What The Straits Times needs is a language guide like Bill Walsh. Singapore’s main newspaper is prone to the kind of howlers Walsh is paid to prevent.
Walsh is the Washington Post’s copy desk chief for national news. He has to edit the news, correct mistakes, trim the fat and polish the copy. He enjoys playing the language cop. Going beyond the call of duty of making the Post shine, he blogs about language and has written books on grammar and style. Lapsing into a Comma contains useful tips which could help prevent boo-boos like these. All the examples are taken from the first three pages of yesterday’s Straits Times.
- Armed with their resumes, their questions flew thick and fast at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting in Boston last month, where Singapore was making its debut. (From the front-page story: Singapore on radar of young scientists)
- Before Boston, Mr Lim was in Pennsylvania, where he scored another coup. (From the same story.)
- The country’s scientific output increased by 72 percent from 2000 to last year, according to Wiley-Blackwell, a leading publisher of scientific, technical and medical journal. (From the same story.)
- The Education Ministry says there are more university places, relative to the size of the cohort, this year than any previous year. (From the page 2 blurb: No squeeze on university places.)
- Controversial International Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz was the most notable absence from the new Malaysian Cabinet unveiled yesterday by Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, who sought to walk the line between reform and strengthening his position in Umno. (From the page three story: KL Cabinet pared down; some fresh faces.)
- He also roped in Umno warlords who lack popular support but will be able to help consolidate his position in the Cabinet. (From the same story.)
Even if you see no need to explain what’s wrong with sentences like these, you may still enjoy reading Walsh. He covers a lot of ground. Lapsing into a Comma is a concise, practical, no-nonsense guide useful for bloggers and newspaper writers. But habits are hard to break. If I have broken any of his injunctions here, put it down to the old adage: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.