S M Ong: 'Extinguished'? English is hard
English is hard.
Sometimes you write "extinguished" when you mean "distinguished".
Or you imply that the travel photos on your Instagram are taken by you when they're not.
Even I make mistakes in this column.
Recently, I received an e-mail from a reader regarding an article where I spoofed the letter US President Donald Trump wrote to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un cancelling the June 12 summit.
Remember that? Those were the days.
In the article, I described how I almost ordered the summit commemorative coin from the White House Gift Shop website.
The reader wrote: "You mentioned that the cost of the coin was US$19.95 (S$27) and the shipping charge was US$60.50. You further mentioned that the latter was three times more than the former.
"Let's see if that is correct.
"If the shipping charge is one time MORE THAN the cost of the coin, it would be $19.95 x 2= $39.90.
"If it is two times MORE, it would be $19.95 x 3 =$59.85.
"If it is three times MORE, it would be $19.95 x 4 =$79.80.
"The correct way to state the shipping charge as compared to the cost of the coin is as follows: The shipping charge is slightly more than three times the cost of the coin."
So basically, I put the words "more than" in the wrong place. Just my luck I have a maths and English geek reading my column.
I wrote back to him: "You are right, of course. In my defence, I was trying to write like Trump."
Like I said, English is hard.
So I sympathise with the Chinese foodcourt worker who was berated by a self-proclaimed Singaporean for not being able to speak English in the recent viral video.
Ironically, the day before I saw the video, I sort of had the opposite problem with a non-Chinese foodcourt worker.
This was in the Tangs Market foodcourt in the basement of Tangs in Orchard Road.
I wanted to order fishball noodles with the fat yellow noodle for my wife, but I didn't know what to call the fat yellow noodle in English.
In Mandarin, it is "shou mian". In Hokkien, it is "sek mee".
NOT MEE POK
The only samples the woman taking my order had in front of her were mee pok and mee kia. So I couldn't even point.
When I said "fat yellow noodle", she thought I meant mee pok.
If the noodles were for me, I would have accepted the mee pok, but I was ordering for somebody else.
Eventually, I spoke to the Chinese cook in Mandarin and he immediately understood what I wanted.
But I felt bad that my English wasn't good enough to communicate with the non-Chinese foodcourt worker.
And I'm a writer!
Despite not knowing how to use "more than".
Which is why I would refrain from mocking anyone making a mistake like not being able to distinguish "distinguished" from "extinguished".
Let he who is without grammatical sin and does not live in a linguistic glass house cast the first stone.
Or something like that.
English is hard.