Two exceptionally instructive cases of bad English in media


I would like to share with readers two exceptionally instructive cases of bad English in Philippine newspapers that I have critiqued in Jose Carillo’s English Forum sometime in the past. So as not to needlessly upset the dramatis personae, reporters, and media outlets where the offenses to the language had been committed, I have disguised the particulars of the reportage the best way I could.

The first case is this head-scratcher of a lead sentence about a tragic accident in a roadside carnival ride:

“The man whom employees have been pinpointing as the owner of a carnival in V. City where one died and nine others were injured in a freak accident involving a ride in the facility cannot be held criminally liable after all.”

I’m sure that like me when I first read that sentence, you must be finding it exceedingly difficult to grasp what’s being reported about. Indeed, if you’re still scratching your head up to now, it’s because the subject of that sentence (“the man”) and its operative verb (“cannot be held liable”) are parted by a monster relative clause of no less than 32 words—“whom employees have been pinpointing as the owner of a carnival in V. City where one died and nine others were injured in a freak accident involving a ride in the facility.”

With that yawning chasm between subject and verb, even the most attentive and focused reader could lose track of the grammatical and semantic connection between them. Sentence comprehension problems of this sort can arise when the subject of a sentence needs to be qualified at some length for the statement to be understood in context, sometimes to the point of seriously muddling its syntax and rendering the sentence almost beyond comprehension.

The sentence in this case is admittedly a tough nut to crack. In fact, only after so many unsuccessful mental tries was I finally able to figure out a way of doing it right—to start off the sentence with the expletive “there”:

“There is no way, after all, to attribute criminal liability to the man pinpointed as the owner of a V. City carnival ride that figured in a freak accident last November 9 in which one died and nine others were injured.”

As you can see, the fix to such an intractable sentence construction is to bring the subject and verb within arm’s reach of each other, and in this case the much-maligned anticipatory “there” ( can be depended upon to take the lead in mounting a rescue.

Now for the second case, here’s a news service dispatch that, either from sheer cluelessness about English idioms or from ill-disguised spite, came up with this lead sentence about one of the recipients of awards for outstanding overseas Filipino workers or OFW:

“Marina K. left the Philippines to seek for greener pastures abroad. She found one, and now shares the fodder with her countrymen.”

The idiomatic expression “to seek greener pastures,” despite its strong literal correlation with animal feed, is perfectly acceptable to describe someone’s search for a better life or a more promising situation. But to say that the subject OFW in the story found one such greener pasture and “now shares the fodder with her countrymen” borders on the ludicrous.

The word “fodder” literally means something fed to domestic animals, especially coarse food for cattle, horses, or sheep; figuratively, it means inferior or readily available material used to supply a heavy demand, as in “gossip is fodder for tabloids” or “soldiers are used as cannon fodder during wartime.”

Here’s how I was able to elevate the language of that statement from the animal level to the human plane:

“Marina K. left the Philippines to seek greener pastures abroad. She found one, and now shares her good fortune with her countrymen.”

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  1. Tricycle Driver on

    Jose, please be vigilant on this subject matter, because I find these type of assaults on the English language so prevalent, and guess what, The Manila Times is guilty of them as well.

    Kinikilabutan ako pag may nababasa akong tinatawag ng former professor ko na “long-winded sentences”, lalo na pag walang mga commas and periods where there should have been.

    Oh, and pwede nyo na rin pong i-critique itong comment ko dito, sir. Thanks.

  2. Tricycle Driver on

    You are so right about that long relative clause that makes reading Manila news articles difficult to follow! Is this a product of English language education in Philippine colleges and universities? Are the professors there guilty of the same sin?

    Wait lang po…..tatapusin ko muna the rest of your much-awaited article…