“By Return”

It kind of bugs me when I see people write “please reply by return” in e-mails.  Do people actually think about whether what they write makes sense?  Or do they just write things which they think are official sounding?

I suspect many use this phrase because they may have seen similar language on business letters of old.  What they may not realise is that in the past, when companies still depended on either snail mail or fax for written communication, it makes sense to state “please return by post” to indicate that snail mail is required/ preferred over fax. 

When it comes to e-mail, however, a reply is what it is.  What else is there to “return”?  If you specifically wanted someone to give you an answer over e-mail (versus a phone call or fax or something), then saying “please let me know your answer via e-mail” or “please reply via e-mail” would make a whole lot more sense!

Miss Engrish Strikes Again!

Received another e-mail from Miss Engrish today.  In it she said, “on the other side, due to the huge number involved, I suggest doing the cancellation in patches.  Kindly advice if you have any other arrangements”.

Whoa.  What an cheem statement!  Are we taking sides now?  What patches are we talking about?  Nicotine patch?  Software patch?

Then it occurred to me… she probably meant, “on the other hand, due to the huge number involved, I suggest doing the cancellation in batches”.

Recalling her recent e-mails, I feel like replying, “on my side, I empathise herein again the huge number involved.  I will check with the client and revert upmost update timely after weighting all information on hand whether we can cancel in patches”.


English has been the official language in Singapore for the past 3-4 decades. It is also the primary language used in schools. It thus puzzles me when Singaporeans around my age cannot seem to handle the language.

An underwriter I’ve been dealing with recently has made the most atrocious mistakes ever!! Here’re some examples of the horrendous English I’ve had to read recently.

1. “As adviced to the policyholder…”
Is it that difficult to differentiate ‘advice’ and ‘advised’?

2. “We seek your upmost help to provide updates timely”
I had to read that sentence like 10 times. “Upmost”? “Updates timely”? What the hell…

3. “After weighting all information on hand…”
Weighting information?!?

4. “As highlighted to you previously, we would like to empathised herein again”
Glad to know the underwriter has so much love and empathy…

*Rolls eyes*

“Good” is Subjective

Someone told me her English is good and that she used to always write reports to challenge credit committees and her legal counsel in her previous company.  I realised, however, that she is unable to differentiate simple vocabulary like “access” from “assess”, and today, she’s confused by how “you” versus “we” works in a letter. 


Look into the Same

Received this e-mail reply from a client today.

Dear UptownGal
We will look into the same and revert soonest.
Thanks & Regards

Based on my repeated receipt of such poor grammar, I am able to deduce that the sender means that she will check on the issue raised in my e-mail to her and reply as soon as she can.

If you examine what she wrote however, I would really like to know how does one “look into the same” and the revert (meaning “change back to the previous state”) as soon as possible.  This amazing feat totally baffles me.

“I is fine with this”

My boss is looking to hire another person to help out in my area of work and so he asked me what sort of conditions / criteria will I set for the new staff.  I said I want someone who writes good English and has a good attitude (i.e. willing to learn, not arrogant, etc).  My boss then asked me how was he supposed to carry out an English test during the interview?  I replied that we didn’t need an English test per se as we could just use the candidate’s GCE O Level English and GCE A Level General Paper scores as a gauge.

When I told Azure about this, she felt that a simple English test ought to be conducted and these were her suggested questions:
1) What is the past tense for "quit"?
2) What is the plural for "staff"?
3) What is the meaning of "revert" and use it to form a sentence that you would type in an e-mail.
4) "I is fine with this".  This sentence is grammatically correct – true or false?

While I couldn’t stop laughing at her questions, I noted that they do address some very common mistakes people make.  I have on more than one occasion heard the word "quitted" being uttered in office, and just as the plural for ‘staff’ is still ‘staff’, I have seen the words "equipments", "informations" and "furnitures" bandied about when they don’t exist!

Extending this plural versus singular issue is when people get their singular and plural forms mixed up, saying things like, "some people has all the luck" when it should be "some people have all the luck", or "he have a dog" when it should be "he has a dog".

Another common mistake I’ve observed is the use of tenses.  To denote that something took place in the past, we add an "ed" at the end of the root word.  So when someone says, "I refused to help him", it indicates that speaker refused to lend a hand previously – but it doesn’t automatically mean that speaker will not agree to helping now!

My gripe about writing proper English thus continues.  My boss asked if it is really that important that the new person who joins is able to write well.  I replied with a resounding "yes".  After all, we often cross swords with lawyers over policy wording issues and we wouldn’t want the new staff to be insulted by any lawyers over grammatical mistakes right?


I’ve always known the word "oversight" to refer to an error that arose due to carelessness.  I have however, repeatedly come across the word "oversight" used as the noun of "oversee”.  I checked www.dictionary.com for the meaning of the word and this is what it says:

1.  an omission or error due to carelessness: My bank statement is full of oversights.
2.  unintentional failure to notice or consider; lack of proper attention: Owing to my oversight, the letter was sent unsigned.
3.  supervision; watchful care: a person responsible for the oversight of the organization.

Isn’t it strange that the same word could have opposite meanings?

For Your “Informations”

Had some internal training this morning via teleconference with our colleagues in HK and USA.  During the Q&A, a director from our Corporate Team posed this question:

"How long are the data stored in the system?"

Sigh.  Are the data?  How embarrassing to have the only person asking a question from Singapore exhibiting such bad English.  I was taught in primary school that some words do not have a plural form.  Words like "information", "equipment", "furniture" and obviously "data".  Anyway, these words are known as "mass nouns" so if you want more information on them, just do an online search.


Healthy vs Healthful

This was something that I learnt in school but still struggle with because the wrong usage is so pervasive in what I read on a day to day basis.  I often read articles saying, "this is a healthy diet" when it should be "this is a healthful diet".

The words healthy and healthful are closely related but they really mean different things.  Healthy refers to something having good health.  Hence, you can have a healthy body or a healthy business. 

Healthful, however, refers to something that is conducive to health – in other words, salubrious (or health giving).

Thus, a diet cannot be healthy because a diet cannot have bad health.  A person, on the other hand, can have good or bad health and hence a good diet is healthful, and it makes the person healthy.

Presidential Inaugural Committee

Got this from the website: Donors to the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

“In keeping with President-elect Obama’s commitment to changing the way business is done in Washington, the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) is taking unprecedented steps to insure transparency in the public reporting of donors to a Presidential Inaugural Committee. This chart will allow you to view, sort, and search virtually real-time information on all donors contributing over $200 to the 2009 Presidential Inaugural Committee…”

I think it’s great that Obama is committed to making changes… but I wonder how does one insure transparency… hmm…