It’s much more fun to say ‘raining cats and dogs’

From’ Time to improve standard of English here’, 2 Oct 2017, ST Forum

(Joe Teo Kok Seah): In my interactions with my fellow Singaporeans, I have come to realise that, by and large, people are adamant about using Singlish and are not accustomed to conversing in proper standard English.

They feel that Singlish is far more intimate and effective.

It is not uncommon to find people confusing expressions like the “first floor” with the second storey. The first floor or the first storey is the ground floor.

I have also been met with stunned and perplexed countenances when I use phrases like “a quarter to five” or “a quarter past five” instead of 4.45pm and 5.15pm.

Singaporeans have been exposed to crude English for decades. It is time for us to start speaking proper English. One way to do this is by tuning in to BBC news programmes.

I also learnt many useful English phrases from the British sitcom Mind Your Language, which was telecast in Singapore in the 1980s.

One can learn much better when the process is intermingled with humour and is stress-free. We should endeavour to use more English idioms as part of our daily interactions.

Idioms add life and verve to speech and writing. Without them, the English language would be very bland. For example, describing the weather as “raining cats and dogs” is much more fun than saying that it is “raining heavily”.

Having a good working knowledge of the more common English idioms is essential and critical for effective communication.

Blimey, this old chap thinks our English is ‘half-past six’. One can imagine him ‘running for the hills’ when conversation with the lay Singaporean isn’t as hoity-toity as he’d hoped. Or perchance he’s just making ‘a mountain out of a molehill’.

There is a fine line between idiom and cliche, and saying raining cats and dogs doesn’t make you a more vivacious speaker of the language than someone who says it’s raining heavily, or better still – The rain outside is heavy AF. English Idioms are as old as the bible and dotards. Modern slang is hip, dynamic and gets you connected.

I, too, grew up on Mind Your Language, though what most people remember it by is not Mr Brown’s essential lessons on nouns, verbs and prepositions, but the racist stereotypes that would draw uncomfortable laughs by today’s standards. A thousand apologies (head bobbing) comes to mind. Sleazy Italian? Flirty French? Commie Chinese? Check.

As for first floor vs ground floor, this is a case of Singaporeans switching unwittingly between American and British English.┬áThis phenomenon was observed by English professors even way back in the early eighties, when admittedly it is ‘impossible to maintain a British standard of lexicon and syntax’ because of the influence of American pop culture. People still say sidewalk instead of pavement. Eggplant Aubergine. Ass vs arse. And don’t get me started on the pronunciation of words such as ‘lieutenant’. Even Brits and getting corrupted by their American counterparts as we speak, and vice versa.

What English needs to be is clear, simple and concise. Why use ‘stunned and perplexed countenance’ when you could say ‘confused faces’. Or waste mental arithmetic deciding if it’s quarter to 4 or ten to 7? Or ‘by and large’ instead of ‘generally’?

To each his own. Not every nail that sticks up must be hammered down. Let’s not push the envelope but let sleeping dogs lie.

 

 

 

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