Jose Carillo's Forum


This page seeks to promote good English usage in everyday life—whether at home, at school, in the workplace, in public platforms, in the mass media, in books, and anywhere else where the printed or spoken word is used. In short, this page will serve as some sort of grammar police against blatant or grievous public misuses of English.

So, whenever you encounter such misuse, share it through this page in the spirit of constructive criticism. Our ultimate goal, of course, is to bring the misuse to the attention of those responsible so they can make the necessary correction.

This Week's Feature:

“Sick books” issue goes off the deep end, then bubbles up again

There was this story in two of the broadsheets last November 9 that Education Secretary Armin Luistro visited “sick books” crusader Antonio Calipjo Go recently and encouraged him to resume his terminated crusade. This was after Mr. Go announced a few days back that he was shelving his one-man advocacy for good, having been intensely pilloried instead of being thanked for it by the publishers, authors, and editors of the targeted textbooks.

Well, what a coincidence! Just two days before that, a new member of Jose Carillo’s English Forum—his username is pedestrian—asked me to explain what those textbook errors were all about in the first place. He was belatedly responding to a June 6, 2009 editorial of The Manila Times that commented on the several dozens of questionable English passages that Mr. Go had found in six locally produced English-language textbooks. Pedestrian was saying that since there was no explanation for those errors, it’s difficult for him to learn from them.

I told pedestrian that then and now, I just didn’t have the time to critique all those problematic textbook passages, but I consented to doing the following four samplers just to give him some idea of what the problem is all about:

(1) “The rain and storm are needed to snuff out the heat in the air.” There’s nothing wrong with the grammar of that sentence, but its sophomoric use of the phrasal verb “snuff out” makes it sound infantile. To “snuff out” is much too strong and emotional a verb phrase in that statement, for it means “to extinguish (as in smothering the flame of a candle), make extinct, kill, or execute.” And to say that the rain and storm are “needed” to do that snuffing out action on heat is unwarranted personification, or inappropriately representing rain and storm as humans. Here’s a more objective, level-headed way of wording that sentence: “The rain and storm remove heat from the air.”

(2) “Just remember this acronym—DOCSiShQACNMN to make it easy for you to remember the order of adjectives in a series.” It should be obvious even to a preschooler that this is ridiculous advice—to use a tangled, tongue-twisting, terribly-hard-to-recall acronym as a mnemonic for remembering the order of adjectives in a series. We normally expect to get such advice from simpletons, not educators or textbook writers.

(3) “Robert Louis Stevenson wrote the novels ‘The Treasure Island’ and ‘The Kidnapper.’” This factually erroneous sentence is the result not only of the ignorance and laziness of the textbook writer but also the carelessness and cluelessness of the textbook editors. The correct titles of those very popular novels are Treasure Island—without the article “The”—and Kidnapped—not “The Kidnapper.” It’s really unthinkable for the author of that book not to know this, and this kind of factual error makes that textbook statement sound almost like a sick joke.

(4) “My sister is old. She can accompany me to the outing.” This statement is semantically faulty and almost laughable. It gives the idea that old age is a prerequisite for someone to qualify as a companion to an outing. This time, the problem is both semantic and grammatical. What the writer obviously wanted to say is, “My sister is old enough. She can accompany me to the outing.” The adjective “enough” would have been enough to make that statement logical, but the textbook writer evidently didn’t have enough semantic sensitivity to make that distinction.

I told pedestrian in closing that I wish someone would pick up after me and find time to dissect the remaining problematic textbook passages, which I daresay won’t be remedied by simply providing supplemental notes to the flawed textbooks, as had been done by the DepEd. Those textbooks should be withdrawn from circulation as soon as practicable, then replaced with textbooks written by semantically competent authors.

Read The Manila Times editorial on the textbooks with erroneous English!

Read “Luistro backs Go crusade” in the Philippine Daily Inquirer now!

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Previous Feature:

Is yelling “Greetings!” or “Cheers!” at start of a letter acceptable?

I received the following e-mail this morning from Forum member Juanito T. Fuerte:

Hi, Joe,

What do you think of a formal or semi-formal business letter that starts out yelling “Greetings!” or “Cheers!” before proceeding with the main body of the letter? I certainly don’t have any hang-ups about it, but I want to know if this is a normal or an acceptable practice here in the Philippines so that I won’t get embarrassed if I started using the same. 

Incidentally, when I left the Philippines for America many moons ago, the title of respect “po” was used only in connection with addressing an elderly by a younger person or, by a child when addressing an adult but, never by an elder to a younger person. Now, I hear everybody—both young adult and older folks alike—using the word when addressing each other. It’s nice to hear that everybody seems to have become more respectful to/of each other but, the word “po” from an elder person to a younger one still sounds odd to me. It makes me wonder if we have lost the true meaning and intent of the word so that we now use it loosely and casually.

On second thought, maybe the Filipino people have simply decided that the word “po” is just as appropriate from a younger person to an elderly as well as from the elderly to a younger person.  Now, if some of the folks in high public places could also learn to be respectful especially of the country’s coffers, the people would have more reason to say “greetings” and “cheers” to each other! (October 31, 2010)

My reply to Juanito:

Frankly, I think the use of “Greetings!” or “Cheers!” to start a formal or semi-formal business letter shows superficiality, vagueness, laziness, and utter lack of imagination on the part of the writer. It’s terribly unpleasant to be greeted either way and I must admit that at least in my case, these expressions set the wrong tone for whatever pleasant or unpleasant message follows afterward in the letter or e-mail. I would rather that the writer greet me with a plain “Hi!” or “Hello!” or go straight to the point of his letter without any salutation.

As to the widespread use of the Tagalog word “po” these days, I feel that people take recourse to it not so much as a sign of respect or deference but simply to approximate the sense of the English adverb “please” or the French “s’il vous plaît” to express politeness. We all know that Tagalog doesn’t have a direct and precise word for “please”; all it has by way of rough translations are “Puede po[ho] ba?”, “Maaari po[ho] ba?”, and “Paki,” all of which are semantically off the mark because they sound more like supplication than expressing politeness. However, not using them gives the form of address in Tagalog a rough edge to it, so people are compelled to use “po” by default to soften it up. (When you tell someone, whether young or old, “Buksan mo ang bintana”—that’s “Please close the window” in polite English—without any of these three default expressions, you’ll come across as a blunt and disrespectful character.) I know that this will be disconcerting to a lot of people like you who have been away from the Philippines for a long time, but this is an unpalatable language reality that we have to live with and learn to take with a grain of salt, so to speak.

I have to disagree with you, though, when you say that there should be more reason for Filipinos to say “greetings” and “cheers” to one another if folks in high public places in the country would learn to be respectful of the country’s coffers. The incidence of graft and corruption in our government, on one hand, and expressing ourselves properly and politely, on the other, are mutually exclusive things. I therefore think that even if all of our public officials become scrupulously honest and saintly overnight, we should still avoid starting our letters with lazy and superficial salutations like “Greetings!” and “Cheers!” as a matter of courtesy and good English.

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And we thought we’d find typos only in newspapers and books!

Mispelled Road Sign

I don’t think we can blame this one on the influence of too much short-cut texting on the mobile phone.

What do you think?

Here’s the story from Yahoo!

Cringe-inducing typo outside N.C. school
By Brett Michael Dykes

Well, here's something to make your old English teacher gasp in horror: A road contractor hired to paint the word “school” on a freshly paved stretch of road near Southern Guilford High School in North Carolina rendered the traffic area in question a “school” zone.

But fear not for the (surely confused) youth of Greensboro! The contractor, a company called Traffic Markings, has already corrected the error.  Here's visual evidence, courtesy of local TV station WXII.

WXII had some fun with the typo on the air too:

This isn’t the first such mishap on record. Last year, for instance, a Miami-area road crew offered the variant spelling of “scohol,” while in 2007, a team in Kalamazoo, Mich., managed the same “h” and “c” reversal.

Chalk it all up to a bad day’s wrok.

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You can report the English misuse by e-mailing a verbatim transcription or an image in GIF or JPEG format to When doing so, please be mindful of the laws against libel and oral defamation. Our interest is not to humiliate English-language offenders but to help them rectify the error, so there’s no need to identify them in your messages. Just indicate the city, district, street, and general location where you saw or found the particular English misuse to make it easier for those concerned to be alerted about it.

We will also need your full name, residence, e-mail address, and telephone number so we can confirm with you before the posting is made on this page. Just let us know if you don’t want to be identified in the posting so we can withhold your identity. Please keep in mind that this page will be moderated and will not entertain scurrilous reports nor those sent in by anonymous sources.

That said, you can now get started in doing volunteer police work for the sake of good English! It should be a truly gratifying educational experience and you and other English lovers can have lots of fun besides!

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Page last modified: 27 November, 2010, 5:00 p.m.