Accumulative Man Hours

This is a sign at the entrance to a construction site on West Coast Road at Clementi Woods Park.

I’m happy that there have not been any accidents. I know that because the number of accidents is zero, and also because the number of hours and the number of accident-free hours are the same.

What they call the number of hours, however, is hilarious. See below for why I think so.

Continue reading Accumulative Man Hours

Cutleries Station

I took this (lousy) photo of a sign that says “Cutleries Station” at Soup Spoon in Novena.

In modern standard British and American English, “cutleries” is not a word. (Neither is “equipments”.)

What makes this example interesting is that it raises another issue: whether we use singular or plural nouns as “noun adjuncts” or “attributive nouns”.

In other words, which is correct?

Drinks Machine
Drink Machine

Obviously, the machine would contain more than one drink, so using the plural is more “logical”, but it sounds horrible to me. Wikipedia says that the singular (or the possessive) is traditional in most cases, but that plurals are gaining ground.

I’ve seen several (many?) signs in Singapore that say “Children Playground” rather than “Children’s Playground”, which is doubly silly since those signs should probably just say “Playground” anyway.

(This one is in the complex where I live. At least “Residents’ Lounge” is correct.)

If you think “Children Playground” sounds awful, don’t laugh too hard. Whoever named the 2002 romantic comedy Two Weeks Notice neglected to include an apostrophe after “weeks”, unleashing a wave of scornful critique from movie-going fussbudgets. Apparently, educated native speakers working in the media and entertainment industries, even if they don’t misuse singulars and plurals, still struggle to distinguish plurals from possessives when modifying nouns with other nouns.

English is not easy!

Further Reading

Today Special

Let’s have a look at a strange sentence.

My class today was fun.

Which word is “today” modifying?

It’s an adverb, and the verb is “was”, so “today” must be modifying “was”. Easy, right?

Not so fast!

I think the sentence above is trying to say:

The class I had today was fun.

in which case “today” is modifying “had” because otherwise we’d say

My class was fun today.

So if you say “My class today was fun,” you’re either using Chinese syntax (which requires adverbs to go in front of verbs) to say that your class was fun today, or you’re using the word “today” to modify a verb that’s not technically even in the sentence but buried inside a possessive adjective.

You could say “Today’s class was fun,” using “today” as a noun but transforming it into a possessive adjective; then you’d be missing “my”.

In Chinese, I believe you could say “My today’s class was fun” because apparently there’s no rule against doubling up demonstratives like that; I’ve heard people say things like “my the other one is nicer”. In English.

In Singapore maybe you could also get away with “My today class was fun.” After all, “today” is an adjective on all the signs outside restaurants that say “Today Special”. Such signs are of course attempting to say “Today’s Specials”, but they not only fail to transform the noun “today” into a possessive adjective, they also fail to pluralize “special”, an adjective acting like a noun.

Why do we even have different parts of speech? Words change part of speech constantly, and people “misuse” them, and start fights about whether they are in fact misusing them or not, and yet we all manage to understand each other anyway. Most of the time.

Maybe the concept of parts of speech survives for entertainment value—and to provide jobs for English teachers!

Speaking of which, back when I was a teacher for a company called I Can Read, I posted about using “I can…” to test whether a word is a verb. The word ‘window’ hilariously failed my test.

Or so I thought. Shakespeare would disagree.

Antony and Cleopatra (IV.xiv.72):

“Wouldst thou be windowed in great Rome…?”
It just goes to show:

(a) Shakespeare is awesome,
(b) the internet is awesome, and
(c) you learn something new every day!

Apparels vs Apparel

This sign at Marks & Spencer at Parkway Parade says:

20% off Ladies’ printed apparels & bras

It should say ‘apparel’, not ‘apparels’.

The sign also says:

Image for illustration purpose only

We can say “for the purpose of illustration only”, but because there’s no article, “purpose” should be plural in this case.

Upshot: The total number of letter s’s on the sign is correct. They just need to move the ‘s’ from ‘apparels’ to ‘purpose’.

Wait, I take it back. The word ‘apparels’ is on there twice. Gah!

Just so we’re absolutely clear:
Do not ever put an ‘s’ on ‘apparel’.
Or ‘clothing’.

‘Apparel’ is a mass/non-count/uncountable nouns (like equipment), and thus does not have a plural form.

Clothing shops sell apparel, not apparels, no matter how many individual items they sell or how many kinds of items they sell (ladies’ apparel, men’s apparel, kids’ or children’s apparel).

I suppose maybe it’s possible you could talk about a business importing a variety of ‘apparels’ from different countries, just as a chef could study the ‘cuisines’ of different countries, but I’m not sure whether anyone actually uses the word in this way.

Just assume that if you see the word ‘apparels’, it’s wrong. The word ‘apparel’ should be used instead.

Oh well. At least they didn’t write ‘lingeries’!

Report suspicious individuals or items

… but not both?

Another problem with conjunctions!

The intent is:

Report all the suspicious individuals and all the suspicious items you notice.

But it’s getting confused with:

If you see a suspicious individual or item, report it.

It should say:

Report [any] suspicious individuals and items.

Store vs. shop

I, an American, am now having trouble using the word “store” to designate the retail establishments in which you buy stuff; those are called “shops” in British English. Here, “store” means “storeroom” or “storage room”, though I doubt the short form “store” is used in the UK…

“Stores” can also mean “supplies” or “inventory”, but the word you’ll hear in shops here is “stock(s)”. If a shop has run out of a particular item, the shopkeeper will say something like “no stock” or “got no more stock already” or “stock finish already” and probably also make a waffling motion with one or both hands.

Interestingly, you can write either:

While stocks last!


While stock lasts!

but my guess is that the second one is far less common in part because the “sts” consonant cluster at the end is hard to say. I think it also makes sense to use the plural version of “stocks” because typically, the shop is selling individual items, not something measured in volume or by weight, so using the mass noun would be a bit strange.

“While stock last!” is just wrong, but that doesn’t mean nobody writes it.

Anyway, a ballpoint pen isn’t what I would call exquisite, Photoshop sparkles notwithstanding.

So anyway, today I chuckled when I saw a sign on a door near a public restroom that said “janitor store”. Surely it’s not a place to buy janitors, though with a bit of imagination it could be a place where janitors shop…

Possessive adjectives in child Singlish

The kids I used to teach had trouble producing the sound of short “i”. It comes out as long “ee”. (In linguistics, this ee and i are a tense/lax vowel pair.) Thus, as I tell new teachers during training, there are no fish in Singapore. They’re all feesh.

That means that “ship” and “sheep” are homophones. The fact that “ship” and “sheep”  are not actually the same word is really confusing to kids who are learning plurals and collective nouns (fleet of ships, flock of sheep).

Another significant effect of this problem is that “his” and “he’s” sound exactly the same. The obvious effect of this confusion is that kids often write one of these words when they should be writing the other one. The more subtle effect of this confusion is that kids sometimes assume that there exists a possessive adjective “she’s” which means “her”.

Here’s what they hear here:

He is a boy. That bag is he’s bag.

Therefore, by analogy, they want to say:

She is a girl. That bag is she’s bag.

I wish English were that logical!

I think (I hope?) most Singapore kids grow out of saying “she’s” as a possessive adjective but they don’t necessarily learn to pronounce lax vowels as lax vowels. The adults here also say “feesh”.

The “oo” in “moon” and the “oo” in “book” are another tense/lax pair, which explains why kids (and adults) say the word “book” with the vowel sound that’s in “moon”.

Update: More on the ship/sheep pronunciation problem.

Healthy yet delicious Korean food

Whoops! The sign in front of this shop in the basement of United Square is implying that healthy Korean food is usually not delicious. I mean, okay, maybe, but that’s not what you want people to be thinking when they’re standing in front of your Korean restaurant at lunchtime.

What if they used “and” instead?

Healthy and delicious Korean food

Well, now it almost sounds as if they’re offering two different kinds of food, healthy Korean food and delicious Korean food, which still implies that “healthy” and “delicious” are incompatible.

They should just put the two problem adjectives in front of Korean with just a comma:

Healthy, delicious Korean food

The reverse order sounds okay too:

Delicious, healthy Korean food