only in sense 1 and that in sense 2 it is an error for nauseated are mistaken. Current evidence shows these facts: nauseous is most frequently used to mean physically affected with nausea, usually after a linking verb such as feel or become; figurative use is quite a bit less frequent. Use of nauseous in sense 1 is much more often figurative than literal, and this use appears to be losing ground to nauseating. Nauseated is used more widely than nauseous in sense 2.

Function: verb
Inflected Form: -ated ; -ating
Date: 1625

intransitive verb 
1 : to become affected with nausea
2 : to feel disgust
transitive verb   : to affect with nausea or disgust

On the supposedly wrong use of “most” in “most everyone.” At the outset, Roger, I have to disagree with the notion that the use of “most” in “most everyone” is unnecessary. That usage is actually an established fact, with “most” used as a more concise substitute for “almost.” What’s in question really is whether the construction “most everyone” is correct and acceptable usage.

Formally, of course, we are expected to say or write, for example, “Almost everyone is afraid that someone incompetent might be elected chairman of the company,” not “Most everyone is afraid that someone incompetent might be elected chairman of the company.” I won’t quibble over this usage prescription.

But let’s seize the cat by its tail, so to speak, and see what happens. Take your pick between these two alternative constructions of that sentence: “That someone incompetent might be elected chairman of the company is the fear of almost everyone.” “That someone incompetent might be elected chairman of the company is the fear of most everyone.” For me, version 2 that uses “most everyone” is better and more euphonic. It’s for this reason that I think we should be more flexible when faced with the choice of using “almost everyone” or “most everyone.”

But is my call for flexibility in this choice misguided and misplaced? I don’t think so. At the very moment of this writing, Google records the following entries for the usage of the two:

“most everyone” – From everywhere, 326,000,000; from the Philippines, 828,000
“almost everyone” – From everywhere, 95,600,000; from the Philippines, 229,000

The usage of “most everyone” beats that of “almost everyone” by a ratio of about 7:2, proving that the frowned-upon “most everyone” is closer to the heart of most everyone in terms of communication utility.

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Do we use “motherland” or “fatherland” in Jose Rizal’s poem?

From edmanuelsong (January 11, 2010):

When do we use “motherland” or “fatherland,” as in “The youth is the hope of our motherland/fatherland?”

My answer to Ed Manuel:

That line about the youth is, of course, the most pervasively quoted English paraphrase of the fifth line of “A La Juventud Filipina” (To the Filipino Youth), a poem that Jose Rizal, our national hero, wrote in Spanish in 1879 when he was only 18. The prize-winning poem had since become a staple recitation piece in many a literary elocution contest among young people in the Philippines. I must say, though, that this particular English paraphrase of the poem’s fifth line is bland, uninspired, unpoetic, and—I dare say—unfaithful to the original Spanish because it totally ignores Rizal’s description of youth as “bella” (“beautiful,” “handsome”).

Here’s the first stanza of Rizal’s poem in the original Spanish:

     ¡Alza tu tersa frente,
Juventud Filipina, en este día!
¡Luce resplandeciente
tu rica gallardía,
bella esperanza de la patria mía!  

In Spanish, the word “patria” is a feminine noun that means “native country,” and the nationals of Spain traditionally refer to their country as “madre patria” (“mother country”). Thus, when the young Rizal wrote the poem “A La Juventud Filipina” at a time when the Philippines was under Spanish colonial rule, he clearly meant the feminine “motherland” for “patria.”

So, well in keeping with that intent, the poem’s fifth line had been translated in some English versions as “Fair hope of my Motherland.” Likewise, Tagalog translations of that poem often render “la patria mia” in the feminine “inang bayan” (motherland). One Tagalog translation, however, eschewed the “motherland”/”fatherland” choice and used “Bayan kong Mutya” (My Beloved Country) instead.

Another translator, Alfredo S. Veloso, rendered “la patria” also as “motherland” but exercised extreme literary license by translating “bella esperanza” (literally “beautiful hope”) as “handsome hope”! I think there really wasn’t much choice because in Veloso’s  translation of the poem’s second line, the youth was specifically identified as the obviously masculine “Filipino.”

Hold high your faultless brow,
Filipino youth, on this day grand!
Shine forth resplendent now,
In gallant glory stand,
Handsome hope of my motherland!

Early in the 20th century, however, the American translator Charles Derbyshire—his English translation of Rizal’s “Mi Ultimo Adios” (My Last Farewell) is, in my recollection, the most popular and most often recited—translated the fifth line of “A La Juventud Filipina” as “Fair hope of my fatherland!”

Hold high the brow serene,
O youth, where now you stand;
Let the bright sheen
Of your grace be seen,
Fair hope of my fatherland!

So what should the correct English translation of “patria” be—“motherland” or “fatherland”? These two nouns, of course, are essentially synonymous, both denoting one’s native land, place of origin, or the country of one’s father or ancestors. Indeed, some traditionally matriarchal nations like Egypt, South Africa, India, and Sri Lanka are referred to by their people as their “motherland,” while some patriarchal nations like Germany, Greece, France, and Italy are referred to by their people as their “fatherland.”

Because of this variability in the English vocabulary for “patria,” I think both “motherland” and “fatherland” are perfectly acceptable renderings of Rizal’s intent for that phrase in his poem. The choice primarily depends on the translator’s poetic sensibility and cultural perception rather than on a specific grammar or semantic rule. Even so, I would venture the opinion that “motherland” is closer and more faithful to Rizal’s intent for “la patria mia” in the original Spanish.

Read Charles Derbyshire’s English translation of “A La Juventud Filipina

Read Alfredo S. Veloso’s English translation of “A La Juventud Filipina

Read a Tagalog version of “A La Juventud Filipina” by an anonymous translator

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A polite way to tell restaurant patrons not to ask for doggie bags

From Jonathan Valdez in the United States (January 7, 2010):

Bamboo Bistro in West Covina, California has signage posted on its walls that reads: “Please avoid leftovers.” Obviously the intended meaning, is “Pakiusap Iwasan Ang Pagtitira Ng Pagkain.”

I think the management wants its patrons not to waste food, but isn’t the use of “leftovers” improper in this context? It’s a pity my cell phone doesn’t have a camera.

My reply to Jonathan:

I think the language in “Please avoid leftovers” is a little loose, but at least it’s a polite alternative to “Please finish all the food you ordered” or “Please eat all of the food you ordered.” (For indeed, how can you possibly do that if the food is badly cooked or not to your liking?) In the Philippines, an often-used variant in restaurants that offer eat-all-you-can meals is “No leftovers allowed”—the implication being that the diner can’t ask for a doggie bag for food he or she had put on the plate but was unable to finish. (As you can imagine, allowing leftovers to be taken home under that offer could bankrupt the restaurant before long!)

Anyway, just to put things in proper perspective, leftover in the context of food is defined as “something that remains unused or unconsumed...especially leftover food served at a later meal.” So maybe—just a big maybe—that restaurant in West Covina is indirectly and ever politely telling its patrons to refrain from asking for doggie bags to take their leftover food home.

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Is the usage of the adverb “overly” anomalous English?

From Isabel Escoda, a Filipino journalist based in Hong Kong (January 2, 2010):

Reading your latest [notice for Jose Carillo's English Forum], I have a vague feeling that some time ago I read somewhere (the late William Safire?) about the anomalous use of “overly,” which you use in your first sentence below:

In keeping with the spirit of the New Year, I thought we should be more forgiving of the overly exuberant figurative language of the print and broadcast media these past several days. But I think levity in journalistic language shouldn’t be pursued to the point of insensitivity and callousness, like what was done by a major Metro Manila broadsheet last January 31when it reported that owing to the full moon, Mayon Volcano might extend the “courtesy” of “natural loud bangs and fireworks display” to the Albayanons as they welcomed the New Year.

Isn’t “over” an adverb, so making it doubly so by adding an “-ly” is anomalous?

Speaking of which, have you ever tackled the word “anomalous,” which Pinoys use to mean “criminal,” “scandalous”? As you know, the meaning is entirely different from the way most Pinoys use it

Happy New Year of the Tiger!

My reply to Isabel:

A Happy and Prosperous New Year to you, too, Isabel!

Sorry to say at the outset that your vague feeling over my usage of “overly” in My Media Watch posting may not be justified. I think my usage of “overly” is not anomalous; it is a proper, perfectly grammatical adverb that means “to an excessive degree”—for short, “too,” as in “too exuberant.” The word “overly” actually dates back to 1806, according to my Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary, and I have not heard anyone, whether layman or linguist, quibble against the propriety of its usage. I’m not sure either if the late William Safire had ever considered “overly” anomalous; what I know is that he did think so in the case of the adverbs “hopefully” and “momentarily” and fiercely opposed the use of both.*

Yes, “over” is an adverb in the sense of “beyond some quantity, limit, or norm often by a specified amount or to a specified degree” or “in an excessive manner,” but as you know, it can also be an adjective (as in “the year is over), preposition (run over a hump), and transitive verb (she overed the world record by 1.5 seconds). When “over” is used in its adjective sense, affixing “-ly” to it makes it an adverb, as in “2009 was an overly disastrous year for many people in Luzon.” I really don’t think there’s anything anomalous in such usage of “overly.”

As to the adjective “anomalous,” yes, you’re right, Isabel, Pinoys do use the word to mean “criminal” and “scandalous,” which is not exactly the dictionary meaning of the word. Here’s how my Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary defines it:

Etymology: Late Latin anomalus, from Greek anōmalos, literally, uneven, from a- + homalos even, from homos same — more at SAME
Date: 1655

1 : inconsistent with or deviating from what is usual, normal, or expected  : IRREGULAR, UNUSUAL
2 a : of uncertain nature or classification  b : marked by incongruity or contradiction  : PARADOXICAL

In this dictionary sense, “anomalous” has no criminal or scandalous aspect—only irregularity or incongruity. I have a feeling that “anomalous” is a form of journalese in the Philippines for a possibly criminal act (but one that can’t be called as such in print until the courts have rendered judgment on it) or a scandalous act (but one that can’t be called as such in print until the arbiters of human foibles—clerics and newspaper editorial writers—have pontificated on it). Perhaps due to overuse in newspaper headlines in the Philippines, though, “anomalous” has come to be strongly and inextricably associated with criminal or scandalous behavior.

*In the particular case of “hopefully,” the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language quotes William Safire as saying: “The word ‘hopefully’ has become the litmus test to determine whether one is a language snob or a language slob.” He fiercely opposed the use of “hopefully” in such constructions as “Hopefully, the electorate will be more sensible in their choices come election time,” arguing that it should be constructed as “It is hoped that the electorate will be more sensible in their choices come election time.” On the other hand, he considered “hopefully” to be correctly used in the sense of “full of hope,” as in “We all look hopefully on the next national elections to bring about the necessary reforms the country needs.” Eventually, however, in the face of its growing currency in the language, Safire relented on his opposition to “hopefully.

As to “momentarily,” here’s what Safire thought of it, writing in his “On Language” column in the May 11, 1997 issue of The New York Times:


“Fasten your seat belts,” the flight attendant announces, “we will be landing momentarily.”

Sir John Kerr, the British Ambassador to the United States, soon to be Britain's top diplomatic civil servant, departs—or deplanes—with one gripe about the American language: “It’s the abuse of momentarily. When the stewardess says that, I think to myself: ‘We’ll be on the ground for only a moment before the plane rushes off again. I’d better hurry.’ But she doesn’t mean that at all.”

She means “in a moment.” Purists, most language mavens and British diplomats use momentarily to mean “'for a moment.”

I am prepared to bail out here. When a word’s meaning is in such flux, you can’t say which definition is correct. If you’re deeply in the moment, and have to use that word, say

“'We’ll be landing in a moment, if we don’t crash”—or if “fleetingly” is your intent, forget the adverbial form and try “I’m only staying for a moment—don’t get up.”

Soon is such a beautiful word. Try it, briefly.

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