Sunday, May 29, 2011
Yesterday, I had a very pleasant lunch with members of my wind ensemble and a lovely couple, Viva and Joy. Naturally, any conversation with me joining in had to turn light-hearted, frivolous and even vacuous. I had to stop Teng Siong and Viva from talking about cars! How anyone can dwell on the subject of cars is something really quite beyond me. I can imagine having a perfectly enjoyable time talking about bicycles but cars?
Indra spoke with sadness about how he discovered through me that his school song was a flagrant plagiarism of a Canadian patriotic anthem, “Maple Leaf Forever”. Last year, I posted a video of the Canadian anthem on my Facebook wall and he saw it to his horror.
To continue with the topic that Indra had started, I proceeded to explain how the obviously ungrammatical line in his school song came about: “Oldham dauntless hero came”. Before I could continue, Joy insisted that the line was not ungrammatical.
At first blush, anyone can tell that the sentence lacks the definite article, “the”. It’s obvious that the sentence should read “Oldham THE dauntless hero came.” But what made Joy think that it was grammatical? Joy has a perfect grasp of the English language and she isn’t the sort who would normally make a mistake of this nature.
The source of her confusion lies (I almost wrote “across the Atlantic” the way most grammarians do but of course my location is vastly different) across the Pacific in the USA. Burchfield, the grammarian, has written on this peculiarity of Americans in leaving out the definite article that usually goes with an occupational title. He gave as an example from a newspaper report: “... written by economist Sylvia Ann Hewlitt.” Burchfield writes that this is “especially common in journalistic work.
Joy must have been confused by this development in American journalistic style which apparently has influenced the writing styles of the entire world. But this does not excuse ACS (yes, it’s my pet topic – ACS-bashing) because “dauntless hero” is not an occupation. Even if you take “dauntless hero” to be a profession, it should precede the name, not follow it if you are going to omit the definite article. Taking Burchfield’s example, we can say something was “written by economist Sylvia Hewlitt” but we can’t say it was “written by Sylvia Hewlitt economist”. But “dauntless hero” is not an occupation in the first place.
On all counts, the sentence “Oldham dauntless hero came” is ungrammatical and ugly.
Why then did ACS have that line in its school song? True to its school tradition, the person who “composed” (I place the word in inverted commas out of respect for real composers) the school song lazily copied not just the tune but the lyrics too from “Maple Leaf Forever”. The corresponding line in “Maple Leaf Forever” is:
“Wolfe the dauntless hero came”.
Now you see it! “Wolfe” is monosyllabic and because Oldham has two syllables, any ACSian will tell you to just drop the definite article which serves no purpose in ACS. After all, in ACS, isn’t THE Best always a yet-to-be?