This continues my defense of the title of my August 31 column, “2,500 cringeworthy English in DepEd’s Grades 8, 7 learning materials,” against the dismissive comment of a new member of Jose Carillo’s English Forum that its use of the phrase “2,500 cringeworthy English” is itself cringeworthy.
Forum member aidsasis asserted: “Isn’t it that the word ‘English’ functions like a mass noun? We don’t say, ‘People should improve their Englishes,’ or ‘My student made a mistake on 5 English today.’ That’s why I found the title cringeworthy.”
I explained to aidsasis that we can look at each of the 2,500 flawed passages in those DepEd learning modules as a discrete and unique countable noun that, when taken together, won’t constitute a single, distinct cringeworthy variety of English; this is why their totality can’t be called “2,500 cringeworthy Englishes.” And as to the noun phrase “2,500 cringeworthy English,” I pointed out that it’s actually an ellipted or streamlined form of the longer phrase “2,500 cringeworthy English passages” or “2,500 cringeworthy English errors,” with “passages” or “errors” dropped for brevity and easier articulation. Aside from making that title more compact as a headline, I said, dropping those words makes it more compelling and gives it a greater sense of immediacy.
To this, aidsasis—a former English high-school teacher who’s now a private English tutor—breezily countered:
“Oh . . . So in effect, you’re saying that the following phrases are also acceptable because they’re ‘ellipted or streamlined forms’ of their longer counterparts: ‘three air’ (for ‘three air pockets’), ‘six oxygen’ (for ‘six oxygen particles’), ‘seven Chinese’ (for ‘seven Chinese characters’) and so on . . . ”
Here’s my reply to aidsasis regarding those examples:
I can see that you’re either unfamiliar or just feigning unfamiliarity with elliptical construction and its limits. Otherwise, I don’t think you’d have proffered—whether in plain jest or with intent to obfuscate—those three obviously invalid, downright cringeworthy examples of ellipses.
No matter your intention, I’ll share this caveat with you about elliptical phrase and sentence construction: it’s an advanced form of writing that absolutely shouldn’t be done in the slapdash, trigger-happy way that you’ve done with your examples. You do ellipsis—that is, drop certain words from a phrase or sentence for brevity and ease of articulation—only if it doesn’t put the shortened phrase at risk of being misunderstood or endanger the sense and continuity of the sentence or exposition itself. “Three air”! “Six oxygen”! “Seven Chinese”! Ellipses are obviously not formed in the unthinking way you came up with these examples. That’s done only by rank amateurs in the use of English or by English-savvy persons just trying to muddle an otherwise clear-cut issue.
But I can very well see now where you’re coming from—you want a rigid, formulaic rule for elliptical phrase and sentence construction. The rule that you have in mind, however, applies only to simple statements that teachers use to drill basic English grammar to entry-level pupils. Outside grammar school, you have to deal with the real-life dynamics of language on a case-to-case, contextual basis, with special attention to the specific words used and their precise syntactic mix. This is as true for elliptical phrases and sentences as it is for idiomatic phrases and figurative expressions. They work properly and can be understood only if both speaker (or writer) and listener (or reader) implicitly and mutually know beforehand the unstated context of the statement that’s being made.
Ellipsis is, in fact, itself a form of idiom. Every English teacher worth his or her salt should know this, so I was really taken aback when you proffered those three absurd ellipses. Anyone who does that must have such a cringeworthy sense of humor indeed—and I must tell you that it’s absolutely no laughing matter when it comes from an English teacher like you.
Visit Jose Carillo’s English Forum at http://josecarilloforum.com. Follow me at Twitter.com @J8Carillo.