Barney the crocodile found dead at Kranji Reservoir

From ‘Death of wild crocodile a mystery’, 4 May 2014, article by Feng Zengkun, Sunday Times

A 400kg crocodile, probably one of the largest to have roamed wild here in decades, has been found dead on the Kranji Reservoir grounds. Fondly nicknamed Barney by anglers, its death has puzzled experts as the creature had seemed relatively young and healthy, and had no visible injuries.

National water agency PUB, which oversees the area, said it was informed about the dead reptile about three weeks ago. The 3.6m-long saltwater crocodile was disposed of at a nearby farm.

More saltwater crocodiles – the world’s largest reptile and known to be formidable predators – have been spotted in Singapore in recent years. Last year, about 10 of them were found living in waters around the north-western coastline, up from two in 2008.

There have also been regular sightings at Sungei Buloh and around Kranji Reservoir, although PUB said none had been reported in Kranji in 2012 and last year.

…Anyone who spots a crocodile should keep away from it and not provoke it. Once at a safe distance, they should contact PUB’s 24-hour call centre on 1800-284-6600 or the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority’s Animal Response Centre on 1800-476-1600.

This croc tips the scales

Reticulated pythons seem to be under the charge of a different agency (ACRES), though both reptiles can be nasty predators. So what happens if one finds a python swimming in a reservoir? Call PUB, ACRES or AVA? Saltwater crocodiles are the world’s LARGEST living reptiles, and I thought naming the deceased beast after a singing, purple dinosaur that haunts every parent’s dreams was pretty clever. So a tiny country like ours with limited wild spaces has both the largest crocodiles and largest pythons on EARTH. How are we still ALIVE?

Here is a quick social history of crocs in Singapore:

Croc trapping: In 1894, a croc was sighted in what was known as the ‘Impounding Reservoir’ on Thomson Road and men attempted to snare it using an elaborate trap called a ‘nibong’, which involves a dead duck as bait and a coconut. This cruel device  lacerated the croc from within after it swallowed the bait, and was found dead soon after. We didn’t give them affectionate names then; it was just called a BRUTE. Well thankfully, trapping has become more humane since, though these bait-and-cage devices  kinda makes the living fossil look pretty dumb too. Even if they’ve been around far longer than our own species.

Screen Shot 2014-05-04 at 1.59.50 PM

Badass Croc killers: In 1911, a croc was gunned to death at Serangoon River by a certain D.C Cook with a Browning automatic pistol. Aw Boon Haw, of Tiger Balm fame, himself tried to shoot one with his revolver but missed (1925, Katong). We had our very own ‘Crocodile Hunter’ in the form of Boey Peng Kow, who was charged for reckless shooting in 1935. 2 years later, an Australian showed his prowess in HARPOONING crocs as if they were sturgeon. An instructor for the Singapore Trade School showed off his trophy catch after killing one with a single shot (1939), posing in the kind of photo that today would earn a million ‘Likes’ on Facebook or Instagram. Such Crocodile Dundees don’t exist anymore. We don’t conquer wild animals and pose with our feet on them like hunters do. We do SELFIES, or worse, COLLAGES of selfies of some utterly meagre accomplishment. Or tell everyone that we completed a 3.5 km jog on Runkeeper.

Screen Shot 2014-05-04 at 1.25.57 PM

Croc attacks: A child went missing after being dragged into the Ulu Pandan river by a croc (1946). An Indian labourer was MAULED by one which he kept as a PET.  In 1989, the Police opened fire on a charging croc in Seletar. Other than these rare cases, you’re probably as likely to be eaten by a croc as being gored by a wild boar. Heck, there’s a higher chance of you being stung to death by angry bees.

Croc harvesting: Croc skinning and tanning was a thriving business in the 1930’s. In the late 40’s you could even BUY your own baby crocodile for about $25. So much in demand was croc leather that people would resort to stealing baby crocodiles. In 1970, FIFTY FOUR of these babies were nicked from croc ‘nurseries’. Singapore’s Heng Long Tannery was one of the top five croc tanneries in the WORLD in 2011, recently acquired by French luxury group LVMH, which also snapped up Crystal Jade. Of course Singaporeans get more worked up about local companies getting bought over by Europeans when food is involved, caring little about crocodile hide processing.

Croc haunts (other than rivers and reservoirs): In 1949, a 41/2 foot long croc was found in a Geylang DRAIN.  In 1991, another sighting took place in a monsoon drain at Fort Road (Crocodile spotted in monsoon drain at Fort Road, 22 Sept 1991). One wandered onto Tuas SHIPYARD in 1998.

Croc attractions: The Jurong Crocodile Paradise was conceived in 1987, and cost $8 million to build. It closed down in 2006, only to be replaced by The Village@Jurong Hill, a suburban mall. The theme park featured a female croc named HULK HOGAN, who bit off part of a performer’s FACE during a show in 1989. Less well known was a place in East Coast Park since 1981 called the Singapore CROCODILARIUM, which featured crocodile WRESTLING. Even earlier than these, we had the crocodile farms of the 70s. The longest surviving one, the Tan Moh Hong Reptile Skin and Crocodile Farm, closed shop in 2012. Today, you can find the most crocodiles, or rather what’s left of the reptile, in the bag wardrobe of socialite Jamie Chua. Or you could just head down to Kranji Countryside’s Long Kuan Hung Crocodile Farm. Gone are those head-in-jaws of death stunts, the only thing I remember about my trip to the gone-but-not-forgotten Jurong attraction. If you want death-defying thrills in Jurong these days, there’s Jem mall.

Croc love: In 1979, a woman in Tampines kept a pet croc named – wait for it – CROCKY.  In 1988, the press portrayed elusive crocs in Seletar reservoir as our very own ‘Loch Ness monsters’. Maybe we should name the next croc we spot ‘Nessie’.

Croc logos: Clothing giant Singapore Crocodile had a legal tussle with Lacoste in 2006 over similar logos. Our brand eventually won, partly because the court found that the ‘head of the Singaporean Crocodile poses towards left while the French Lactose’s head towards right’. Lacoste was formed first, by the way, 10 years before Crocodile in 1943.

Croc pervs: Crocodile in Malay is ‘Buaya’, a term used to describe a different kind of ladykiller altogether, though rather outdated in my opinion. In 1936, a ‘buaya’ was a ‘favourite epithet for an untrustworthy scoundrel, guilty of evil deeds’. It wasn’t until the 90’s that it was used to describe flirts and womanisers.

Croc eats: Crocodile meat seems more palatable than python. Braised crocodile tail is a popular dish which you can snap up at the ‘Old Geylang’ eatery. We also used to have a stall at Old Airport Road named ‘Singapore King Crocodile’, which sells ‘croc meat bak kut teh’. Presumably it tastes like a hybrid of chicken/pork. No surprise that Barney was sent to the nearest farm then. Maybe you can have a taste of him when you can buy CROCODILE BAK KWA.

UPDATE: ST Forum published a statement by PUB (PUB probing crocodile’s death, 16 May 2014, ST) revealing that Barney might have been hunted down by poachers, as he was found with a large fish hook in his mouth and a metal rod impaled in his eye. The only croc farm remaining in Singapore, Long Kuan Hung Crocodile farm, has denied that it received Barney’s carcass as what the ST previously reported. The killers remain at large, while everyone else is caught up in the media frenzy over 5 boys who spray painted a wall.


Batman is a normal Javanese name pronounced ‘But-mun’

From ‘Batman Suparman story takes off’, 17 Nov 2013, article by Nur Asyiqin Mohammed Salleh, Sunday  Times

Singapore’s Batman Suparman (below) made news when he was sent to jail last Monday for a string of crimes. His story also took off beyond Singapore, making the list of best-read stories on the BBC website. The interest clearly was less about his crimes – theft, housebreaking and consuming heroin, for which he was jailed for two years and nine months – and more about his unusual name.

His mother, however, was not amused to hear that his name was being talked about here and elsewhere. “A person’s name is not a laughing matter and it’s our business what we name our child,” she said, irritated to be asked if he had been named after the comic hero. She claimed Batman, 23, was a “normal” Javanese name properly pronounced as “But-Mun”.

Only one other person in the phone directory is named Batman but when contacted, the woman declined to be interviewed. There are 23 listings of Suparman, the name of Batman’s father.

…Veteran Malay language teacher Abdul Rahim Omar told The Sunday Times that while Suparman is a common Javanese name, Batman is not and has no meaning in Malay or Javanese. “I think his parents were probably inspired by the comic.”

What happens if you Google Image 'Batman Bin Suparman'

What happens if you Google Image ‘Batman Bin Suparman’

To date, no one has published a photo of Batman outside of his identity card and it would be interesting to see what he looks like now. I thought it was also rather insensitive of ST to ask Batman’s mother about his superhero name when he’s serving time in jail. No wonder she was irritated; she must have been asked the same question a million times. Nobody cares if you name your son ‘Tan Ah Kow’ anymore. Too bad the writer of the Batman article wasn’t Kimberly Spykerman.

Kudos to Ch5 newsreader Chew Wui Lynn for keeping po-faced when reporting Batman’s arrest. And she passed the pronunciation with flying colours. This is how you say ‘Batman Bin Suparman’ like a pro, ‘bart-mon (as in monday)’.

Not so for the rest of the world, who say Batman as, literally, Bat-Man. Holy Java Chip Frappucino!

But let’s go beyond the Internet sensation and the most famous Singaporean other than LKY, or the Dark Knight, and try to uncover the origins of ‘batman’ if its Javanese source is disputed. In 1912, a CAPTAIN BATMAN was fined $10 for stowing away a ‘decrepit Chinaman’ into the ‘Colony’. In Melbourne, there’s a place called Batman’s Hill, named after founder John Batman (1801-1839). All this happening, of course, way before the father of the creator of DC’s Batman was even born.

In the military, a ‘batman’ is an obsolete term for a soldier assigned to an officer as a ‘manservant’, and is tasked with ‘batting’, or basically being at the beck and call of your boss.  You could say that the comic’s butler Alfred is a ‘Batman’ in his own way. In 1951, the Singapore Free Press published a report with the headline ‘Batman in theft case’,  so it’s not the first time that a real-life ‘Batman’ has committed a crime.

A batman is also an ancient unit of mass, as defined by the Ottoman empire, roughly working out to be today’s 7.6 kg. The Turkish province Batman, the Batman River and the Batman airport all hint at a possible connection with the Javanese ‘Batman’. ‘But-man’ itself isn’t immune to mockery either (think ‘Buttman’). Either Batman bin Suparman’s parents are closet superhero geeks, or are well versed in the ancient Ottoman metric system. What the journo should have done to uncover the mystery of Batman as a first name, is to get a Javanese or Turkish phonebook rather than a local one. Only then will you get some insight into how, well, Batman Begins.

Stamford canal to blame for Orchard Road floods

From ‘Stamford canal a cause of flooding again’, article by Saifulbahri Ismail, 31 Dec 2011, Today

The 4km-long Stamford Canal, cited as a factor in last year’s floods along Orchard Road, has again been traced as the source of flooding at Liat Towers last Friday.

Explaining yesterday why the flooding occurred, national water agency PUB said the “prolonged and heavy” monsoon rain on Dec 23 caused “some parts of Stamford Canal to flow full“. Then, 152.8mm of rain fell on Orchard Road from 2.20pm to 5.20pm – equivalent to about half the average monthly total of 287.4mm of rain recorded for the entire month of December over the last 142 years.

…In its statement, PUB assured the public that it takes “its responsibility for flood management seriously”. “PUB regrets the inconveniences caused by the floods to members of the public and businesses,” said the agency. “

…To improve flood protection during similar storms, Liat Towers will be building a perimeter wall along its internal drain. “This will allow more water to be held within this so-called pond and, with the difference in pressure, we’d be able to drain the water into the canal,” said Liat Towers director of property management Lydia Tjhia.

…Given the constraints in expanding Stamford Canal due to the urbanised development in the area, PUB is studying the feasibility of building a detention pond and a diversion canal for the Stamford catchment in the longer term.

In 1984, the Ministry of Environment responded to a reader’s complaint about Orchard Road flooding by citing ‘extremely heavy rainfall’, exposing the inability of Stamford canal to handle any load exceeding the intensity equivalent to a once-in-5-year storm. In that year, May 21’s freak storm yielded a rainfall of 130mm within the interval of 100 minutes, an intensity matching a ONCE in NINETY YEAR storm according to the Ministry, which would require the canal to expand to more than twice its width to 10m. On Dec 23 2011, within the same time period, we had about 84 mm of rainfall, and since the canal overflowed, the downpour would have been considered AT LEAST a once in 5 year event, though it seems we’ve been having ‘improbable’ weather almost every other week.

I’m particularly interested in how weather experts coin a probability of one-in-ninety years when we have been tracking weather for only 142 years without invoking some form of predictive statistics. According to the NEA’s 142 years-old records, December has constantly been the rainiest month. On a single day in Dec 1978 alone, 512.4 mm of rain fell, almost twice the monthly average. In response to what was known then as the ‘worst floods ever’, Minister of Environment E.W Barker said ‘Singapore’s drains were not designed to cope with exceptional rainfall, and it was impractical and uneconomical’ to build ‘extra-large’ canals to cater to freak weather. Between 1978’s record-breaking storm and 1984’s ‘once in ninety years’ rainfall is only a period of 6 YEARS. To pour more cold water on such doubtful statistics,  then-Minister of Environment Yaacob Ibrahim was ‘told by the PUB’ that the Nov 2009 floods occurs ONCE EVERY 50 YEARS. In that storm, 92 mm of rain fell within HALF an HOUR. But wait a second; 1984’s 39 mm/half hour storm was considered a once every 90 YEARS event, which makes the heavier storm in 2009 a MORE LIKELY event, effectively rendering PUB’s predictions meaningless, a case of our climate folks plucking numbers out of ‘thin air’.

Just last year in June, PUB put the blame on a blocked ‘culvert’ along Stamford Canal and ‘an intense amount of rain within short bursts’ within the space of an hour, stubbornly refusing to consider the possibility that flooding is really the result of poor project management over the years. But let’s look at the history of the Stamford canal and, assuming our rainfall patterns haven’t altered significantly based on NEA’s records, see how much time the authorities  have actually spent tackling the flood problem and ‘regretting the inconveniences caused’. It’s like saying I ‘regret’ that you got bitten by my crazy, unpredictable dog but I’m still not sending him to obedience school or putting a muzzle on him.

Originally known during the days of Raffles as ‘Sungei Bras Bassa’, the early versions of the Stamford canal were in place for over a century and was already being blamed for flooding as early as 1911 (sluice gates’ fault). Millions were subsequently pumped into flood control projects to modify the canal, though you can’t help but feel that however PUB claims to take flood management seriously, expanding the Stamford canal has always been an afterthought to more lucrative developments along Orchard Road. It’s not the weather that the canal needs to catch up with but the rabid urbanisation going on around (and OVER) it. Making dodgy predictions about how often heavy rainfall would occur has also prevented the board from preparing for the worst case scenario, and using ‘extreme’ weather is no longer an excuse given we’ve had experiences with ‘once-in-whatever-years’ deluges for more than a century.

  • 1952: A proposed $750,000 to widen and rebuild, including ‘COVERING part of the canal to make a CAR PARK’.
  • 1970: $250,000 to ‘BEAUTIFY the Stamford canal embankment’, including an ‘exposed footpath of uniform width’.
  • 1973: $1.3 m to COVER the Stamford Canal with a pedestrian mall between Cuscaden and Grange Road.
  • 1978: $32 million on a flood control scheme to reconstruct Stamford Canal by ‘widening and deepening’ it.
  • 1993: Floodgates costing $200,000 built in Ngee Ann City-Lucky Plaza underpass (Floodgates built at a cost of $200,000, 16 Sept 1993, ST)

Given that the authorities were well aware of Stamford Canal’s design flaws for so long, Orchard Road continues to be a hotbed of commercial activity.  A pro-business approach towards retail chain Gap  in 2008 resulted in immovable barriers being replaced by a sliding mechanical floodgate system instead. It’s not certain if this compromised, or indeed left a ‘GAP’ (hurr hurr), in flood control, but it leaves one to wonder if Orchard Road would be ‘high and dry’ if it wasn’t, well, Orchard Road.

It’s also a strange twist of ironic terminology that the PUB is now considering ‘ponding’ areas, a mitigating measure which I’ve described in an earlier post, though they were quick to eliminate the use of the same word to describe ‘flooding’ in this press release. Flood dynamics is no doubt a complex science, and no one will blame the PUB for admitting to lacking the expertise to handle the problem, if only they’d stop fudging storm probabilities and making scapegoats out of bad infrastructure like a  carpenter blaming his tools. To make things worse, their ‘drainage overview’ report following the 2010/11 floods contains a blatant lie:

'Orchard area has been flood free for more than 25 years'

Taking 2010 as the assumed ‘first case of flooding in 25 years’, this implies that we haven’t had any Orchard Road floods since 1984. Wrong (1988) and wrong again(2007).

Happy new year everyone.

Pariahs beat drums to attract attention

From ‘Avoid touchy word’, 25 June 2011, Mailbag, ST Life!

(Shanmuguam Kasinathan):…Firstly I think the playwright (Alfian Bin Sa’at) is myopic in the sense that there are so many issues to dramatise, but he has chosen this one to highlight. To me , he is immature and his play (Pariah) is not worth attending.

He was forgotten the controversy over this particular term, ‘pariah’, in Malaysia. ‘Pariah’ is misunderstood by many people, including the playwright. In India, the caste system has been in existence for thousands of years…the lowest caste, comprising those known as the ‘untouchables’, is divided into many castes.

Pariahs are people who went to villages to make announcements in the days when India had no newspapers or radio. They did this by beating their drums to attract attention. Over time, the word has become derogatory because it was the sub-caste of the untouchables who did all the menial jobs in India.

The playwright could have done something better than touch a raw nerve in the Tamil Community.

Pariah Pariah Sakura

Haven’t seen the play (probably not in my lifetime since the dialogue in Malay), I’ll leave it to the author and producers to defend against these sweeping allegations of discrimination, though based on the synopsis alone, it appears to me that Alfian’s work is merely addressing the controversy of the word rather than fanning the flames of class prejudice. It’s not clear from the letter if Mr Shanmugam has actually seen the play, but his rage appears to directed towards the appearance of  the word ‘pariah’ in the title of a local production, like the phrase ‘Naan the Nay’ appearing on a Breadtalk creation.

The exact role of ‘pariahs’ in the caste system, whether they’re drum beating postmen or peasants, is up to Indian sociologists and historians to debate over, though part of the reason why ‘pariah’ still offends certain Indians till this day could be its association with mongrel dogs (See below, Good points about the Pariah Dog, 6 July 1935, ST). According to this 1935 article, the pariah is the ‘outcast’, a ‘mountaineer or primitive inhabitant’, but modern etymology identifies its origin in the Tamil word ‘paraiyan’, or ‘drummer’, attributed to caste members who beat drums or ‘parai’ at festivals, though it’s unclear if beating drums on important occasions is all they do for a living. The ‘untouchable’ term refers to fear of contamination upon contact with members of their caste, epitomised by an old anecdote  that a higher caste mother would rather have her child drown in a well than allow a pariah sweeper to rescue him, in fear of polluting the village water supply, the ‘mongrel’ connection amplified by how pariahs are treated ‘worse-than-dogs’ (See below, India’s untouchables, 5 April 1913, ST). But whatever the original application of pariah, subversion of innocent words into offensive terms full of pejorative connotations happens all the time. Think words like ‘bitch’,  ‘pig’,  ‘dustbin man’,  ‘toilet cleaner’ and even ‘uncle and auntie‘, and you’ll know what I mean.

The word ‘Untouchable’ has also taken on an entirely different, though not so positive, meaning in today’s office culture (meaning someone with special privileges who escapes meagre assignments; ‘granted immunity’ in Survivor-speak, or in local parlance, ‘siams arrows’). Even ‘pariah’ in the context of mongrel dogs has become outdated, today euphemised to the more politically correct  sounding ‘strays’ or ‘hybrids’. Perhaps the playwright should have considered using less glaring ‘The Untouchables’ as the working title of his play instead to avoid the wrath of such complainants. They would probably think it’s just a harmless, musical version of a namesake movie about a bunch of cops and  Al Capone.

You can't touch them

The right to doze off in the library

From ‘Caught napping in the library’, 15 May 2011, article by Ng Huiwen in Sunday Times

…Recently, a photo of two girls dozing on sofa seats at the National Library in Victoria Street was posted on The Straits Times’ citizen journalism website Stomp.The Stomper, who goes by the moniker Alan, said the pair were ‘sleeping soundly’ though there were ‘so many other library users’, adding that he was surprised the library’s staff did not intervene.

…(MS VINDA TIRRANA): ‘If the library is crowded, people who need the seats to read their books can’t get them if there are people sleeping. I’ve even seen those who snore so loudly that it disturbs others.’

…(HUANG JING QUAN):’I don’t see it as hogging the seats because it’s within my rights to take a break.’

Read it and sleep

It’s debatable if sleeping on a library seat, itself intended for free public usage unlike seats at an eatery where operation costs are involved, is considered inconsiderate behaviour. It may look ugly and sloppy, but the seat is unavailable anyway whether it’s used for a snooze, staring into thin air, homework, serious research or ploughing through a thick novel from start to finish, because there is no obligation on the user to give it up to others. Even if you put up ‘No sleeping!’ signs or hire staff just to prod sleepers in the ribs, you don’t have good enough reason to shoo them out of the premises if their snoozing, as they may claim,  is purely involuntary and are not causing unnecessary distress to fellow users. In fact, having a sound sleeper next to you while you’re studying for exams is a confidence booster, and you won’t have to deal with annoying tics like pen tappings, knee shaking or noisy sliding of highlighters.

The issue really, is not the lack of seats, but the inaccessibility to material held but not yet borrowed by the sleeper. In fact sleeping with an unused book is more offensive than ‘hogging’ it, especially if you’ve spent the last few months on the Reserved listing, only to see someone clutching onto your object of desire while in dreamland, like an camel huddling over the last vial of water in the desert when it has absolutely no motivation to drink from it.  So imagine the agony of wanting to see horse racing results only to find the last copy of the Sports section stuck beneath the face of a drooling sleeper, something similar to what a writer from 1918 may well experience based on the letter below (14 June 1918, ST)

But what’s really worrying is this kiasu hogging mentality that pervades our society, whether it’s sleeping in the library or on the train not giving up seats to grumpy old men, choping hawker centre seats with tissue packs, or snatching the last copy of free MyPaper. Singaporeans just seem consumed by an overwhelming sense of entitlement and self-importance. Our only resource are our people, and if we continue to slurry our image as ugly-beyond-redemption Singaporeans and treat each other with base contempt without pulling together and reflecting on our actions,  then very little hope remains.

OMG and LOL are not OK

From ‘LOL, teachers won’t accept it”, 27 March 2011, article by Heather Marie Lee in Sunday Times

Just because the Oxford English Dictionary has accepted abbreviations such as OMG, LOL and BFF and usage of ‘heart’ as a verb to mean ‘to love’, it does not mean that English language and literature teachers are prepared to accept them in students’ schoolwork and essays.

(Shamini Rajandran, St Margaret’s Secondary):Any writing piece is a formal piece of work, and these words are raher informal, the sort you would use in an e-mail or SMS. They’re definitely not acceptable in national exams, so why allow the use of them at school level? Regardless, I’m personally quite traditional and particular about these sorts of things, and wouldn’t allow them.

The reason why English teachers have such strong reservations against the new ‘words’ is that they’re all derived from bimbotic teenspeak and were born out of a digital shorthand age, which is taboo in a system which considers the shortcircuiting of proper words as plain laziness. As English teachers, however, they of all people should be aware of how the language evolves. It’s not simply about a bunch of old craggy Englishmen in cloaks sitting around a table constructing words and sounds out of thin air before penning them down on sacred parchment. It’s a dynamic ecosystem of competing species, words created out of the murky recesses of slang , colloquialism, onomatopoeia, even a foreign language, and pitted against each other in a ‘survival of the hippest’ battle, their eventual fate dependent on their propagation through the harsh medium of human speech, with the more successful ones, like OMG and LOL, spreading virally across nations like wildfire (No thanks to Facebook and Twitter). It’s also essential for the OED to keep up with the times and do away with its image as a despotic, dusty old patriarch, otherwise  it would lag dismally behind the less official, far cooler phenomenon known as the ‘Urban Dictionary’.

Acronyms that have become proper English words popularized through war and technology include laser and radar, and if you’re thinking ‘Hey at least those SOUND like words. OMG, LOL and BFF are intended to be pronounced letter by letter’, you’re missing the most universal ‘abbreviation/word’ being used today. ‘O.K’.  Also note the irony when Ms Rajandran above mentions ‘E-MAIL’ and ‘SMS’. Centuries ago, teachers probably frowned on the use of OK in their students’ essays, just like how uptight teachers abhor the use of OMG! today. I personally wouldn’t use it out of the SMS context, neither would children in essays unless they’re using it in character speech to convey emotion, which I think is fine to a certain extent. I mean they wouldn’t go ‘Once upon a time, there were two BFF princesses and OMG, how they HEARTED each other’, neither would GP essays go ‘WTF! Companies should be fair to working mothers!’ Seriously, our kids are smart enough to know when it’s appropriate to use the passive voice, and when to act like an excited gossip queen who just heard the latest scandal in school. Otherwise they’d really CMI.

I guess it’s only a matter of time when OMG becomes as commonplace as OK, and ‘hearted’ becomes the next ‘googled’. Having nouns transformed into verbs and other forms is nothing new, you could call it a ‘random mutation’ to increase the versatility of the original root word hence extending the shelf life of the species, like UNPUTDOWNABLE for example (See below, 13 Jan 1988, ST Forum), not surprisingly gone today, not least because it’s completely UNPRONOUNCEABLE. Even OK has it variants, extending into ‘okay’, ‘okayed’ and ‘okie-dokie’, which went on to deceive most of us into believing that OK, the original form,  was a shortform for the much later OKAY.

Here’s a list of what were once thought to be weird additions to the OED, and complaining English teachers can rest assured that landing a place in the lexicographer’s bible may not guarantee its survival, which depends very much on the cultural and technological (Walkman, anyone?) climate in which they’re used. Va-va-voom, for example, is quite dead locally and has traditionally been associated with 80’s American frat boys peeking over their sunglasses as comely ladies walking by. To put it in simpler terms, it’s all about being ‘catchy’.

OK (1847) – Origin still fuzzy, generally accepted to be an abbreviation of ‘All Correct’

Strafe, Stunt (1920) – From war, American college slang respectively

Jazz, Whizzbang, Whoopee (1933), Jazz and Whoopee from the Jazz age, Whizzbang is onomatopoeia from war

Bonk (1987) – Slang

Rambo, diskette, laptop (1989) – From pop culture and technology (Diskette dead from obsolescence, laptop faces similar threat from ‘notebook’ or ‘Ipad’)

Full Monty (1998) – Pop culture (Brit movie about stripteasing men)

Lah (2000) – Local colloquaialism

D’oh! (2001) – Pop culture (The Simpsons)

Muggle, Bling-bling (2003) – Pop culture (Harry Potter, hip hop)

Va-va voom (2004) – Slang

Bada-bing, Looky-loo (2006) – Pop culture (Sopranos), Slang

Unfriend (2009) – Technology (Social networking)

Kampong/Kampung, Orang-utan, Amok (unknown) – From Malay words

Even if a word is found in the OED, it also doesn’t mean that people will use it the way it was inscribed. Like ‘enormity’ for example (See below, 23 Oct 1916, ST), which adds a fascinating dynamic to the language, when misinterpretation and mistakes have the power to change the meaning of a word such that the survival benefit of being used more often but incorrectly, overrides the OED context in which it’s meant to be used, to the point that even different dictionaries can’t agree on the true definition.  It still works though, IRREGARDLESS of what OED says.

I fell into a storm drain

From ‘An open drain is asking for trouble’, 14 Oct 2010, Voices, Today online

(Vanessa Patel): LAST Friday evening, I parked my car at the car park by the junction of River Valley Road and Clemenceau Avenue, beside Fort Canning Park.

As I stepped out of the car, I fell into a storm drain running just beside the lot which I had not seen in the darkness. As I fell, I scraped the back of my leg badly, while my back hit the concrete lip of the drain.

At first I thought I had fractured my ribs, as I was struggling to breathe and move. Still, I was able to pick myself up and meet my friends, but two hours later, I fainted – I presume from the shock – and my blood pressure fell drastically.

I was taken via ambulance to a hospital, where I had to stay overnight and get a CT scan, X-rays and a tetanus injection. Thankfully, they found nothing serious.

When I returned to collect my car the next day, I saw just how deep the drain was.

Should I have fainted, hit my head or broken a bone because of the fall, nobody would have seen me lying there. Imagine how much worse it could have been had it been a child, elderly person or even a drunk reveller in such a situation.

If car park lots are to be situated that close to a drain, then the drains should be covered.

No laughing matter to fall into a drain of course, but it’s hard to imagine anyone falling into holes unless they’re not paying attention to their immediate surroundings. Instead of blaming the drain, which being open, is performing its optimal function of, you know, drainage, perhaps Ms Patel should say something about the poor lighting along the roads of Fort Canning, Lovers’ lane or not. Accidents are bound to happen and one simply can’t hazardproof everything under the sun. You might as well suggest that every hanging branch should have a safety net beneath it,  or have swimming pools surrounded with anti-slip bathmats, or make every staircase rounded at the edges, or coat every lamppost with rubber,  or ban bananas so that people won’t slip on their skins, or replace the sand at playgrounds with styrofoam balls. People can walk on flat ground and still, by freaky circumstance, sprain their ankles because the floor’s too smooth. Danger zones need to exist to keep our senses alert and our proprioception honed, otherwise people will walk around all day in a makeshift playpen of a world, staring at their handphones, reading the papers and forgetting how to jump over something so trivial as a muddy puddle. The history of people falling into drains stretches all the way back to the 1910’s, as seen in this letter ‘Dangerous Roads’, 21 Jan 1911 ST. How this writer managed to injure himself at 7.30pm, with lights and ‘wooden horses’ around the hole, makes this sound more like a script for a Charlie Chaplin short than a letter to the Muncipial President.