Pages: [1] 2 3 ... 10
 1 
 on: August 18, 2017, 03:17:24 PM 
Started by Joe Carillo - Last post by Joe Carillo
Question posted by Joe Verzosa on the Forum's Facebook Gateway (August 17, 2017):       

Good morning, sir! I just  want to ask how "be" verbs like "has," and "have" function in a sentence? Are they considered linking verbs? In this sentence, "My best friend has a new car," is "has" considered a linking verb?

My reply to Joe Verzosa:

You asked if 'has" in the sentence you presented, "My best friend has a new car," is considered a linking verb. The answer is "no," it isn't. It's a transitive verb--the present third person singular form of "have," which means "to hold or maintain as a possession, privilege, or entitlement." Of course, "have" also functions as a verbal auxiliary that's used with the past participle to form the present perfect, past perfect, or future perfect, as in "has gone home," "had already eaten," and "will have finished dinner by then." Keep in mind at all times that "have" isn't a linking verb, unlike "be" and its various conjugations "is," "are," and "were." Check out my Forum posting, "Distinguishing between main verbs, auxiliary verbs, and linking verbs," to know precisely why.

 2 
 on: August 18, 2017, 12:28:56 PM 
Started by Joe Carillo - Last post by Joe Carillo


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 (August 12 - 18, 2017) FOR THE FORUM GATEWAY ON FACEBOOK
(10 new postings, latest down to earlier postings):

1. “Watching out against the fallacies of relevance – 2” (August 18, 2017)



2. “Protocol should trump grammar at all times” (August 17, 2017)



3. “What Peter Dinklage walked away from to become a resounding success” (August 16, 2017)



4. “Misplaced modifying phrase and weird exuberance fracture Bohol earthquake news” (August 16, 2017)



5. “Maintaining parallelism of long serial grammar elements” (August 15, 2017)



6. “Coping with our inability to predict cataclysms where it matters most” (August 15, 2017)



7. “Reducing adverb clauses for brevity” (August 14, 2017)



8. “In its earliest days, book publishing wasn’t such a dignified enterprise” (August 14, 2017)



9. “Inspiration” (August 13, 2017)



10. “Shock-and-awe English in 2013 Bohol earthquake reportage” (August 12, 2017)





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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!



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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!

 3 
 on: August 17, 2017, 04:50:16 PM 
Started by Joe Carillo - Last post by Joe Carillo
In last week’s column we started discussing the fallacies of relevance, which are arguments that attempt to persuade people to accept evidently nonlogical propositions. We already took up the first two of its 13 most common kinds, namely the fallacies of irrelevance (ignoratio elenchi) and personal ridicule (ad hominem). Now we’ll take up the next five: appeal to the people (ad populum), appeal to authority (ad verecundiam), appeal to ignorance (ad ignorantiam), appeal to pity (ad misericordiam), and appeal to force (ad baculum).

Appeal to the people (ad populum). This is the fallacy of using the presumed feelings, actions, and prejudices of the general population to support an invalid argument, as in this assertion: “67.8% of our TV texters say that high official couldn’t be guilty of corruption. He really must be innocent!” Two insidious varieties of this fallacy are mainstays in product advertising and religious belief: the bandwagon, as in “Nine out of every 10 doctors use X toothpaste. High time you did!”, and appeal to belief: “All of us in this town are true believers. You must be the son of the Devil if you aren’t.”




Appeal to authority (ad verecundiam). This is the fallacy of supporting dubious or patently false premises with the opinion of a leader, authority, or expert in a field outside the field being discussed: “Our beloved Brother Y got a message from Heaven that M should be our next president. We’ve got no choice but to vote for M.” It may sound ridiculous, but the danger to modern society is that fanaticism of all stripes almost always makes this kind of fallacy work with people of certain persuasions—especially clueless believers.




Appeal to ignorance (ad ignorantiam). This is the fallacy of assuming that a premise is correct because it can’t be disproved. Here’s its basic form: “There’s no proof that what you say is true; therefore, what you say isn’t true.” The same illogic runs in this assertion: “We have no evidence that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe, so no intelligent life must exist elsewhere in the universe.”




The same faulty reasoning props up the “guilty until proven innocent” fallacy, in which police authorities make suspects wear the orange garb of prisoners and then parade them before the broadcast and print media They score media and political points in doing this, of course, but they are actually engaging in a blatant appeal to ignorance, running roughshod over the legal presumption that someone is “innocent until proven guilty.”
 
Appeal to pity (ad misericordiam). This is the fallacy of trying to get support for one’s premises not on logical grounds but on compassion. In Philippine parlance this is the “paawa” (“have mercy on me”) effect; elsewhere it is known as the “victim mentality.” This form of illogic marks many court pleadings, as when a defense lawyer asks for leniency towards his self-confessed client: “Your Honor, he may have killed the winning candidate but he is a highly intelligent law graduate whose conviction will forever ruin what could be a most illustrious legal and political career.”





Appeal to force (ad baculum). When the usual means of persuasion fail, some people use threat and intimidation to compel others to accept their argument. This is the most insidious fallacy of all because it marks the end of civility and the beginning of belligerence: “Park here at your own risk.” “If I hear that line from you again, you better start looking for another job.” “If they convict me of treason, the government will have a bigger rebellion in their hands.” “Mr. Senator, you’ve just called me a crook. Say that again without parliamentary immunity and I’ll slap you with a twenty-million-peso libel suit!”


We’ll continue this discussion next week.

(Next: Watching out against the fallacies of relevance – 3)   August 24, 2017

      

This essay, 1053rd of a series, appeared in the weekly column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the Education Section of The Manila Times, August 17, 2017 issue (print edition only), © 2017 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

 4 
 on: August 17, 2017, 01:29:32 AM 
Started by Joe Carillo - Last post by Joe Carillo
A Tanzania-based member of Jose Carillo’s English Forum, Mwita Chacha, recently related this very curious incident about the use of position titles:

“The other day I had a fierce argument with my Australian professor, who apparently felt demeaned that I wrote her title as ‘dean of faculty’ rather than as ‘Dean of Faculty’ in my letter asking for permission to attend the wedding ceremony of a relative in a distant town. She refused to approve the letter unless I modified the phrase. But confident that I hadn’t committed any grammar mistake, I wasn’t comfortable about the change she wanted. I challenged her to show me one grammar rule demanding that all job titles be capitalized. Reddened and shaking with rage, she crumpled the letter and tossed it in a dustbin. She forced me out of her office, shouting ‘I am not available to disputant students.’

“Do we really have to capitalize every job title in sight as my professor suggested?”

My reply to Mwita Chacha:

There are no hard-and-fast grammar rules for capitalizing the first letters of job titles, but in formal written communication, the astute communicator does it as a matter of elementary courtesy. In a well-established social or academic hierarchy, not to observe this formality will understandably be taken as a sign of disrespect—even contempt—for the holder of the position being addressed. I am therefore not surprised that your Australian professor didn’t take so kindly to the way you addressed her in your letter. In a very real sense, you demeaned her, so her outrage towards you, while probably excessive and unbecoming of her, wasn’t at all unexpected.




We need to clearly distinguish between a position and the formal job title for it. From a purely grammar standpoint, we can routinely use lower-case characters for the first letters of a position held by a particular person, as in “Joanna Smith is the dean of faculty of X University.” But in her formal capacity, protocol demands that she be formally addressed as follows: “Prof. Joanna Smith, PhD, Dean of Faculty, X University.” All the more so is capitalization of the first letters of the title required when it is used ahead of the name: “Dean of Faculty Joanna Smith.”

But do we really need to capitalize every job title in sight as your professor suggested? I don’t think so, but to get the results we want from the people we are formally writing to, we need to be sensitive to their temperament and emotional needs; if they are known to have big egos, we should capitalize the first letters of their job title as a matter of course. To quibble about the grammatical correctness of doing so would really be counterproductive and—as you’ve found in your case—thoroughly disastrous. The lesson to be learned here is that in formal communication, whether written or spoken, etiquette and precedence should trump grammar correctness at all times.

As a cautionary note, though, I must hasten to add that the unbridled use of upper-case letters can be very distracting; indeed, unless needed or deserved, upper-case letters are telltale signs of exaggeration—the prose equivalent of screaming. So, as a general rule, use upper-case first letters only for the proper names of persons, places, companies and brands, and institutions as well as months and official names of holidays.

Most other uses of the upper case are best left to individual judgment, but any doubt on this should be resolved in favor of the lower case. The upper-case mania that we see in not a few résumés and job application letters particularly looks awful: “Served as Assistant Treasury Manager in an Acting Capacity for Three Months When My Superior was On Trial with the Sandiganbayan.” The tendency to do this often reflects deep insecurity and doubt on the intrinsic value of one’s accomplishments.

(Feel how natural looking and unpretentiously sounding it is in upper-and-lower case letters: “Served as assistant treasury manager in an acting capacity for three months when my superior was on trial with the Sandiganbayan.”)

This essay first appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the July 19, 2013 issue of The Manila Times, © 2013 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

 5 
 on: August 16, 2017, 01:21:42 PM 
Started by Joe Carillo - Last post by Joe Carillo
YouTube Video:
“What Peter Dinklage walked away from to become a resounding success”





My wife Elean insisted last night that I view on her smartphone a video clip entitled “Peter Dinklage - Light Up the Night,” which was forwarded to her Facebook page by a close friend. Pardon my ignorance, but being neither a fan nor follower of the very popular long-running HBO series Game of Thrones, I didn’t know at all that Peter Dinklage is the name of its male lead star who plays the character Tyrion Lannister in that TV series based on George R.R. Martin’s best-selling novel of the same title. Anyway, “Light Up The Night” turned out to be not from the hit series but a personal narrative about “what Peter Dinklage walked away from, to become Tyrion Lannister.” It's the core of his commencement address to Class of 2012 of Bennington College in Vermont, U.S.A., from where he graduated in 1991 to initially become a data processor before turning to acting in TV movies, eventually becoming both an Emmy Award and a Golden Globe Award winner.

What can I say? Wow, it’s a very heartwarming inspirational and motivational story by what I’d consider a very unlikely role model for resounding success in this world as most of us know it! I highly recommend it for viewing by everyone from 6 to 75 years of age who, despite all odds or perhaps none at all, dreams of success and has the drive and fortitude to succeed beyond his or her wildest dreams.

Watch “Peter Dinklage - Light Up The Night” on YouTube now!

 6 
 on: August 15, 2017, 11:35:47 PM 
Started by Joe Carillo - Last post by Joe Carillo
Maintaining parallelism is easy enough when related or similar grammar elements consist of only one or just a few words, as in the following sentences:

Eating, swimming, hiking, and sleeping—that’s all we did during our summer vacation.”

“Our Physics professor is very intelligent, considerate, and good-looking.”

“The plant supervisor dealt with the striking workers impulsively, inconsiderately, and tactlessly.”



Things get a little sticky, however, when what need to be set in parallel are long noun clauses and phrases, long verb clauses and phrases, and long gerund, infinitive, and participial phrases. Stickier still when these long grammar structures have been woven into compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences! As the word maze grows, failing to identify the parallel elements and losing one’s grammatical bearings become a clear and ever present danger.  

ACHIEVING PARALLELISM BY USING ALL-PROGRESSIVE-TENSE VERB PHRASE STRUCTURES


The parallelism rules that we will discuss next should help forestall that danger:

(1) Make the structure parallel for long clauses and phrases linked by the coordinating conjunctions “for,” “and,” “nor,” “but,” “or,” “yet,” and “so” (the “fanboys”). The following sentence stumbles on an unparallel tangle of gerund, infinitive, and modal phrases:

“She enjoyed taking leisurely walks at the state park during summer, to go boating in the mile-wide lagoon when most of the tourist crowd had hied off to their hotels, and would lazily write long letters to her friends back home.”

We find these three grammar structures running helter-skelter in the sentence: “taking leisurely walks at the state park during summer” (gerund phrase), “to go boating in the mile-wide lagoon when most of the tourist crowd had hied off to their hotels” (infinitive phrase), and “would lazily write long letters to her friends back home” (modal phrase).

Now see what happens when we convert these errant structures into all-gerund phrases:

“She enjoyed taking leisurely walks at the state park during summer, going boating in the mile-wide lagoon when most of the tourist crowd had hied off to their hotels, and lazily writing long letters to her friends back home.

ACHIEVING PARALLELISM BY USING ALL-GERUND PHRASE STRUCTURES


By changing the main verb “enjoyed” to “liked,” we can also make the errant structures parallel as all-infinitive phrases:

“She liked to take leisurely walks at the state park during summer, to go boating in the mile-wide lagoon when most of the tourist crowd had hied off to their hotels, and to lazily write long letters to her friends back home.”

(The “to” in the second and third phrases are optional.)

Let’s try the parallel technique on a foursome linked by “and” and “but”:

“He went to see her to profess his undying love and promising to marry her as soon as she wished, but she answered him with a resounding ‘No!’ and driven him out of her house.”

Here’s one way to make the disjointed phrases parallel:

“He went to see her to profess his undying love and to promise to marry her as soon as she wished, but she answered him with a resounding ‘No!’ and drove him out of her house.”

In the first coordinate clause, the elements “to profess his undying love...” and “to promise to marry her...” became parallel as matching infinitive phrases. In the second coordinate clause, “answered him...” and “drove him out...” became parallel as matching verb phrases in the simple past tense.

(This time, make the original sentence parallel yourself by using matching gerund phrases or matching verbs in the appropriate tenses. Send me your work and I promise to critique them.)

ACHIEVING PARALLELISM BY USING ALL-NOUN PHRASE STRUCTURES


(2) Make the structure parallel for such constructions as “either. . .or,” “neither...nor,” “nor, not,” and “not...but, not.”  These grammar constructions function properly only when the elements they relate are strictly in parallel. See how one of them fails without parallelism: “My plan for next summer is either to visit Vancouver or going to Paris.”

Now feel the semantic smoothness of these two alternative parallel constructions:

“My plan for summer is either to visit Vancouver or to go to Paris.”

“My plan for summer is either visiting Vancouver or going to Paris.”

(3) Make the structure parallel for parallel groups of words in a sentence. The following sentence falters because its related elements do not have the same parallel structure:

“She pledged to live with him through thick and thin and that she will ignore his petty shortcomings.”

When the two parallel elements are constructed in the same “that...” form, the sentence becomes parallel:

“She pledged that she will live with him through thick and thin and that she will ignore his petty shortcomings.”

Here’s another sentence made decrepit by unparallel structures:

By going to the construction site myself, and since I can personally supervise the work, I can have the project finished on schedule.”

Upright and sprightly in parallel:

By going to the construction site myself and by personally supervising the work, I can have the project finished on schedule.”

As we have seen, parallelism is an indispensable and powerful tool for organizing and clarifying ideas. Don’t expect your prose to fly without it. (2003)

This essay, 280th in the series, first appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the October 28, 2003 issue of The Manila Times, © 2003 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

 7 
 on: August 15, 2017, 07:44:22 PM 
Started by Joe Carillo - Last post by Joe Carillo
Question posted by Prashant Solanki on the Forum's Facebook Gateway (August 14, 2017):

Which is correct sir?

“____ bicycle is an environmentally friendly means of transportation.”

1) A
2) The

Can you explain it please? If both answers are correct, then what is the difference in their meaning?

My reply to Prashant:

Here’s the difference, Prashant: When the indefinite article “a” is used, as in the sentence “A bicycle is an environmentally friendly means of transportation,” the reference is to any particular bicycle among all kinds of bicycles. In contrast, when the definite article “the” is used, the reference is to the bicycle as a generic form of of two-wheeled transport driven by foot pedaling: “The bicycle is an environmentally friendly means of transportation." It can be validly argued though that the first sentence, “A bicycle is an environmentally friendly means of transportation,” is a semantically flawed sentence because it actually defines “bicycle” as a generic term, which means that the definite article “the” should be used instead for such usage. The use of the indefinite article “a” will only be perfectly defensible in such sentences as “A bicycle was left behind under the mango tree” or “No one wants a bicycle with a very bumpy ride,” both of which refer to a particular bicycle and not to the generic term.

I would like to invite you to visit Jose Carillo's English Forum for answers to many such English grammar questions. A good way to begin is to check out the Forum's Playlist Update for July 22 - 28, 2017 for its Gateway on Facebook. Everything should follow very nicely from there.

 8 
 on: August 14, 2017, 12:31:36 PM 
Started by Joe Carillo - Last post by Joe Carillo
We saw in the last Friday’s column (“Reducing adjective clauses for conciseness,” August 11, 2017) how we can streamline sentences by reducing their adjective clauses to adjective phrases—a very simple process that does away with the relative pronouns “that,” “which,” “who,” “whom,” “whose,” and “where” as well as the passive verbs that work with them. With this sentence compacting process, for instance, a sentence like “His temper is one that stems from a deprived childhood” can drop the linking phrase “is one that” to become “His temper stems from a deprived childhood,” yet retain the original meaning. Native English-language writers and speakers do this sort of sentence compacting all the time to express themselves more fluidly and more idiomatically.


A similar reduction can actually be done with adverb clauses, those extended modifiers of verbs and verb phrases that give us the details and circumstances of the action done by them, particularly in terms of time and duration. We will recall that both in structure and in function, adverb clauses are more complex than adverb phrases. Adverb clauses come complete with a subject and a verb, as in this sentence: “While we were sleeping, somebody quietly slipped into our bedroom” (the formal subject of the adverb clause is the noun “we” and the formal verb form is “were sleeping”). Adverb phrases, on the other hand, only have either a subject or a verb or even neither, as in this sentence: “While dancing the rhumba, we tripped and fell.” (the adverb phrase states the action but has no actor). We can thus see that to reduce an adverb clause, we simply knock off its formal subject to make it an adverb phrase with essentially the same meaning.


With the grammar elements involved in adverb-clause reduction already clearly defined, we will now proceed to its specifics:
 
(1) Reduction of adverb clauses in sentences involving same-time actions. When an adverb clause uses the conjunctions “while” or “when,” it can be reduced by dropping both the subject and the form of “be” that goes with it. Take this sentence, for instance: “While we were touring Europe, we chanced upon a mutual friend in Vienna.” It reduces to “While [we were] touring Europe, we chanced upon a mutual friend in Vienna” Similarly, “When she is in the neighborhood, she always asks around for me” reduces to “When [she is] in the neighborhood, she always asks around for me.”
 
Be aware though that this reduction cannot be done when the subjects of the subordinate clause and the main clause are not one and the same. Take our very first example: “While we were sleeping, somebody quietly slipped into pour bedroom.” The statement becomes absurd when we try to reduce its adverb clause: “While [we were] sleeping, somebody quietly slipped into our bedroom.” The legitimate sleepers are gone, and in their place a “sleeping somebody” does the act of slipping into the bedroom!

(2) Reduction of “when” and “while” adverb clauses that do not use the verb “be.” When the adverb clause uses an active verb instead of the passive “be,” reduction can be done by changing the active verb in the clause to its –ing form. In some cases, “when” and “while” can be dropped as well. For instance, “When I drove that car, I heard strange sounds under the hood” reduces to “When driving that car, I heard strange sounds under the hood” (or to “Driving that car, I heard strange sounds under the hood”). “While she took her vacation, she lost her job to an upstart” reduces to “While taking her vacation, she lost her job to an upstart” (or to “Taking her vacation, she lost her job to an upstart”).

(3) Reduction of adverb clauses in sentences involving different-time actions. We can similarly reduce sentences with adverb clauses that use “before” and “after.” For instance, “Before we took off from Manila, we made sure that the executive jet had enough fuel to reach Sydney” reduces to “Before taking off from Manila, we made sure that the executive jet had enough fuel to reach Sydney.” The sentence “After he let out a bloodcurdling yell, the candidate balled his fist” reduces to “After letting out a bloodcurdling yell, the candidate balled his fist.” This time, however, unlike in adverb clauses that use “when” and “while,” we cannot drop “before” and “after” in the reduced sentences. Doing so would eliminate the different-time character of the two actions altogether.




There’s one crucial thing we have to keep in mind when reducing adverb clauses: beware of accidentally fudging time clauses found at the end of sentences. Consider one such sentence: “They discovered the rarest of deer species while they were picnicking in the rainforest.” For sure we can reduce it to “They discovered the rarest of deer species while picnicking in the rainforest,” but not—heaven forbid—to “They discovered the rarest of deer species picnicking in the rainforest.” That would be a most spurious claim indeed, and we can be sure nobody will believe us! (2004)

This essay, 336th in the series, first appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the February 19, 2004 issue of The Manila Times, © 2004 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

 9 
 on: August 13, 2017, 12:01:02 AM 
Started by maria balina - Last post by Joe Carillo
Hi, Maria, glad to hear from you! Quite a number of teachers in the Philippines and in other countries--and not only of English but of other disciplines as well--have written me that they regularly follow my columns in The Manila Times and they have even ordered copies of my three English-usage books. Several of these teachers have actually joined this online Forum as registered members and, in fact, have contributed in no small measure over the years to the huge body of lessons and learnings that have accumulated in the Forum since its launching in 2009. I invite everybody anywhere in the world who is keen on doing a self-improvement program in English to partake of this body of knowledge online anytime 24/7. All that's needed to access it is a laptop or smartphone--and it's all for free!

Maria, I'll be delighted if you can help spread the word around about the Forum among your friends and acquaintances in the U.S., whether Pinoys or otherwise. For Facebook members, a very convenient way to access the Forum is through its Facebook Gateway, which issues a weekly Playlist Update on major lessons and general interest features. For the week of August 5-11, 2017, for instance, the Playlist Update can be accessed anytime by clicking this link. For even more of the Forum's huge trove of grammar lessons and features, they can check out the Forum Homepage by clicking the indicated link. Those who'd like to join the discussions or ask questions in the Forum's many discussion boards need to register a Forum members though. There's a Forum membership registration button for that purpose in the Homepage.

 10 
 on: August 12, 2017, 08:01:15 PM 
Started by Joe Carillo - Last post by Joe Carillo
This retrospective to my Forum critique of the domestic media reportage of the 2013 Bohol killer earthquake is simply a cautionary note on the jitters fanned by the Intensity 6.2 earthquake that struck Batangas and parts of south Luzon yesterday, August 11, 2017.

There’s no doubt that the Bohol killer earthquake on October 15, 2013 was a horrendous cataclysm, but I think some of the media reportage about it has been terribly amateurish and, at worst, misleading. I’ll analyze from a language standpoint just two descriptions of that earthquake by two major Metro Manila dailies.


THE BOHOL INTENSITY 7.2 EARTHQUAKE AND ITS IMMEDIATE AFTERMATH

Here’s Description #1:

“An earthquake with energy equivalent to ‘32 Hiroshima bombs’ jolted the Visayas, and parts of Mindanao and southern Luzon early Tuesday morning, causing centuries-old churches and modern buildings to crumble, disrupting power and phone services, setting off stampedes and killing at least 97 people.

“The nuclear bomb dropped over Hiroshima, Japan, on Aug. 6, 1945, packed power equal to 20,000 tons of TNT.”

That description is actually a paraphrase of this generic statement of Dr. Renato Solidum, Phivolcs executive director, in a televised briefing: “A magnitude 7 earthquake has an energy equivalent to around 32 Hiroshima atomic bombs.” What that newspaper did was to directly equate Dr. Solidum’s estimate of the seismic energy theoretically released by a magnitude 7 earthquake with the real-life destructive power of the Bohol earthquake.

THE HIROSHIMA ATOMIC BOMBING AND ITS AFTERMATH THE DAY AFTER

I’m sure that Dr. Solidum meant well in trying to give media and laymen a sense of the immense energy unleashed by that earthquake. I must say though that his comparative mathematics just evoked sensational but misleading imagery that some media people were only too glad to latch their news stories on. Indeed, I think that although his natural science and mathematics are beyond reproach, it was most unfortunate for him to make that comparison in his briefing.

The most problematic aspect of Dr. Solidum’s comparison is that the energy released by the Bohol earthquake was largely in the form of seismic waves that caused the ground to shake perilously, thus demolishing or damaging so many infrastructures and killing scores of people over a wide swath in the Visayas; in contrast, the Hiroshima bombing was a massive explosion and firestorm in just one city.

Specifically, based on historical accounts, that blast was equivalent to 16,000 tons of TNT with an estimated total destruction radius of 1 mile or 1.6 kilometers, killing 70,000–80,000 people and injuring 70,000 others.

So, although ostensibly of the same magnitude, the forms of energy released by the two cataclysmic events—one seismic and the other atomic—are different and therefore not comparable at all. We can readily see the fallacy of making them equivalent by imagining 32 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs simultaneously detonating on Bohol and its adjoining islands. The destruction would be unimaginably horrific—truly the end of the world for that part of the archipelago!

This kind of misleading mathematical analogy reminds me of a factoid about the energy produced every second by the Sun—our sun. It’s about a trillion 1-megaton bombs, or, in Dr. Solidum’s mathematics, the energy equivalent of 50 billion Hiroshima atomic-bomb explosions. Yet, despite all that energy unleashed by the sun on Earth and the rest of the planets, humanity has survived over the millennia and has been none the worse for it. (The reason, of course, is that it’s neither seismic nor explosive but radiant energy that reaches us.)

Now here’s Description #2: “The magnitude 7.2 earthquake that struck Bohol and Central Visayas on Tuesday morning is as strong as dozens of atomic bombs used in World War II, the chief state volcanologist said.”

I won’t even bother to analyze this grossly erroneous paraphrase of Dr. Solidum’s comparative imagery. I’ll just point out that historically, only two atomic bombs—not dozens—were used in World War II, one each in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

This is really the problem with esoteric comparative mathematics that experts glibly provide as sound bites for mass media. As in this case, they can lead to all sorts of misinterpretations that only serve to confound or alarm the public. (2013)

This essay first appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the October 18, 2013 issue of The Manila Times, © 2013 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

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