Don’t Kill Nouns with Adjectives

Enemy of the noun?

The sweltering heat these days reminds me of my old, favourite introduction: “The monstrous red ball of supreme heat hung on the light-blue sky, threatening to melt all the helpless pedestrians on the busy street with its radiating warmth“. I loved this introduction so much that I would use it for almost every primary school composition assignment irregardless of the question; after some time, my teacher became so accustomed to my writing that he could identify my composition from its first sentence. Since my teacher did not complain much, I had the false belief that my descriptive introduction reflected good writing style. Eventually, the use of adjectives became a desire to show off my rich vocabulary and that resulted in an immature writing style.

I did not realise my mistake until much later, when I entered high school. My heavily adjectival prose caught my teacher’s attention and when she could not take it any longer, she summoned me to her office. That day in her office changed my writing drastically because it was there that I understood the shortcomings of my style; instead of displaying my proficiency in the English language, the constant use of adjectives only made my writing embarrassingly ornate. In addition, my writing also suggests a lack of confidence, as if I am trying to make up for my inability by overdecorating my sentences. If every crisis is a critical crisis, every emergency an urgent emergency, and every problem a grave problem, then the whole idea of a crisis, an emergency, or a problem becomes devalued. In these situations, the adjective becomes the enemy of the noun.

That does not mean that we can do away with adjectives. Adjectives have their uses when they define and refine rather than simply emphasise. In the sentence “We are in legal trouble“, the adjective, legal, has a truly informative function. For a vigorous style, you can try replacing adjectives with colourful nouns. “The penniless man that lives in a small, filthy hut” can be replaced by “the pauper that lives in a hovel.” A “large and impressive house” can be replaced by a “mansion” and so on. You get the idea. Now, before you give in to the temptation of using flamboyant language, do remember the guiding principle of using adjectives and you will surely produce a good piece of writing!

A Request

The Joke

Hello everyone, my name is Peng Sing and I will be writing under the screen name, Scherzo (pronounced ‘S’care-Zoh’) which stands for “Joke” in Italian. You’ll find out more about me in the times to come… if I am able to sustain my interest in contributing regularly.

This post is actually a request; something that has been bothering me lately. It is a timely request, because more and more young people are becoming interested in politics/political commentary. But too many fall prey to euphemism, dishonesty and witch-hunting (personal attacks).

I came across a speech by Loh Kah Seng, given during the launch of “Men in White” at a library, which got me thinking a bit. The main excerpt which caught my attention was how he aptly describes a social phenomenon among our youth in the recent years:

“There is a tendency for young Singaporeans to read our past for inspiration and vilification. This is not surprising and is part of the enduring appeal of history. Inspiration because the past provides positive precedents, or heroes, of an earlier generation of Singaporeans (also young and idealistic then) struggling to make Singapore a better, fairer and more open society. Vilification because history also provides what appears to be proof of what some present day young Singaporeans want to believe – that the government is repressive, manipulative and narrowly neo-liberal. In short, we read Singapore history for Lim Chin Siong and Operation Coldstore.”

There’s a whole load of anti-establishment/anti-PAP angst that show up frequently on the Temasek Review and many other Internet portals that discuss Local Affairs. It is there where you can find these Singapore’s Neo-political-liberalists. My impression of them is that they love to go about scrutinizing every single piece of pro-government literature that comes out in mainstream media with “critical thinking skills” they picked up from god-knows-where. Very often these are senseless personal attacks at various political figures, or simply emotionally charged posts that appeal to the reader. They always seem to make sense at first, but upon full of logical fallacies that are either misleading or isolated cases that are exaggerated.

Be wary of:

Appeals to popularity – just because something is popular/unpopular, does not mean it is correct. Eg. “Majority of Singaporeans are disappointed with budget 2010. Singapore is going down.” Because everyone is upset about something, does not mean that it is harmful. Note that the use of ‘Majority’ as well: Majority of Singaporeans? Anti-government activists are also Singaporeans! And where did he get his numbers from?

False-dichotomies – Something that is not good, does not mean that it is bad. Be alert for people that present you with only 2 options, do not let them fool you into thinking there is no room for alternatives or to remain neutral.

Red Herrings – Used as a distraction. Eg. The PAP is not putting enough emphasis on keeping a tighter leash on PRs, what’s worse, incentives for childbirth have been stagnant for the past few years Clearly, immigration and childbirth incentives have little in common, but is roped into the argument to make the PAP look bad when in actual fact the argument at hand is about immigration policies!

I Forgot What This Fallacy is Called – But it is still a fallacy. When considering reading peoples’ interpretations of social/political trends, always take note of how his ideas are presented. Was the trend drawn from data/reliable observations? Or was it the other way round? There is likelihood that many poor/dishonest political commentators base their conclusions from their opinions/emotions first, then find ways to support their conclusion, often leaving out on purpose vital pieces of information that actually prove them wrong.

Finally, remember to address all the other political parties that isn’t PAP as ‘non-ruling parties’ and not ‘opposition parties’. It brings about a very negative connotation and is subconsciously perpetuated to those growing up; ‘opposition’ appears to be rather disruptive as compared to non-ruling.

It is unfair, if not difficult, to instantly label various political parties that don’t begin with ‘P’ and end with ‘AP’ to harbour malicious intents. They may ‘oppose’ the PAP sometimes, but where Singaporeans are concerned, they are addressing the concerns of a group of Singapore Citizens. As much as they like to find fault in our government/PAP and have peculiar ways of doing things, we must bear in mind that most of their intentions are good.

These are habits of the mind, to be critical of others’ thoughts as well as your own.

Have fun poking fun at lousy political blogs/articles/comments on Temasek Review! 😀