Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Before it was an award-winning sci-fi novel, it was an award-winning sci-fi short story. It’s commonly studied, deep, and poignant. (I’m not really a fan of poignant.)

Flowers for Algernon tells the story of a retarded man named Charlie who undergoes an experimental surgical procedure to increase his intelligence. Algernon is the mouse whose success has convinced scientists that the procedure should be tried on a human test subject. It is clear early in the book, if not from the title of the book itself, that the procedure ultimately fails. Hence the poignancy.

For more on the format, plot and themes, continue reading.

Continue reading Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

No Smoking Prohibited By Law

The sign says:

No Smoking
Prohibited By Law

But it should say:

No Smoking
By Law


Smoking Prohibited By Law


No Smoking
Smoking Is Prohibited By Law

Why? Because it almost sounds as if not smoking is not allowed. In other words, it sounds like everyone must smoke.

Obviously people are not really going to conclude that they must smoke when they see this sign, but all the same, the English is not quite right.

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

See below for my thoughts on A Suitable Boy, when and why I read it (twice!), and a list of other books I’ve read that are about India or by Indian authors.

My write-up of the premise, characters, themes and what I liked about the book contains some details about the characters that could be considered spoilers but does not give away the climax or resolution of the tale.

Continue reading A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

Prices are subjected to service charge and tax

The menu at Tim Ho Wan, a nice restaurant for dim sum, says:

All the prices shown above are subjected to 10% service charge & 7% GST.

It should say ‘subject to’ and not ‘subjected to’. If I’ve seen this error once, I’ve seen it a thousand times…

In the phrase “subject to [noun]”, the word ‘subject’ is an adjective. The phrase can mean “vulnerable to [noun]”, “able to be affected adversely by [noun]”, “likely to suffer from [noun]”, “possibly required to undergo [noun]”. Here are some examples.

Those with certain medical conditions are subject to violent and debilitating seizures.

Hastily written emails are subject to misinterpretation.

In those days, all mail was subject to inspection by censorship authorities.

In the phrase “subjected to”, the word ‘subjected’ is part of a passive verb. The phrase “to subject [someone or something] to [some process]” means “to inflict or impose [some process] on [someone or something]”. Here are some examples.

The trainees were subjected to a rigorous training program.

All our prototypes are subjected to thorough stress-testing.

Many citizens object to the practice of subjecting prisoners to torture.

So listen up, would-be restaurant menu writers: if you say that all prices are subjected to service charge and tax, to careful readers, it sounds as if service charges and taxes are kinds of torture that you are carrying out, and your prices are the victims.

Actually, it would be more accurate to say that all restaurant patrons are subjected to service charge and tax!

I’m a little snowflake.

Sometimes alternative words to songs just come to me. Look what happened to “I’m a little teapot”!

I’m a little snowflake, perfect bright;
Don’t you dare insult or slight
Any little thing I do or say,
Or else I’ll make you rue the day.

I love children, but sometimes I do not love their parents. Never having been a parent, perhaps I shouldn’t criticize. On the other hand, most parents have never been teachers, and some of them make teachers’ jobs much harder…

(I made the illustration in Photoshop using a free stock image from Pixabay. The variety—and the tagging—is pretty pathetic, but sometimes Pixabay has exactly what I’m looking for. In this case, a photo of a girl wearing a suitably smug expression.)