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1  Readings / Going Deeper Into Language / A business professor’s recollection about American idioms on: October 16, 2017, 05:01:47 PM
I received this letter today (October 16, 2017) from Forum contributor Oscar P. Lagman, an MBA professor and businessman who also writes political commentary for a business newspaper:

Joe,

When an OFW recruiter-friend asked me in 2004 to give English lessons to those bound for the US, I got me several handbooks on American idioms, a few written by locals but one by three American PhDs, the Handbook of Commonly Used American Idioms, Fourth Edition. Well, my friend’s business ran into bureaucratic problems and I never got to share with his recruits my knowledge of American expressions.


THE FIFTH EDITION OF THE HANDBOOK BY MAKKAI ET AL


But the handbooks have proved useful to me all these years. There are idioms in the books of locals not found in the PhDs’ book, the cover of which says it has more than 2,500 idioms. Yet I have come across “Americanisms” that I can’t find in any of the books.

By the way, my blog is called “Splitting Hairs,” an idiom I chose from several possibilities found in the PhDs’ handbook. A number of business associates and former students told me that the blog’s name suited me to a T for that’s what I am always doing as a businessman and as an MBA professor and also as a political commentator—splitting hairs.        

Oscar
2  Readings / Readings in Language / A history of the world in five typefaces on: October 15, 2017, 05:47:34 PM
In his recently released book The Visual History of Type, Paul McNeil says five typefaces represent paradigm shifts in how we communicate. First and foremost was Johannes Gutenberg’s Bastarda typeface in 1454 at the dawn of the printing revolution, which was spurred by the need to reproduce the Holy Bible quickly in huge quantities the better to proselytize the world’s heathens.

GUTENBERG'S BASTARDA

McNeil describes the pivotal role of the Bastarda: “Since the 11th century, indulgences had been awarded by the church for the remission of sins. This involved costly, labour-intensive procedures where monastic scribes would write thousands of identical documents by hand. Gutenberg’s decisive contribution to printing – and to the direction of Western culture – was devised to solve this commercial problem. The invention of type in the form of single letters cast on individual bodies allowed the reproduction of uniform documents in huge quantities, rapidly, adaptably, accurately and, above all, cheaply.”

Over the next five centuries, Bastarda was followed by the Aldine Italic (1501), the Romain du Roi (1695), Figgins’s San Serif (1832), and New Alphabet (1967).


ALDINE ITALIC


ROMAIN-DU-ROI


FIGGINS'S SANS SERIF

NEW ALPHABET
 
Read Paul McNeil’s article about his book The Visual History of Type in the October 11, 2017 issue of The Irish Times now!
3  General Category / Time Out From English Grammar / “The monstrous folly of ‘end of the world’ prophecies—II” on: October 15, 2017, 09:12:02 AM
The latest prophetic scuttlebutt is that the world will end today, October 15, 2017, when self-styled Christian prognosticator and “researcher” David Meade says “an as-yet hidden planet named Nibiru or Planet X” makes its appearance. Since time immemorial, mankind has often entertained and terrified itself with such unfounded, often crackpot notions. Indeed, as the late Denis Dutton, professor of philosophy at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, pointed out in a cautionary article in the yearend 2009 issue of The New York Times, “Religions from Zoroastrianism to Judaism to Christianity to U.F.O. cults have been built around notions of sin and the world’s end”—only to be consistently rebuffed each time by the reality that the world had endured despite their direst predictions. Even so, he says, such end-time fantasies have retained their huge mass appeal, “as historically they have drawn crowds into churches, year after year.”


Read Erik Mack’s “There Is No Nibiru: Ending The End Of The World Talk” in the October 14, 2017 issue of Forbes.com now!

Read Dennis Dutton’s “It’s Always the End of the World as We Know It” in the December 31, 2009 issue of The New York Times now!

Check my 2009 posting on Dennis Dutton’s piece: “The monstrous folly of “end of the world” prophecies”

4  The Latest Buzz! / Site Announcements / Playlist Update (Oct. 7 - 13, 2017) for the Forum Gateway on Facebook on: October 13, 2017, 02:47:44 PM


To My Facebook Friends and Fans,

For quick access to the Forum’s featured English grammar refreshers and general interest stories, simply click their indicated web links below:

PLAYLIST UPDATE (Oct. 7 - 13, 2017) FOR THE FORUM GATEWAY ON FACEBOOK
(8 new postings, latest down to earlier postings):


1. “The need to know the English idioms” (October 12, 2017)
    



2. Retrospective: “Why is the stand-alone letter ‘I’ always capitalized?” (October 12, 2017)



 
3. “The need to avoid mixed-case usage in English – III” (October 11, 2017)




4. “20 spot-on political quips for our times” (October 10, 2017)




5. “The need to avoid mixed-case usage in English – II” (October 9, 2017)




6. “Some very close encounters with the language barrier” (October 8, 2017)




7. Lookback: “‘Scoring’ with a mate can be so sordid and wasteful but necessary” (October 7, 2017)




8. “The need to avoid mixed-case usage in English – I” (October 7, 2017)




********************************************************************

GRAMMAR AND MANY EYE-OPENING FEATURES BESIDES!
You thought Jose Carillo’s English Forum is all about grammar? Well, get a delightful
surprise by clicking this link to its Facebook Gateway from July 2017 to date!



*******************************************************************


CLASSIC FORUM POSTINGS (8 postings):

1. Two magnificent performances of “The Prayer,” spaced 10 years apart
     (Originally posted January 22, 2017)



2. “The Lovely Clichés Worth Keeping”
     (Originally posted circa 2002   Reposted December 16, 2016)

   

3. Conversations (4): “The real score about Valentine’s Day”
    (Originally posted February 10, 2010   Reposted February 1, 2014)



4. “Did Rizal ever speak and write in English?”
    (Originally posted January 28, 2010, latest update December 30, 2016)



5. “Conversations (2): A serious bad-grammar syndrome”
   (Reposted January 18, 2017)



6. “Anatomy of media stories that Filipina women have the world’s smallest breasts”
    (Posted July 11, 2016)



7. “Lost in Translation” - 1 and 2
    (Posted December 30, 2016)



8. “Indignities in American minor”
    (Posted October 27, 2016)




Click this link to earlier Playdate features!

Visit the Jose Carillo Forum Homepage!
5  Readings / Going Deeper Into Language / The need to know the English idioms on: October 11, 2017, 08:18:44 PM
Many people lament that English is so difficult to learn as a second or third language. They complain that although English forces learners to learn so many rules for its grammar, semantics, and structure, these rules are in practice often violated than followed. How come, they ask, that the verb “turn” (to move around an axis) can mean so many things when paired off with different prepositions, such as “turn on” (excite), “turn in” (submit), “turn over” (return or flip over), and “turn out” (happen)? And why do native English speakers say peculiar things that seem to have no logic or sense, like “We’re all ears about what happened to you and Veronica last night” or “The top city official made no bones about being a former number-games operator”?

English is hardly unique in being idiomatic. Like most of the world’s major languages, it unpredictably ignores its own grammar and semantics in actual usage. But the sheer richness and complexity of English idioms—or the way native English speakers actually communicate with one another—makes it much more difficult for nonnative speakers to learn English than most languages. With scant knowledge of the English idioms, nonnative speakers may be able to master the relatively simpler grammar, semantics, and structure of English yet sound like robots when speaking or writing in English.

There are five general categories of English idioms: the prepositional phrases, the prepositional idioms, common idiomatic expressions, figurative or metaphoric language, and euphemisms.

Prepositional phrase idiom. It consists of a verb or adverb form that ends in a preposition. The preposition used often doesn’t have a particular semantic significance or logic but had simply become entrenched through prolonged use, and the literal meaning of the verb or adverb isn’t changed by it. Some examples: “approve of” (not, say, “approve for” or “approve with”), “concerned with” (not “concerned of” or “concerned by”); “except for” (not “except of” or “except with”), and “charge with a crime” (not “charge of a crime” or “charge for a crime”).


Prepositional idiom. Also known as phrasal verb, it is an expression consisting of a verb whose meaning changes depending on the preposition that comes after it. As shown earlier, the verb “turn” can form so many prepositional idioms. Another verb that yields various idioms when paired off with different prepositions is “hand”: “hand in” (submit), “hand out” (to give for free), “hand over” (yield control of), and “hand down” (transmit in succession).


Common idiomatic expressions. They are concise, nonliteral language that native English speakers have grown accustomed to using for convenience. Some examples that also play on the verb “hand”: “to wash one’s hands” (to absolve oneself), “hand to mouth” (having nothing to spare beyond basic necessities), and “out of hand” (beyond control).


Figurative or metaphoric language. It is a form of idiom that compares two things in an evocative, nonliteral sense to suggest the likeness or similarity between them. It uses the so-called figures of speech, such as the simile and metaphor. An example is the expression “the face that launched a thousand ships”—a literary allusion to Helen of Troy—to mean a provocatively beautiful woman.


Euphemism. It is a polite expression that people customarily use for things that they find unpleasant, upsetting, or embarrassing, such as sex, death, bodily functions, and war. Some examples: “to pass away” (die), “to rightsize” (to lay off excess personnel), and “collateral damage” (civilian deaths).


Obviously, the thousands upon thousands of English idioms can only be learned through long and intensive exposure to English as spoken and written by its native speakers. Formal grammar, semantics, and structure can only lay the bare foundations for English proficiency. Only when we have become adequately conversant with its idioms can we really say that we know our English.



This essay appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the Education Section of the October 12, 2017 issue (print edition only) of The Manila Times, © 2017 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.
6  Joe Carillo's Desk / Getting to Know English / The need to avoid mixed-case usage in English - III on: October 10, 2017, 11:39:14 PM
We discussed in second part of this series this prescription of the case rule in English: We can’t mix a noun and pronoun—or a pronoun and another pronoun—that are in different cases. This rule is particularly crucial when we combine or mix two or more pronouns to form compound subjects, compound doers of the action, or compound objects (receivers of the action). We have already taken up two typical examples of improper case mixing, and we will now take up just two more examples to emphasize the importance of avoiding mixed-case usage.  


3. Mixing the objective case “you” and the nominative case “I

Wrong: “Our neighbors are nasty to you and I.” (The pronoun “you” is in the objective case while the pronoun “I” is in the subjective case, resulting in case mixing.)

Correct: “Our neighbors are nasty to you and me.” (The pronouns “you” and “me” are now both in the objective case.)

4. Mixing the objective case “me” and the subjective case “they”

Wrong: “I wish they were nicer to me and they.” (The pronoun “me” is in the objective case while the pronoun “they” is in the subjective case, resulting in case mixing.)

Correct: “I wish they were nicer to me and them.” (The pronouns “me” and “them” are now both in the objective case.)

I trust that the four examples of improper case mixing we have taken up have fortified our understanding of case, which is a very important but often poorly understood aspect of English grammar. All we need to do now is to resolve the question raised by Dessang about the usage of “Between you and I…” by her international school colleagues. In keeping with the case rule, shouldn’t it be “between you and me…” instead?

To put our discussions on a surer footing, let’s use that expression in a complete sentence, say, “This secret is just between you and I.” Is that sentence correct, or should it be constructed as “This secret is just between you and me” instead?

That question is rather tricky because the pronoun “you” doesn’t inflect or change whether it’s in the nominative (and subjective) case or objective case. In that sentence, therefore, it’s not that easy to figure out if “you” is functioning as a subject or as an object. But we know that by definition, “me” can only be a pronoun in the objective case, so, following the case rule, it can only be combined or compounded with another objective-case pronoun. That pronoun, obviously, would be the objective case “you” rather than the subjective (or nominative) case “you.”

 
                   CORRECT COMPOUNDING OF PRONOUNS                 WRONG COMPOUNDING OF PRONOUNS

There is actually another way to buttress the argument in favor of “between you and me” as the correct usage. From our basic grammar, we should instantly recognize “between” as a preposition, and we will likely also remember this traditional rule in English grammar: When the pronoun is the object of a preposition, that pronoun should be in the objective case.

We already know that the pronoun “me” is in the objective case, so it is the proper pronoun (not the subjective case “I”) to combine with the objective case “you”—meaning that “between you and me” is indeed the correct form and not “between you and I.” This is admittedly a complicated explanation, but there’s no avoiding it if we are to clearly establish the logic of “between you and me” as the standard accepted usage instead of “between you and I.”


So, to go back to Dessang’s question at the outset, she absolutely didn’t learn something wrong or miss out something in school. It’s her international school colleagues who, even if they are native English speakers, are definitely wrong in their mixed-case constructions. It would be a great idea then to alert them and similarly ill-informed people about this discussion on improper case mixing—the sooner, the better.

This essay, 684th of a series, appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the March 20, 2010 issue of The Manila Times, © 2010 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.
7  Joe Carillo's Desk / Getting to Know English / The need to avoid mixed-case usage in English - II on: October 08, 2017, 11:54:38 PM
We saw in last week’s discussion that a clear understanding of the three case forms in English is crucial to the proper compounding or combining of nouns and pronouns. We then discussed the nominative or subjective case as well as the objective case. Now we will take up the possessive case.

3.   Possessive case – Nouns or pronouns are in this case when they indicate who or what possesses or owns something.




Examples – “This seat is mine while that one is yours.” “Theirs is the glory while ours is the hard work.” (The pronouns “mine,” “yours,” “theirs,” and “ours” are in the possessive case.)

As we all know, the possessive case is actually the simplest of the three cases. The possessive pronouns are virtually no-brainers so we need not take them up in detail here, except to keep in mind that to indicate ownership, the possessive pronouns have their corresponding adjective form modifiers as shown in the chart below. These adjectives modify a noun to indicate who owns or possesses it, as in “Pardon me, ma'am, but your car is improperly parked.”




There’s just one more very important characteristic of English nouns that we need to know before discussing the case rule for compounding nouns and pronouns. By compounding, of course, we mean using nouns and pronouns in combination as subjects, doers of the action, or direct or indirect objects.

That characteristic of English nouns is this: Even if nouns do take a particular case when used in sentences, they don’t inflect or change form except in the possessive case; in contrast, with the notable exception of “you,” the pronouns inflect in all of the cases. For instance, the noun “Elvira” remains as “Elvira” in the nominative or subjective case and in the objective case; in the possessive case, however, it inflects to “Elvira’s.”




Now we are ready to tackle the case rule in English: A noun and pronoun being used in combination to form a compound subject, a compound doer of the action, or a compound object of the verb should both be in the same case; otherwise, the sentence will be grammatically incorrect.

In practice, there’s no need to consciously apply the case rule in the following situations: (a) when the compound subject consists of both nouns, (b) when the compound doer of the action consists of both nouns, and (c) when the compound receiver of the action consists of both nouns. This is because as explained earlier, nouns don’t inflect or change at all in those situations.

RULE OF THUMB FOR COMPOUNDING A NOUN AND PRONOUN AS SUBJECT

But the case rule becomes crucial when a noun and pronoun—or a pronoun and another pronoun—are combined to form compound subjects, compound doers of the action, or compound objects (receivers of the action). The case rule provides that we can’t mix a noun and pronoun—or a pronoun and another pronoun—that are in different cases. When we do, the resulting sentence will be grammatically incorrect.

Here are typical examples of disallowed case mixing:

1. Mixing a noun and the objective-case pronoun “me”

Wrong: “Jenny and me like each other.” (The noun “Jenny” is in the nominative case but the pronoun “me” is in the objective case, resulting in case mixing.)

Correct: “Jenny and I like each other.” (Both the noun “Jenny” and the pronoun “I” are in the nominative case.)

2. Mixing the nominative-case pronoun “you” with the objective-case pronoun “me”

Wrong: “You and me should travel together sometime.” (The pronoun “you” is in the nominative case and the pronoun “me” is in the objective case, resulting in case mixing.)

Correct: “You and I should travel together sometime.” (Both “you” and “I” are in the nominative case.)

This brings us back to the mixed-case construction of Dessang’s colleagues: “Me and my friend are going to...” (The pronoun “me” is in the objective case while the noun “my friend” is in the nominative case, resulting in case-mixing.)

Correct: “I and my friend are going to…” (Both the pronoun “I” and the noun “my friend” are now in the nominative case.)
  
Better still (as matter of good form): “My friend and I are going to…”

We will conclude this discussion in the third installment.

(Next: The need to avoid mixed-case usage in English – III)  October 11, 2017
8  Joe Carillo's Desk / Getting to Know English / The need to avoid mixed-case usage in English - I on: October 07, 2017, 10:47:00 AM
Arguably one of the toughest things to learn about English is the matter of case, and I’d go as far as to say that this is why even native English speakers often bungle their pronoun usage without becoming aware of it. The inevitable result is, of course, bad English.

So let me share with you my answer to the following question posed by a new member of Jose Carillo’s English Forum—her user name is Dessang—who works in a Philippine-based international school:   

“My colleagues (teachers) who are English native speakers always say: ‘You and me are...’ or ‘Me and my friend are going to...’ or ‘Between you and I…” This confuses me because I was taught that it should be ‘You and I are…’ or ‘My friend and I are going to…” and ‘Between you and me…’ Did I learn something wrong or miss out something in school? Or is the usage of my colleagues grammatically correct and I’m wrong?”

I told Dessang that even if her international school colleagues are native English speakers, they are grammatically wrong on all three counts—in how they compounded (combined) the subjects in “You and me are...”, in how they compounded the doers of the action in “Me and my friend are going to...”, and in how they compounded the objects in “Between you and I.” The correct way, I reassured her, is the usage she described: “You and I are…”, “My friend and I are going to…”, and “Between you and me…”


But it’s rather complicated to show why her colleagues are wrong, so I told Dessang that it’s very important to be very clear first about what case in English is. Indeed, this is the only way to find out what grammar rules are being violated by her colleagues.

So, to answer Dessang’s question, I made the following extensive discussion of case:

Remember now that in English, case is any of the three forms that a noun, pronoun, or modifier takes to indicate its functional role in a sentence, whether nominative or subjective, objective, or possessive. It cannot be overemphasized that in sentence construction, a clear understanding of these case forms is crucial to the proper compounding of nouns and pronouns.



1. Nominative or subjective case – Nouns or pronouns are in the nominative case when they are the doer of the verb’s action in the sentence, and in the subjective case when they act as its subject.
 
Examples – Noun in nominative case: “The woman slapped him.” (The noun “woman” is in the nominative case because it is the doer of the action).  Pronoun in nominative case:She slapped him.” (The pronoun “she” is in the nominative case because it is the doer of the action).

Noun in subjective case: “The woman is lovely.” (The noun “woman” is in the subjective case because it is the subject of the sentence). Pronoun in subjective case:She is lovely.” (The pronoun “she” is in the subjective case because it is the subject of the sentence).

2. Objective case – Nouns or pronouns are in the objective case when they receive the verb’s action, whether as direct or indirect objects.

Examples – Noun in objective case as direct object: “The woman slapped Mario.” (The noun “Mario” is in the objective case, serving as direct object of the verb “slapped”). Pronoun in objective case: “The woman slapped him.” (The pronoun “him” is in the objective case, serving as direct object of the verb “slapped”).

Noun in objective case as indirect object: “The woman slipped Mario a note.”
(The noun “Mario” is in the objective case, serving as indirect object of the verb “slipped”).
Pronoun in objective as indirect object: “The woman slipped him a note.”
(The pronoun “him” is in the objective case, serving as indirect object of the verb “slipped”).

We’ll continue this discussion in the second of three installments.

(Next: The need to avoid mixed-case usage in English – II)  October 9, 2017

This essay, 682nd of a series, first appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the March 13, 2010 issue of The Manila Times, © 2010 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.
9  The Latest Buzz! / Site Announcements / Playlist Update (Sept. 30 - Oct. 6, 2017) for the Forum Gateway on Facebook on: October 06, 2017, 09:26:48 AM


To My Facebook Friends and Fans,

For quick access to the Forum’s featured English grammar refreshers and general interest stories, simply click their indicated web links below:

PLAYLIST UPDATE (Sept. 30 - Oct. 6, 2017) FOR THE FORUM GATEWAY ON FACEBOOK
(7 new postings, latest down to earlier postings):


1. “The nature of true English idioms” (October 5, 2017)




2. “People’s names form a veritable catalogue of very ancient ghosts” (October 5, 2017)




3. Encore: “70 English idiomatic expressions sometimes bungled by Pinoys” (October 4, 2017)




4. “A full-dress review of reported or indirect speech” (October 3, 2017)




5. Retrospective: “The great gobbledygook-generating machine” (October 2, 2017)




6. Reprise three years hence: “A few minutes of undiluted joy” (October 1, 2017)




7. “Excessive Negation and Its Dangers” (October 1, 2017)




********************************************************************

GRAMMAR AND MANY EYE-OPENING FEATURES BESIDES!
You thought Jose Carillo’s English Forum is all about grammar? Well, get a delightful
surprise by clicking this link to its Facebook Gateway from July 2017 to date!



*******************************************************************


CLASSIC FORUM POSTINGS (8 postings):

1. Two magnificent performances of “The Prayer,” spaced 10 years apart
     (Originally posted January 22, 2017)



2. “The Lovely Clichés Worth Keeping”
     (Originally posted circa 2002   Reposted December 16, 2016)

   

3. Conversations (4): “The real score about Valentine’s Day”
    (Originally posted February 10, 2010   Reposted February 1, 2014)



4. “Did Rizal ever speak and write in English?”
    (Originally posted January 28, 2010, latest update December 30, 2016)



5. “Conversations (2): A serious bad-grammar syndrome”
   (Reposted January 18, 2017)



6. “Anatomy of media stories that Filipina women have the world’s smallest breasts”
    (Posted July 11, 2016)



7. “Lost in Translation” - 1 and 2
    (Posted December 30, 2016)



8. “Indignities in American minor”
    (Posted October 27, 2016)




Click this link to earlier Playdate features!

Visit the Jose Carillo Forum Homepage!
10  Joe Carillo's Desk / You Asked Me This Question / Are contracted words considered a single word or not? on: October 05, 2017, 06:28:03 PM
Question posted by Lia Leigh on the Forum's Facebook Gateway (October 4, 2017):

Sir, good morning! I have a question: If two words were contracted (such as "is not" - isn't, "are not" - aren't), do we consider the contracted form as a single word or not? I wish to be enlightened.

My reply to Lia Leigh:

Hi,Lia! From the standpoint of a simple word count, say for a composition or essay to stay within a required word limit, contracted words like "isn't" for "is not" and "aren't" for "are not" are considered single words. A contracted word is just one word if it has spaces or other punctuation around it, in the same way as hyphenated words like "three-step" and "pitter-patter" and compound words like "catcall" and overwhelming."

Rejoinder from Lia Leigh:

Thank you, Sir! I am so enlightened!
11  Readings / Going Deeper Into Language / The nature of true English idioms on: October 04, 2017, 09:55:26 PM
Idioms are collocations—the linguist’s term for certain common word arrangements—that don’t mean what the component words say literally. Learners of a new language discover this when they start encountering its idioms. Whether a phrasal verb, idiomatic expression, proverb, or euphemism, an idiom congeals into a fixed, indivisible form and sense once established, and it loses both cogency and meaning when we attempt to express it in different terms or in a different language. For instance, the idiom “eat your heart out” (be jealous) disintegrates when we change, say, “eat” to “chew”(“chew your heart out”), “heart” to “aorta” (“eat your aorta out”), or “out” to “bits and pieces” (“eat your heart to bits and pieces”). Worse, it becomes nonsense when translated into another language, as when it is said in Tagalog as “laklakin mo ang puso mo.”


IDIOMS ARE COLLOCATIONS THAT HAVE A NON-LITERAL MEANING


These things happen because idioms are essentially metaphors that draw their communicative power from shared knowledge or experience between the speaker or writer and the audience. It’s either we know and accept an idiom or we don’t, and it would be foolhardy to use it—much less to fiddle with it—without being sure that the audience knows it, too. True idioms are embedded in the culture of most native speakers of the language, which is why nonnative speakers can’t really get proficient in another language unless they make an effort to learn its most common idioms.


FIGURATIVE EXPRESSIONS ARE THE MOST COMMON FORMS OF IDIOMS


We must beware, though, that not every collocation is a true idiom. For instance, the expression “spirits are up” may sound like an idiom but it really isn’t. We can actually replace its operative words—“spirits” and “up”—with other words and it would still hold and be meaningful in other ways: “spirits are down” or “spirits are low,” or “energy is up” or “energy is down.” In contrast, the phrasal verbs “turn in” (hand over), “turn out” (to prove to be), “turn off” (to cause a loss of interest), “turn over” (to overturn), and “turn down” (to reject) are true idioms, each change in preposition giving the collocation an entirely different meaning.


 
IDIOMS ARE ESSENTIALLY METAPHORS THAT COMMUNICATE A SHARED FEELING OR EXPERIENCE


Indeed, the true idioms of a language share three common features that differentiate them from plain and simple collocations: (1) They are not compositional, (2) Their words are not substitutable, and (3) They are not modifiable.

An idiom is not compositional. We can’t compose or construct an idiom from the individual meanings of its component words. For instance, the idiom “take a lot of flak” (get strongly opposed or heavily criticized) draws its metaphorical power from the quandary of combat pilots whose aircraft are met by bursting shells (the “flak”) fired from anti-aircraft guns. In its current form, however, this collocation no longer has anything to do with combat pilots, flak, or aerial warfare; only the aspect of strong opposition is retained in its meaning. Today, this idiom is largely applied to serious interoffice or political disputes.  

The words of an idiom are not substitutable. When a word in a true idiom is replaced with a related word or even a close synonym, the idiom collapses and loses its intended meaning. This is what happens to “take a lot of flak” when we change “take” to “sustain” and “flak” to “gunfire” to form “sustain a lot of gunfire”—a different but purely literal collocation.

An idiom is not modifiable. Changing the way the words of an idiom are put together or inflected alters its meaning or, worse, changes it beyond recognition. Imagine the semantic consequences when we modify “take a lot of flak” to, say, “get flakked a lot” or “take so much flakking”!

True idioms are meant to make ourselves quickly understood through the common knowledge and understanding we share with our audience, so it doesn’t really pay to monkey around with them.

(Next week: The need to know the English idioms)   October 12, 2017   



This essay appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the Education Section of the October 5, 2017 issue (print edition only) of The Manila Times, © 2017 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.
12  Joe Carillo's Desk / You Asked Me This Question / A problem with syntax and sentence construction on: October 04, 2017, 08:45:22 AM
Question by India-based Prashant Solonki posted on the Forum's Facebook Gateway (September 10, 2017):

Hello, Jose sir! I have a doubt on the usage of "all" and "whose." I'm confused about he following sentences:

1. "He is a person whose all efforts succeed."
2. "He is a person all whose efforts succeed."

Sir, actually I have a book by a local Indian author which is saying the 1st one is "incorrect" and suggesting using the second one.


Please explain why.

My reply to Prashant:

Sentence 1, "He is a person whose all efforts succeed," clearly has faulty syntax and a garbled construction; it is therefore incorrect in every respect. Sentence 2, "He is a person all whose efforts succeed," is a pithy sentence construction that can pass as correct idiomatically. It can be grammatically tweaked to be correct in every respect by the simple insertion of the preposition "of" after "all," such that it reads as follows: "He is a person all of whose efforts succeed." The tweak makes the adjective phrase "all of whose efforts succeed" formally modify "person" as the noun complement of the sentence. The absence of that "of" in Sentence 2 makes that construction an elliptical sentence that nevertheless reads and sounds correctly. Refer to my discussion of elliptical sentences in the Forum, "Elliptical sentences often read and sound better than regular sentences."
13  Joe Carillo's Desk / Getting to Know English / A full-dress review of reported or indirect speech on: October 03, 2017, 01:10:33 PM
Reported speech needs advanced grammar skills and a quick mind

From a grammar standpoint, writing about the things we have said ourselves is much simpler than reporting to people what we heard or learned somebody else has said. This latter activity is what’s known in English grammar as reported speech or indirect speech, and it requires higher grammar skills and quickness of mind to do properly. As I’m sure many of us have already found out, putting the reported clause—the statement uttered by the person we are talking about—in the proper tense and form isn’t all that simple. Unless we are among the very few people on Earth gifted with total recall, we won’t be able to quote those utterances word for word. We will often need to paraphrase those utterances and apply what’s known as the normal sequence-of-tenses rule for reported speech—a rule that needs thorough mastery before it can be applied with confidence and finesse.




In “How to handle reported speech,” a three-part essay that I wrote for my English-usage column in The Manila Times in 2009, I discuss how the operative verb in the reported statement must be rendered to grammatically match the tense of the reporting verb, and what grammatical changes must be made in the reported statement itself to conform to the sense of reported speech. I have posted all three essays in this week’s edition of the Forum for those who need a full-dress review of reported speech to further improve their English.

How to handle reported speech

Part I:

Handling directly quoted statements is quite simple, but it can sometimes go wrong when we mix up the American English and British English styles for using quotation marks and for punctuating quoted statements within quoted statements. It gets just a bit more complicated when we report what someone else has said but don’t use the exact words that were uttered. We do this, of course, when we can’t remember the exact words or when we just want to summarize, focus on the salient points, or perhaps improve the grammar of what was said. We then enter the realm of what's called in English grammar as reported speech or indirect speech.

The pivotal factor in reported speech is the tense of the reporting verb. When the reporting verb is in the simple present tense, present perfect tense, or future tense, the operative verb in the reported statement remains unchanged; often, only the pronouns in the quoted statement need to be changed.

Consider the following directly quoted statement by American baker Kent Dueitt in an interview with The New York Times: “We keep the dough cooled, to prevent the baking powder from activating, and we don’t beat the dough up. We mix slow.”

In the simple present tense, that statement can be rendered in reported speech as follows:

American baker Kent Dueitt says that they keep the dough cooled to prevent the baking powder from activating and that they don’t beat the dough but mix it slow.

In the present perfect tense:

American baker Kent Dueitt has said that they keep the dough cooled to prevent the baking powder from activating and that they don’t beat the dough but mix it slow.

And in the future tense:

American baker Kent Dueitt will say that they keep the dough cooled to prevent the baking powder from activating and that they don’t beat the dough but mix it slow.
    
In all three of the reporting tenses above, the only grammatically significant change in the reported statement is the replacement of the pronoun “we” with “they.” Of course, the conjunction “that” is used to introduce the indirectly quoted statement, since it takes the form of a noun clause. In informal writing, however, the conjunction “that” can often be dropped to make the reported speech easier to articulate, as we can see in the following “that”-less construction of the simple present tense rendition:

American baker Kent Dueitt says they keep the dough cooled to prevent the baking powder from activating, and don’t beat the dough but mix it slow.

But things in reported speech become more iffy when the reporting verb is in the past tense. The general rule, as we all know, is for the operative verb in the reported statement to move one tense back, but that rule applies only when the action in the reported statement is a completed or consummated one.

Take this direct quote from a Philippine official about the Somalia ship-piracy issue as reported in The Manila Times: “At the moment, we have not gotten any feedback as to the advisability of issuing an official ban for Filipino seamen going there (Somalia).”

Quite simply, that direct quote can be rendered in reported speech this way:

The Philippine official said that they had not gotten any feedback at the moment as to the advisability of issuing an official ban for Filipino seamen going to Somalia.



GRAMMAR AND SENTENCE STRUCTURE CHANGES FROM DIRECT SPEECH TO INDIRECT SPEECH


When the action is a repeated or habitual one, however, as in the case of the baker’s statement quoted in The New York Times, the operative verb in the reported statement formally should take the modal form “would + verb”:

American baker Kent Dueitt said [that] they would keep the dough cooled to prevent the baking powder from activating and [that they] would not beat the dough but mix it slow.  (April 18, 2009)

Part II:

In the previous essay, I observed that while the general rule in reported speech is to move the operative verb in the directly quoted statement one tense back, things are not as predictable when the action in the reported statement is a repeated or habitual one, as in this directly quoted statement by an American baker: “We keep the dough cooled, to prevent the baking powder from activating, and we don’t beat the dough up. We mix slow.” I said that in reported speech, the operative verbs in that reported statement formally take not the simple past tense but the modal form “would + verb”:

American baker Kent Dueitt said [that] they would keep the dough cooled to prevent the baking powder from activating and [that they] would not beat the dough but mix it slow.

The formal use of the modal form “would + verb” for this particular situation is meant to indicate that while the actions described—keeping the dough cooled and not beating it—were being repeatedly or habitually done by the bakers up to the point of Mr. Dueitt’s utterance, it’s possible that they might have stopped doing those actions thereafter. In other words, the use of the modal form recognizes that there’s a zone of uncertainty as to whether the repeated or habitual actions described had continued or persisted up to the time the statement was reported. Of course, without that uncertainty—if we are definitely sure that the bakers continue to do those actions up to now—we can very well use the simple present tense for the operative verbs in the reported speech, as follows:

American baker Kent Dueitt said (that) they keep the dough cooled to prevent the baking powder from activating and (that they) don’t beat the dough but mix it slow.

Now, as I had discussed in an earlier essay, when the reporting verb is in the simple past tense, the operative verb in a directly quoted statement—in whatever tense it might be—generally moves one tense backwards in reported speech.

From past progressive in a directly quoted statement:
We were cooling the dough when the baking powder activated it.

To past perfect progressive in reported speech (taking into account that Mr. Dueitt is male):
He said they had been cooling the dough when the baking powder activated it.

From present progressive:
We are finding it difficult to cool the dough.

To past progressive:
He said they were finding it difficult to cool the dough.

From simple present perfect:
We have cooled the dough enough but the baking powder activated it.

To simple past perfect:
He said they had cooled the dough enough but the baking powder activated it.

From present perfect progressive:
We have been cooling the dough but the baking powder still activated it.

To past perfect progressive:
He said they had been cooling the dough but the baking power still activated it.

Keep in mind, though, that when the operative verb of the reported utterance is in the past perfect or past perfect progressive tense, no change is possible for it in reported speech; it stays in that tense.

Utterance in the past perfect:
The dough had cooled by the time we remembered to beat it.

In reported speech:
He said the dough had cooled by the time they remembered to beat it.

Utterance in the past perfect progressive:
We had been cooling that dough without beating it as a matter of procedure.

In reported speech:
He said they had been cooling that dough without beating it as a matter of procedure.

We will conclude this discussion in the next essay. (April 25, 2009)

Part III:

We are now almost done with our review of how directly quoted statements behave when transformed into reported speech, particularly in the way their operative verbs move one tense back in the paraphrased statement. All we need to do now is to tie up a few loose ends to make sure that the transformations we make are grammatically correct every time.



CHANGES IN TIME SIGNIFIERS FROM DIRECT SPEECH TO INDIRECT SPEECH


In making the transformations, we also need to always change the time signifiers in the directly quoted statement to conform to the sense of reported speech. These time signifiers, whenever present in the direct quote, must be back-shifted one step in time along with the back-shifting of the operative verb. If we forget to do this, our sentences would be askew both grammatically and logically.

These time signifiers or adverbs of time and their conversion to the form needed in reported speech should now be second nature to us, as we can see in the list below of the most common time-signifier conversions:

From “now” to “then”:
Direct quote: “The public should start taking precautions against the swine flu virus right now,” the health official said last week.

Reported speech: The health official said last week that the public should start taking precautions against the swine flu virus right then.

From “today” to “that day”:
Direct quote: “I am giving you only until today to settle your account,” she said.

Reported speech: She said she was giving me only until that day to settle my account.

From “tomorrow” to “the following day”:
Direct quote: “See me tomorrow to discuss your monthly sales,” my manager said.

Reported speech: My manager asked me to see him the following day to discuss my monthly sales.

From “yesterday” to “the previous day” or “the day before”:
Direct quote: “Please tell me what you were doing at the park yesterday,” the irate wife asked her husband.

Reported speech: The irate wife asked her husband what he was doing at the park the previous day [or the day before].

From “last year” to “the year before”:
Direct quote: “We met last year during a heavy downpour,” the bride told us.

Reported speech: The bride told us that they met the year before during a heavy downpour.



EFFECT OF PASSAGE OF TIME ON THE TRANSFORMATION FROM DIRECT SPEECH TO INDIRECT SPEECH


Apart from the time signifiers, we also need to routinely change the place signifiers “here” and “this” in directly quoted statements to conform to the sense of reported speech, as follows:

From “here” to “there”:
Direct quote: “I saw you here with another woman this morning,” his fiancée said at the restaurant.

Reported speech: His fiancée said at the restaurant [that] she saw him there with another woman that morning.”

From “this” to “that”:
Direct quote: “I warned you about this matter several times,” his supervisor said.

Reported speech: His supervisor said [that] he had warned him about that matter several times.

Finally, when the operative verb in a directly quoted statement is in the modal form, we need to remember to always change the modal auxiliary to its past tense form in reported speech.

From “will” to “would”:
Direct quote: “The staff will leave only upon my instructions,” the general manager said.

Reported speech: The general manager said (that) the staff would leave only upon his instructions.

From “can” to “could”:
Direct quote: “Alicia can finish her report in three days,” the supervisor said.

Reported speech: The supervisor said (that) Alicia could finish her report in three days.”

From “must” to “had to”:
Direct quote: “All projects must be finished by yearend,” the president said.

Reported speech: The president said [that] all projects had to be finished by yearend.

From “may” to “might”:
Direct quote: “I may go to New York next month,” my friend said.

Reported speech: My friend said he might go to New York next month.

We are done with our review of reported speech. (May 2, 2009)
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From the weekly column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in The Manila Times, April 18 and 25 and May 2, 2009 © 2009 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

RELATED ESSAYS:
“The proper way to construct sentences for reported speech”
“Going back to the basic forms of reported speech”
14  Joe Carillo's Desk / Essays by Joe Carillo / The great gobbledygook-generating machine on: October 02, 2017, 12:46:44 AM
Sometime ago, I found on the Internet a devilishly delightful way of coming up with far out ideas. It was a little electronic machine called the gobbledygook generator. Its makers said it was capable of producing around 40,000 elegant and grammar-perfect insights in English on how to run companies and organizations. Wonderful, I told myself! That should make every expensive academic genius or management guru think twice about his fancy pricing. There was just one hitch about the machine’s astounding productivity, though. Every bit of the wisdom it would spew out was utter nonsense.


When the machine’s tiny window came online I excitedly tapped the keyboard. True enough, the window started churning out onscreen one choice specimen of gobbledygook after another. Among them were:

“Forward-looking companies invest in remote administrative time-phases.”
“Our exploratory research points to regenerated strategic capability.”
“Our upgraded model now offers integrated strategic innovation.”
“At base level, this just comes down to facilitating monitored capability.”
“My organization believes in synchronized transitional concepts.”
“You really can’t fail with balanced third-generation capability.”
“The consultants recommend total transitional contingencies.”
   
I have always prided myself in having the knack for making sense out of chaos. After all, I am adequately literate in English and it just so happens that I had a long time ago taken a top-of-the-line management development course. But for the life of me, I was stumped by all these gobbledygook. I tried to figure them out for hours but to no avail. They haunted me for days. At night, in my dreams, I would suddenly come up with what seemed to be neat, plausible interpretations and start congratulating myself for my success. But they would turn out to be false in a millisecond or two, and I would wake up in cold sweat and find it terribly hard to go back to sleep.

What is it about people that makes them capable, like the gobbledygook machine, of writing meaningless prose? Is it plain inability to write? Is it the inordinate desire to impress but lacking the charm and vocabulary to do so? Is it too much obedience to the siren call of “publish or perish,” even if one does not have a single substantial idea to share? Is it the plain inability to think, or perhaps the even graver sin of mistaking the process as the simple piling up of word upon word to form at least a crude chunk of wisdom?

Look at the following actual examples of failed prose to get a clearer idea of the problem:

“If there are any points on which you require explanation or further particulars, we shall be glad to furnish such additional details as may be required by telephone.” (“If you have any questions, please call.”)

“The noncompensable evaluation heretofore assigned to you as a war veteran for your service-connected disability is hereby confirmed and continued.” (“We regret to confirm that your claim for compensation as a war veteran has been disapproved.”)

“The influence exerted by Christianity upon the arts extends to painting and sculpture insofar as their relationship to Christian religious experiences corresponds to that part of this experience which consists of images, and extends to architecture, both with regard to edifices dedicated to worship and to the settlement of religious communities.” (“Christianity has profoundly influenced painting and sculpture particularly in showing a wide array of images of the religious experience. In architecture, it has also influenced the design of churches and the communities of the faithful.”)

“Conceptualizing the multiple relations into which they enter, and which theymediate, through Serres’ notion of the parasite, the manifold and complex shifts between the semiotic and the material, the intersubjective and the interobjective (and permutations thereof), and the broader implications of this analysis for the theorization of the object will be explored.”  (My attempts to make sense of this did not work. Try it if you can.)

I shiver when I see gobbledygook like these nibbling at the sinews of our English. I begin to feel a clear danger that we may all become android gobbledygooks, half-human and half-machine, unless we learn how to clarify our thoughts with a little more precision and write them in plain and simple English. This is something for our educators to ponder on deeply and honestly. And I submit that this learning process should begin early in life, now, right when the child starts figuring out his ABCs, then continue without letup until he finishes school, earns a living, gets wed, and makes his own little social and genetic contribution to the perpetuation of his own species. (circa 2002-2003)

This essay first appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in The Manila Times and subsequently appeared as Chapter 12 of Part I: Our Uses and Misuses of English of his book English Plain and Simple: No-Nonsense Ways to Learn Today’s Global Language, © 2004 by Jose A. Carillo, © 2008 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.
15  Joe Carillo's Desk / You Asked Me This Question / Re: The Sentence Structure of the Direct or Quoted Speech on: October 01, 2017, 04:25:47 PM
Sorry, Mike, I overlooked this question of yours when it got buried by subsequent posts in the “You Asked Me This Question” section before it got marked with a Topic Sticky. (That way it stayed out sight at or near the bottom of all postings in the section.)

A properly attributed quoted or direct speech like the one you presented, “She said, ‘I am going to Baguio next week,’ has a complex sentence structure. The attribution clause, “She said,” is the main or independent clause, while the quoted or direct statement, “I am going to Baguio next week,” is the subordinate or dependent clause. We must always keep in mind that quoted or direct speech is simply a form of a complex sentence, which in this case is in this form: “She said that she was going to Baguio the following week.” Restating it as a direct statement doesn’t alter this complex structure; it just highlights the direct statement by way putting it within an open and close quote to clearly distinguish it from the attribution clause. There are, of course, grammar rules on how the elements of the direct speech need to be converted into indirect speech. (Read my Forum posting on “Reported speech needs advanced grammar skills and a quick mind.”)
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