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Simply click the web links to the 15 featured English grammar refreshers and general interest stories this week along with selected postings published in the Forum in previous years:

1. Essay by Jose A. Carillo: “More ways to get rid of clutter in English prose”

2. You Asked Me This Question: “A fascinating question on the usage of modals”


3. You Asked Me This Question: “What's the correct usage for the verbs ‘brought‘ and ‘taken‘?"

4. Getting to Know English: “The little-heralded past imperfect tense in English”

5. Use and Misuse “Getting rid of wordy beginnings for our writing”

6. Going Deeper Into Language: “When faulty logic overrides good grammar and semantics”

7. Students’ Sounding Board: “Retrospective on Rizal’s 156th Birth Anniversary”

8. Advice and Dissent: “Don't be hoodwinked by numbers, for they may carry big untruths

9. Language Humor at its Finest: “26 paraprosdokians to perk up what might be a so-so day”

10. Your Thoughts Exactly: “Friendships chiseled so deeply in our mind” by Angel Casillan, Forum Contributor

11. My Media English Watch: “Getting acclimatized to Philippine weather terminology”  

12. Essay by Jose A.Carillo: “Noble thoughts in similar jeopardy”

13. Time Out From English Grammar: “Bill Gates funds developer of feed additive that reduces cow burps and farts”

14. Advice and Dissent: “Human genome research casts doubt on Adam and Eve story”

15. Essay by Jose A. Carillo: “The power of wordplay”

Essays by Joe Carillo / More ways to get rid of clutter
« Last post by Joe Carillo on June 13, 2024, 08:25:08 PM »
One of the joys of reading good writing is being led effortlessly by the smooth flow of prose from one sentence to the next. No clutter impedes the reader’s understanding of the writer’s ideas, no strange word or turn of phrase disrupts the unraveling of thought, no doubtful or false claim is made to ruin the writer’s credibility. The composition plays with not a single false note and builds up to a delicious, satisfying finish.

If all English prose were like that, what a beautiful thing every printed page would be! But rarely does prose come uncluttered at the time of delivery. It comes swathed with the messy detritus of birth—tautologies or needless repetition, illogical constructions, jargon, clichés, lumpy words and phrases, and other forms of verbal hemorrhage. All self-respecting writers should thus be their own midwives, cleaning up and buffing the infant before it is displayed for the whole world to see. When they get too lazy or too hurried to do this, what results is ungainly, unsightly, and sometimes utterly embarrassing prose.

Take this curious advertising claim by a wristwatch brand:

“A commitment made on your wedding day is forever. It is a lifetime bind that is meant to last. Nothing can express this commitment better than a [the brand].”

The second sentence, which restates the first without giving any new information or flavor, is so clumsy a tautology that it should have been eliminated outright. Even worse, it misuses the word “bind,” giving it the negative sense of “nuisance” and “restriction,” instead of a “bond” in the sense of “union.” “Tie” would have been truer to its tone and intent. (“The ties that bind” is a much better idiom than “the bind that ties,” right?) As to the third sentence, “Nothing can express this commitment better than a [the brand],” we have here an incredibly tall claim that simply couldn’t be true, even allowing for creative license. “Few things can express this commitment better than a [the brand]” perhaps? 

Faulty logic and misleading statements likewise bubble up from prose that hasn’t undergone proper midwifery. Take this news story sometime ago in a leading newspaper, headlined “Half of Pinoys poor but upbeat on 2003”:

“Almost all Filipinos feel upbeat about this year, in spite of the fact that more than half considered themselves poor in 2002. This was one of the several bright conclusions drawn from the Social Weather Stations’ review of its 2002 surveys... In SWS’nationwide survey on self-rated poverty last November, 61 percent of the respondents said they considered themselves poor...Overall, 95 percent of the respondents said they faced 2003 ‘with hope.’”

You can see that this story and its mathematics are patently false and misleading. The headline itself is wrong on both counts: “61 percent” of Pinoys considering themselves poor is certainly not “half of Pinoys,” but close to 2/3 or 66 percent of Pinoys. And because the story itself says that “95 percent” of Pinoys faced 2003 “with hope,” that the part of the headline that says “half of Pinoys...(are) upbeat on 2003” is also outrageously false—a full 45 percentage points away from the correct figure of 95 percent!

And here’s another outrage: the story’s lead sentence itself misrepresents this finding by saying that “almost all Filipinos feel upbeat about this year...” In statistics, 5 percent is definitely not “almost nothing,” particularly if applied to 78,000,000 Pinoys. That’s 4,000,000 downbeat Filipinos, or about half the Greater Manila population! (It’s also funny how the writer described the findings as “one of the several bright conclusions” of the SWS survey. Were some of the conclusions “dumb”?)

Corporate or professional jargon is another hotbed of self-important, overinflated, and confusing prose clutter. Look at this position description in a recent newspaper want ad for a “Product Manager for Corporate Business”:

“The successful candidate will be tasked to formulate strategies for the [company]’s corporate business in the attainment of revenue and subscriber targets. He/she shall evaluate the market scenario and its impact on the business to aid in his/her development and implementation of plans and projects based on identified positioning and issues of the brand.”

This writing overkill makes one suspect that it’s trying to make the job much more important than it really is, and that it expects the reader or prospective applicant to be suitably awed by it. Note the flatulent phrases “successful candidate,” “tasked to formulate strategies,” “in the attainment of,” “evaluate the market scenario,” “to aid in his/her development,” and “identified positioning and issues of the brand.” When the hot air is let out from the inflated prose, it becomes more pleasant and convincing:

“This position is responsible for developing strategies to achieve the revenue and subscriber targets of our corporate business. The job will involve market evaluation, brand positioning, and developing and implementing marketing plans and projects.”

Self-midwifery through ruthless self-editing and rewriting—there really is no substitute for it in making our prose truer to our vision and more acceptable and appealing to the readers.

This essay first appeared in my “English Plain and Simple” column in The Manila Times and subsequently became Chapter 139 of my book Give Your English the Winning Edge, ©2009 and published by the Manila Times Publishing Corp.

Read this essay and listen to its voice recording in The Manila Times:
More ways to get rid of clutter

*Click this link now to read Karen Hertzberg's detailed and very instructive "30 Writing Tips to Make Writing Easier" in now!

Visit Jose Carillo’s English Forum, You can follow me on Facebook and X (Twitter) and e-mail me at

Next week: Do kingfishers eat butter?      (June 20, 2024)

Simply click the web links to the 15 featured English grammar refreshers and general interest stories this week along with selected postings published in the Forum in previous years:

1. Essay by Jose A. Carillo: “Keeping English prose trim and slim”

2. Badly Written, Badly Spoken: “‘18 years old and above’ or ‘18 years old and older’”?


3. Use and Misuse: “Techniques for gender-free or gender-neutral writing” by Gerry T. Galacio, Forum Contributor

4. My Media English Watch Retrospective: “Did that newspaper columnist commit an egregious grammar error?”

5. Getting to Know English Better: “Is your ‘were’ in the indicative or subjunctive mood?”

6. Essay by Jose A. Carillo: “Is ‘presently’ in the present tense or future tense?”

7. Students’ Sounding Board: “The need for caution in asserting what’s good or bad English”

   Which is grammatically correct? 
   “Mauna Loa is the largest volcano (in, on) the planet.”

8. Your Thoughts Exactly: “A stone so heavy but with strong desire to float,” a recollection by Antonio Calipjo Go, Forum Contributor

9. Language Humor at its Finest: “A treasury of funny quotes and outrageous sayings”

10. Advice and Dissent: “Color doesn’t inhabit the physical world but only exists in the beholder's eyes,” a book by art historian James Fox

11. A Reading in Language: “The need to equate things solely on comparable attributes”  

12.Time Out From English Grammar: “A novelist in ill health races with time to finish a masterpiece”

13. Education and Teaching: “A lesson plan for generating and curating content for flexible learning” by Anonio Calipjo Go, Forum Contributor

14. A Forum Lounge Retrospective: “Why the Arabic numbers look the way they do”

15. A Forum Lounge Retrospective: “Two magnificent performances of ‘The Prayer,‘ spaced 10 years apart”



Essays by Joe Carillo / Keeping English prose trim and slim
« Last post by Joe Carillo on June 05, 2024, 02:10:21 PM »
Very much like the human body, English prose has to be kept trim and slim to command attention, to be credible, and to merit continuing interest. Compositions become unsightly and a pain to read when they use the passive voice much too often, when they take recourse to expletives at every turn, and when they rely too much on adjective clauses to qualify or relate ideas. The result is unhealthy flab that must be ruthlessly excised through self-editing and—if need be—total rewriting.

We already know that using the passive voice indiscriminately makes English sentences such sluggish creatures. That’s what happens when the subject of the sentence receives the action of the verb rather than does it: “The key was inserted into the doorknob by the woman, and it was turned by her.” Two actions (“was inserted” and “was turned”) were done to the subject (“the key”) by someone (“the woman”). Things happen as if in slow motion right before our eyes.

Now see how the active voice gives the sentence the spark of real action: “The woman inserted the key into the doorknob and turned it gently.” This time, “the woman” becomes the rightful doer of the action, the action unfolds as it happens in real life, and “the key” is put in its proper place—not as something that can act by itself in a void, as in telekinesis, but as something one physically does something to. Fewer words are used in the process (16 versus 19) and the preposition “by” makes a neat disappearing act.

The active-voice mindset likewise forces us to use active verbs instead of passive ones that need the verb “be” for grammatical support. Look at this passive-voice description: “The car was overturned by the strong wind.” The conventional way of reconstructing this weak sentence into an active one is, of course, to use “the strong wind” as the doer of the action: “The strong wind overturned the car.”

This reconstruction is good enough as it goes. But see how much more direct and more vigorous the prose becomes by using active verbs, even with “the car” still as the subject: “The car flipped [somersaulted, twirled, turned turtle, rolled over] in the strong wind.” The active voice— with very few exceptions—is always our best bet for keeping descriptions vivid and narratives moving briskly.

Excessive use of expletive constructions likewise slows down the rhythm of prose. Recall that expletives are the words that we use as grammatical crutches to form thoughts quickly and with little effort: “It is,” “There is,” “There are,” “There were.” The problem with them is that they perform no grammatical function other than to get our sentences started. See how they just lengthen and weaken sentences: “There is an abundance of fruits in summer.” (The expletive excised: “Fruits abound in summer.”) “There were no takers of the special bargain offer.” (“The special bargain offer had no takers.”) “It is my opinion that the movie is overrated.” (“The movie is overrated.”) Notice how eliminating the expletive allows the verb to spring back to life and do real, honest-to-goodness work.

The overuse of adjective clauses is another cause of wordiness—aside, of course, from hampering the smooth, natural rhythm of prose. Adjective clauses, you will remember, are those strings of words that we add to sentences to modify a noun or pronoun; they are introduced by the relative pronouns “who,” “whom,” “whose,” “that,” and “which.” These relative pronouns serve sentences well by qualifying ideas and establishing relationships among them, but they are often expendable: sentences often flow and read better without them.

One way to get rid of them is to change the relative clause into a phrase: “The man, who was identified as the suspect, was freed for lack of evidence.” (“The man identified as the suspect was freed for lack of evidence.”) “The woman, whom we thought was most suitable for the job, backed out at the last moment.” (“The woman we thought most suitable for the job backed out at the last moment.”) “My architect is the one whose office building designs won international awards.” (“My architect won international awards for his office building designs.”) “We are looking for office space that has an independent air-conditioning unit.” (“We are looking for office space with an independent air-conditioning unit.”)

Sometimes we can change a non-restrictive clause into a neat appositive phrase: “Many baby-boomer parents expect their children to wake up early in the morning, which is a habit they themselves learned from their own parents in the 1940s.” (“Many baby-boomer parents expect their children to wake up early in the morning, a habit they themselves learned from their own parents in the 1940s.”)

In some cases, a single word or two can nicely take the place of an entire phrase in a sentence: “One of the members of the delegation that represented the Philippines missed the flight.” (A Philippine delegate missed the flight.”)

This essay first appeared in my “English Plain and Simple” column in The Manila Times and subsequently became Chapter 138 of my book  Give Your English the Winning Edge, ©2009 and published by the Manila Times Publishing Corp.

Read this essay and listen to its voice recording in The Manila Times:
Keeping English prose trim and slim

Visit Jose Carillo’s English Forum, You can follow me on Facebook and X (Twitter) and e-mail me at

Next week: More ways to get rid of clutter      (June 13, 2024)

Simply click the web links to the 15 featured English grammar refreshers and general interest stories this week along with selected postings published in the Forum in previous years:

1. Essay by Jose A. Carillo: “The wealth of our vocabulary”

2. Getting to Know English Better: “Using appositives for texture and depth in prose”


3. Students’ Sounding Board: “What happens when people don’t know enough to know they don’t know?"

4. Essay by Jose A. Carillo: “Why it’s easier to speak fluently in English than to write well in English”

5. Students’ Sounding Board: “Does 'have to' mean the same thing as the modal auxiliary verb 'must'?"

6. Your Thoughts Exactly: “The Two Hemispheres of Me” by Antonio Calipjo Go, Forum Contributor

7. Readings in Language: “Verbal diagnostician par excellence comes up with a grammar guidebook”

8. Going Deeper Into Language: “A Thousand and One English Poems”

9. Language Humor at its Finest: “21 enduring rules and truisms in business and personal relations”

10. Time Out From English Grammar Retrospective: “The thief who stole 106 priceless timepieces in audacious museum heist”

11. The Forum Lounge: “Book publishing's broken blurb system 'a plague on the industry'”  

12. Readings in Language: “News headlines that do serious violence to the English language"


13. A Forum Lounge Retrospective: “A eulogy for my father, Eduardo Buenaventura Olaguer

14. The Forum Lounge: “The roller coaster ride of my life" by APA.Victory (pseud.)

15. Readings in Language “A history of the world in five typefaces"


Essays by Joe Carillo / The wealth of our vocabulary
« Last post by Joe Carillo on May 28, 2024, 03:51:58 PM »
I understand from the Global Language Monitor (GLM) that as of December 30, 2006, at precisely 10:34 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, the English language hit the 991,833-word mark. The California-based language watchdog says that it has been using a proprietary algorithm, the Predictive Quantities Indicator (PQI), to measure the wealth of English words as currently found in the print and electronic media as well as on the Internet and in blogs. It has been tracking English since 2003 despite dismissive criticism from such eminent language authorities as the Oxford English Dictionary, which stood pat at this time on its official count of 615,000 entries for English.*
Now, no matter what the exact figures are, English has such an astoundingly large vocabulary to pack into one’s brain, and I really think that unless we are aspiring to become Spelling Bee or Scrabble champions, we don’t need to get to know even a fifth or much less of that huge cavalcade of English words. After all, some language experts say, only about 200,000 of those words are in common usage, and all that a typical native-English-speaking college graduate needs to be functionally literate in English is about 20,000-25,000 words.

This self-appointed language watchdog has aggressively used a proprietary algorithm that it calls
the Predictive Quantities Indicator (PQI) to measure the ever-growing wealth of English words

And when we ponder these figures, we mustn’t forget that William Shakespeare had gotten by so magnificently with a vocabulary of only 18,000 to 25,000 words, of which 1,700—such as “anchovy,” “besmirch,” “impede,” and “shudder”—are thought to have been Shakespeare’s own coinage. We must consider, too, that the King James Bible, using only 12,143 different English words, has done quite an impressive job evangelizing a lot of English-literate heathens on this planet. And for an even better perspective, here’s another intriguing language statistic: Taki-Taki, an English-based Creole spoken in coastal Suriname in South America, is said to consist of only 340 basic words, yet allows its speakers to get on quite well with their day-to-day affairs.

Perhaps we should also take the opportunity to look at how the world’s other major languages are faring in the face of this explosive growth of English. I understand that German has held to second place with a vocabulary of about 185,000 common words, followed by French with something like 100,000. Chinese, of course, remains the world’s most widely spoken language, but since it uses ideograms and not the alphabet, I’m afraid we can’t put it into our comparative picture. But it definitely would be remiss if we didn’t take up the vocabulary performance of Tagalog, the base language of Filipino, our national language.

From what I can gather at this time, Tagalog has some 17,000 root-words, and it’s possible that its number of intelligible words is between 50,000 and 60,000. The Tagalog-English Dictionary published in 1986 by Fr. Leo James English, a Manila-based Australian Roman Catholic priest, lists 16,000 of Tagalog’s main words, while his former project assistant, Vito Santos, along with co-author Luningning Santos, later came up with the Vicassan’s Pilipino-English Dictionary in 1988, listing 20,000 Tagalog words. 

So to be functionally literate in both Filipino and English, the typical Filipino college graduate needs a basic vocabulary of 16,000-20,000 Tagalog words and something like, say, 25,000-35,000 English words, for a combined Filipino-English vocabulary of 41,000-55,000 words. For simplicity’s sake, let’s round that off to 50,000.

Now, that’s not such a frightening vocabulary quota for the Filipino as a native Tagalog speaker and nonnative English learner. Just achieving its English component, in fact, would already make him or her more proficient than the average American, whose English vocabulary reportedly runs to only about 14,000 words. And as I used to often point out in my English-improvement seminars, we can actually get by with much fewer and simpler words and yet make ourselves much more communicative. Yes, a wide English vocabulary definitely is nice to have, but in the end, what matters more is developing our ability to know and adroitly tap the words that are already inside the heads of our fluent domestic Filipino-and-English-speaking target audiences.
*Global Language Monitor founder and Paul JJ Payack, who calls himself a word analyst and not a lexicographer, estimated in 2006 that the number of English words would breach the 1-millionth mark by November of that year based on a complex algorithm he had been using for years to track the growth of words and phrases. However, a noted lexicographer and dictionary editor disparaged Payack’s estimate as “a silly thing” and “complete rubbish.” (Read “A Million Words? He’s Counting On It,”,

This essay first appeared in my “English Plain and Simple” column in The Manila Times and subsequently became Chapter 155 of my book  Give Your English the Winning Edge, ©2009 and published by the Manila Times Publishing Corp.

Read this essay and listen to its voice recording in The Manila Times:
The wealth of our vocabulary                                                                         

Visit Jose Carillo’s English Forum, You can follow me on Facebook and X (Twitter) and e-mail me at

Next week (June 6, 2024): Keeping our English prose trim and slim

No matter what we and the language experts might call him—word maven, English logophile, “The WordMan,” “a fraud,” or “self-aggrandizing scammer”—Paul J.J. Payack has kicked up a worldwide linguistic storm trumpeting the supposed eminent arrival of the one-millionth English word. The Harvard-educated, California-based president of the Global Language Monitor has literally taken North American media for a fun, exhilarating ride—some linguists say he has been astutely conning them—by making them indiscriminately report his pronouncements about the race of new English words to the 1-millionth mark. "How to Generate a Linguistic Tsunami by Really Trying," June 13, 2009
MAY 24, 2024 -- The Social Security System (SSS) announced today that nearly 600 cameramen, production assistants, reporters, and newscasters working at the state-run television station People’s Television Network (PTV) will now be eligible for social security coverage and protection under the KaSSSangga Collect Program.

SSS President and Chief Executive Officer Rolando Ledesma Macasaet (3rd from left) and PTV General Manager Analisa V. Puod (4th from left) signed an agreement on May 16 that provides SSS benefits to job order (JO) workers in the government television network. Other signatories to the agreement are (from left) Maria Rita S. Aguja, SSS Senior Vice President for National Capital Region (NCR) Operations Group; Voltaire P. Agas, SSS Executive Vice President for Branch Operations Sector; Jasmine B. Barrios, PTV Administrative Division Head; and Felomena T. Arroyo PTV Administrative Officer III.

Macasaet commended General Manager Puod and other PTV officials for registering its JO workers as members of SSS, which ensured their welfare.
“We laud the initiative of PTV to help their JO workers secure their future and prepare for their retirement by becoming SSS members. We thanked PTV for allowing their JO workers to get the social security protection they deserve,” Macasaet said.
Puod thanked SSS for the partnership that will help their JO workers who have been with the network for over a decade save for their retirement.
Macasaet called on other government agencies and local government units to follow the example set by PTV’s leadership. “We encourage you to take the necessary steps to secure the future of each of your fellow government workers, especially your JO workers, through SSS membership. Let's work together to ensure the welfare of our workers,” he said.
Aguja, who also chairs the Task Force on KaSSSangga Collect Program, said that PTV JO workers would be registered as self-employed SSS members under the program. Government JO workers are not covered by the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) due to their employment status.
“Under the agreement, PTV will serve as an authorized coverage and collection partner of SSS. This means that PTV can now collect and remit the monthly contributions of its JO workers through a salary-deduction scheme, making the process more convenient and efficient for the workers,” Aguja explained.
As SSS self-employed members, JO workers will gain access to a comprehensive range of social security benefits. These include sickness, maternity, disability, retirement, funeral, and death benefits. They can also apply for SSS loan programs such as salary and calamity, providing them with financial security in various life situations.
“On top of SSS benefits, they will also get additional coverage from the Employees’ Compensation Program (ECP) for work-related sickness, disability or death,” she added.

Aguja said that regular PTV employees can also continue paying their SSS contributions as voluntary members under the program.
As of March 2024, more than 430,000 JO and contract of service workers in 3,197 local government units (LGUs), national government agencies, state universities and colleges (SUCs), and local water districts now have social security coverage through the KaSSSangga Collect Program.

Simply click the web links to the 15 featured English grammar refreshers and general interest stories this week along with selected postings published in the Forum in previous years:

1. Essay by Jose A. Carillo: “At a loss for words”

2. Use and Misuse: “A recurrent misuse of 'between' when setting a range”

SAYING “BETWEEN 8:00 A.M. TO 4:00 P.M.”?

3. You Asked Me This Question: “'Bring' or 'take' and 'come' or 'go'?”

4. My Media English Watch Retrospective: “The rightful place for a headline modifier”


5. Students’ Sounding Board: “When is sentence inversion a matter of grammar or style?”

6. Your Thoughts Exactly: “Critique of the Catholic clergy’s English by a former university professor”

7. Going Deeper Into Language: “33 modern English essays”

8. Advice and Dissent: “194 cutting-edge readings about recent scientific news”


9. Language Humor at its Finest:“A Cavalcade of Palindromes”

10. Time Out From English Grammar Retrospective: “Renaissance painter goes all the way glorifying women's hair to debunk a prevailing religious notion”

11. The Forum Lounge: “Book publishing's broken blurb system 'a plague on the industry'”  

12. Readings in Language: “Style as pleasurable mastery rather than minefield of grievous errors” by Steven Pinker

13. A Forum Lounge Retrospective: "Close encounters with enigmatic English syntax”

14. A Forum Lounge Pictorial: "Manila at the turn of the 20th Century”

15. Time Has Indeed Gone By: "Charles Aznavour sings a classic!"

Essays by Joe Carillo / At a loss for words
« Last post by Joe Carillo on May 22, 2024, 10:10:36 AM »
A great disappointment in our country’s politics is that it doesn’t impose a requisite depth of knowledge, experience, and wisdom from those who consider themselves worthy of election to public office. For so many years now, we have chosen to lead us not just a few men and women whose only claim to ascendancy over us is popularity not from achievement but from media exposure, and whose strongest virtue is distracting us from the harsh realities of life, making us laugh, or simply being electronically seen or heard from day to day reading the news, spouting some half-baked opinion, or hawking consumer items for precious extra media mileage. Like chronic sleepwalkers, we have been substituting media-induced perception for reality, glitz and noise for intellect and moral rectitude, and the phantom figures of pollsters-for-hire and audience-ratings meters for the true worth of individuals.


The point has been reached, in fact, where we no longer demand that those aspiring for high public office at least define themselves, tell us their political ideal, mission, or vision, or assure us that they have a clear idea of what they are doing in the first place. Gone indeed are the days when people who sought elective office could at least talk to us convincingly straight from their own minds and hearts, without the benefit of script or idiot board. Most of the electorate has become so painfully blasé and inept that those touted by self-serving statistics as surefire bets could forever be at a loss for words, yet still get themselves elected handily.

The tragedy of it all is that this is happening at this very time that we need mature, intelligent, and enlightened leadership to turn the nation around. More than ever before, we need men and women not only of action but of words—words to tell us in the most precise terms why this country hasn’t moved forward that much, words to spell out concretely the crucial things to be done or undone to get us out of the hole we are in, and words to inspire us to close ranks and propel this archipelago to the greatness that has eluded it for more than half a millennium now.

We need thinking leaders with the priceless gift of language, not necessarily stentorian, but leaders who can define, articulate, and pursue the national agenda intelligently and purposively, with words that ring true whether spoken off the cuff or clothed with the rhetoric that important state occasions demand. For these big tasks, our country can ill afford any more individuals with very scant vocabulary—whether in Filipino, English, or any other language—and much less those with no experience whatsoever in governance and public affairs. To do so would be like appointing someone who can’t even compute and had not even run a sari-sari store or much less a sizeable manufacturing firm like San Miguel Corporation, or allowing a tricycle driver without flight training and only a smattering of English to pilot a Boeing 747 over the Pacific Ocean from Manila to Los Angeles.

How perilous it is that for the sake of political expediency, this country’s electorate is repeatedly prodded every election season to gloss over the importance of intelligence and good grasp of language in the art of leadership! All the more disturbing that our supposedly more intelligent political leaders and opinion-makers could tell us without mincing words that popularity and perceived honesty is a fair tradeoff for ineptitude. When are we going to learn that the most powerful determinant of intellect is the breadth and depth of one’s vocabulary, and that the higher one’s responsibility, the wider and deeper the vocabulary needed to be effective on the job? One could not even name things in context—much less frame a decent sentence or meaningfully analyze or conclude about anything—if one didn’t have at least a decent grasp and understanding of the totally new activity or enterprise one ventures into.

In his 1993 collection of essays, The Wisdom of Henry Hazlitt, the well-regarded American economist and writer clearly captured the importance of vocabulary in good thinking in these words:

“A vocabulary increases and sharpens our observation, as sharp observation in turn leads us to increase our vocabulary. The student of nature who is learning to recognize bushes and trees finds his observation increasingly sharpened as he is told how to identify respectively an oak, maple, elm, beech, pine, spruce, or hemlock. The name both fastens down the results of observation and tells him what distinguishing traits to look for. As a result of his knowledge, a countryman very seldom calls a specific tree simply a tree. The professional forester or nurseryman habitually makes even finer distinctions, such as that between red oaks, black oaks, and white oaks, or between Norway maples, Schwedler maples, and sugar maples.”

Had the nation’s electorate been more keenly aware of this important requisite of leadership, our country could have avoided repeatedly making the terrible mistake of electing not just a few ineffectual or paltry aspirants to crucial national positions during the past several decades.

This essay first appeared in my “English Plain and Simple” column in The Manila Times and subsequently became Chapter 152 of my book Give Your English the Winning Edge, ©2009 and published by the Manila Times Publishing Corp.

Read this essay and listen to its voice recording in The Manila Times:
At a loss for words

(Next: The wealth of our vocabulary)        May 30, 2024                                                                                         

Visit Jose Carillo’s English Forum, You can follow me on Facebook and X (Twitter) and e-mail me at
May 17, 2024—PHINMA Education, one of the biggest private higher education networks in Southeast Asia, has launched the Hawak Kamay (HK) 5.5 Scholarship Program to improve access to quality college education. In its most inclusive program yet, qualified students will only pay Php5,500 per semester (exclusive of books and uniforms) for both Education and Business programs offered across eight schools in the PHINMA Education network. Additionally, HK5.5 is available for the Criminology program at PHINMA University of Pangasinan.

This scholarship redefines accessibility not only by eliminating barriers, such as entrance exams and maintaining grades but also by providing unprecedented levels of financial support to its students. Importantly, the student’s fee of P5,500 per semester will remain unchanged throughout the student’s college journey to maintain affordability despite inflation. The launch of HK5.5 coincides with PHINMA Education’s 20th year anniversary to be celebrated by nine schools in the Philippines and one in Indonesia.

Christopher Tan, Country Head of PHINMA Education Philippines, said: “At PHINMA Education, our commitment goes beyond mere accessibility; we are dedicated to guiding students every step of their journey, from enrollment to employment. Our goal is not only to provide quality education but to also help the more vulnerable students in the country believe that they can change the course of their lives. The pandemic may be over, but serious economic hardships remain. Inflation has gone up, driven by increases in food and transportation costs. Especially during crises, schools have the responsibility to keep education accessible. We need to constantly find ways to reduce our costs so that we can reduce our fees.”

For two decades, PHINMA Education has provided hope through learning. With the new HK5.5, the network solidifies its commitment to social transformation by continuing the mission of making lives better through education.

The application for HK5.5 and other HK scholarship offerings for SY24-25 is ongoing. Students across the nation are encouraged to apply through this link:
PHINMA Education Holdings, Inc. (PEHI) under the conglomerate PHINMA Corporation, started investing in the education services sector in 2004 through the acquisition of PHINMA Araullo University in Nueva Ecija. It has since expanded its presence across the country with its network of schools namely: PHINMA Cagayan de Oro College, PHINMA University of Pangasinan, PHINMA University of Iloilo, Southwestern University PHINMA in Cebu City, PHINMA Saint Jude College in Manila and Quezon City, PHINMA Rizal College of Laguna, and PHINMA Union College of Laguna. It also aims to expand across Southeast Asia beginning with Horizon University in Karawang, West Java, Indonesia. For more information, please visit:
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