Best: Foolish One Syndrome, feeling you’re right, fearing to find out you’re wrong 

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The urbane, measured, eloquent George Davis hosts SportsMax’s Tokyo Breakfast segment of CNC3’s Olympic coverage. 

On Friday, Davis would have blanched when the discussion turned to the Women’s 400m final and invited co-host Pauline Davis remarked that the winner, Shaunae Miller-Uibo, had ‘literally killed them’. (my emphasis). 

Photo: SportsMax host George Davis.

Andre Baptiste, the host of i95.5FM’s Thursday Sport, is the antithesis of the excellent Davis. The Gearless One once cut off a caller to his programme with the words, ‘I know English’.

Discussing the role of the UCI officials in Thursday’s Nicholas Paul Men’s match sprint incident, Baptiste treated us to this: “Their hands were binded…” (my emphasis)

I doubt that would have surprised Davis; it certainly did not surprise me. I no longer react to how poor is the grasp of language attested to by people who are very certain that their command of English is exemplary. 

Or that their particular position gives them the power to pontificate. 

Did the problem perhaps begin with a former prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr Eric Eustace Williams? He, with a Ph D in History, decreed that what composer Pat Castagne had written in the syntactically suspect National Anthem was correct.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s first prime minister the late Dr Eric Williams (left) hosts late Beatles pop star John Lennon.
(Copyright Noel P Norton)

As written, eight attention-grabbing words say that ‘every creed and race find an equal place’.

‘Each’, ‘every’, ‘either’, ‘neither’ are ‘distributive determiners’, grammar books all seem to agree. 

These distributive determiners refer to the individuals or items within a particular group and not as a whole group. They are normally used with singular nouns. 

‘The first two distributives have very similar meaning and can be interchanged in most of the cases. As a rule, they are used with singular countable nouns. Each is used to refer to members or objects of a certain group individually, and every is used to view a group as a series of members or objects.

‘[…] It is also possible to use each with plural nouns and pronouns, but only if it is followed by ‘of’. The same option cannot be applied to every.’

Photos: Patrons enjoy the festivities during Trinidad and Tobago’s 2016 Independence Day Parade.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

But Williams had a Ph D. So when the Doctor spoke, not a damn dog barked. 

More than half a century, two universities and scores of calypsoes later, in the National Anthem, every creed and race still find an equal place.

And so we turn our attention to another Doctor, Dr Bird, a former calypso king of Trinidad and Tobago.

Sparrow’s 1969 ‘The Lizard’ begins thus: Playing in class/with a lizard in a glass/the lizard get away from Ruth/and run by the teacher foot

As written, that sentence says that the lizard was playing in class with a lizard in a glass. 

Makes no sense, does it?

Photo: Calypso legend Slinger ‘Mighty Sparrow’ Francisco.

But in communication theory, it is a truism that meaning is made at the receiving end; people will interpret the message that is transmitted in the light of their own experience, not necessarily in the light of the speaker’s/writer’s experience.

It is also generally true that those same people who are receiving the message want to understand it; the norm is to give the transmitter the benefit of the doubt, to attempt to make sense of what is transmitted. 

Which is why, although Sparrow tells us that the lizard is playing with the lizard, we understand that it is Ruth doing so. 

Last week’s Media Monitor column pointed out that, while presenting the CNC3 news recently, Jesse Ramdeo said this: ‘The CAPE, CSEC and SEA exams were all executed without incident.’ 

Two Facebook commenters baulked; they understood what he meant. 

“What is wrong with the word executed (sic) here?” asked the more conservative one. 

Image: The importance of good grammar.

The second one had all the self-assured swagger of a Fearless One clone. 

“The word ‘executed’,” he wrote, complete with necessary quotation marks, “as used above is correct according to English grammar.” 

Correct! According to English grammar, you do indeed need the past tense.

The error here, however, is lexical, not grammatical. According to the English dictionary, ‘executed’ is inappropriate. 

Had Ramdeo used ‘put into effect,’ ‘performed,’ ‘produced,’ ‘murdered’ or ‘assassinated,’ the sentence would still have been ‘correct according to English grammar’.

But no less wrong! 

Image: A satirical take on grammar.

Which is what a subsequently appended Editor’s Note listing the four dictionary meanings of ‘to execute’ sought to make clear. 

Said Editor’s Note notwithstanding, a third commenter, on Wired868 this time, insisted that the word ‘was used correctly’. 

“Just because we are unaware of the various nuances of a word,” pontificated Mr Commenter, presumably with the full authority of a chair at the UWI bar, “or have come to associate it with only one thing (‘to kill’, for example), does not make it wrong when we see/hear it being used in another sense/context. 

“It means that we need to acquaint ourselves with the various meanings of the word, especially before we start to lament its use.”

Classic I-know-English-ism. Pathetic! 

Two-storey ignorance, the late Trevor Farrell styled it. Not knowing that you don’t know.

Photo: I95.5fm radio talk show host Andre Baptiste.

But language is acquired in ‘an input-rich environment’. With the virtually exponential growth of social media over two decades and the concomitant decline in standards in the conventional media, our erstwhile input-rich environment is now piss-poor.

The young woman on CNC3 who reported on the heavy rains and resultant floods in North West Trinidad in the first week of August obviously works hard at her craft. But she repeatedly referred to the amount of ‘damages’ done by the unexpected showers. (my emphasis)

Me? I’m cool. I’m done with monitoring, I say. 

I now espouse the Eric Williams way.

Just let the careless jackasses bray!

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About Earl Best

Earl Best
Earl Best taught cricket, French, football and Spanish at QRC for many years and has written consistently for the Tapia and the Trinidad and Tobago Review since the 1970's. He is also a former sports editor at the Trinidad Guardian and the Trinidad Express and is now a senior lecturer in Journalism at COSTAATT.

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  1. Is there a special rule regarding the use of “among” in journalism? For example:
    Venezuelan among two charged for cocaine possession
    Attorney among two to appear before chief magistrate
    I always thought that “among” was used when referring to 3 or more items.

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