Sunday, 22 November 2009

Fun With Synonyms

EACH sentence below contains a synonym of the italicised word(s), spelt out in consecutive letters. Can you spot it?

Example: The couple continued their walk along the path in silence after he commented that she was not as slim as she used to be.

1. “If you haven’t heard the story about the naughty boy whom a group of villagers hired to look after their sheep, it ended with a wolf attacking the sheep and frightening the life out of the boy.”

2. “We have more plywood in the shed, boss,” the worker stammered out his answer.

3. The trainee chef said to me, “Would you like to eat a steamed fish and tell me what you think of its flavour?”

4. “Our companies will incur big losses for the current financial year if we do not control our expenditure.”

5. “Everything is hunky-dory,” a man says to his best friend, “except for one thing: the manager’s secretary seems to persistently avoid me.”

6. With a tear-stained face, she said to him, “Why do you detest me?”

7. Fred denied that he had teased her, but I saw him blush at the mention of her name.

8. The boss of the TV station said to the producer, “We need to re-examine the contents of the show if we want to attract more viewers.”

9. We listened with great interest to his amazing story about how he met a legendary adventurer.

10. Her success in six consecutive tournaments was indeed a rare achievement, as only 10 months ago, even a single title seemed to be out of her grasp.

11. “Post all your notices on this side of the booth.”

12. I had bought a melt-in-the-mouth chocolate cake to eat while I watched the football match on TV, but the game turned out to be dull.

13. The boa stopped by his friend’s place just to brag, “I squeezed two big animals to death this morning.”

14. The overnight rain brought further delays in its wake.

15. This up-and-coming tennis star is ingenious, amiable and unpretentious.

Latin Quips and Quotes

LATIN was the native language of the people living along the Tiber River in Italy. When they built Rome and went on to conquer vast tracts of Europe, Africa and the Middle East, Latin became the lingua franca or common language that united the various people within the Empire.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Latin remained the language that united European scholars well into the 19th century. As a result, modern English is still rich in ancient Latin phrases.

In celebration we take a look at the meaning of some of the most popular expressions.

Et tu, Brute?

Tradition has it that this line was spoken by Julius Caesar as he lay dying.

Caesar became sole ruler of the Roman Empire after starting a civil war in 49 BC. On the Ides of March (March 15) in 44 BC a group of senators ambushed Caesar and stabbed him to death.

Tradition has it these rebels were led by Marcus Junius Brutus. And as Caesar had been having a long-running affair with Brutus’s mum Servilia Caepionis, many thought Brutus was Ceasar’s illegitimate child.

Shakespeare used the line in his 1599 tragedy and it has since then become a classic reproof in betrayal scenes.

Example: The beleaguered Prime Minister could only gasp, “et tu Brute?” as his deputy supported a motion of no confidence.

Veni vidi vici

I came, I saw, I conquered. A famous boast by Julius Caesar made in 47 BC in a letter to the Senate describing how the Roman army had just annihilated the king of Pontus and his forces.

As Caesar had just become dictator of the Roman Empire, and the kings of Pontus had beaten the Romans in many past battles, Ceasar’s boast must have been incredibly annoying as well as frightening to the Senators.

Modern comedians love playing with this phrase, notably in the film Ghostbusters, “We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!” but the original phrase often crops up in sports reports written by correspondents who describe games in terms of warfare.

Example: Our football team took a veni vidi vici approach and crushed the opposition with a score of 6 to 0!

Pro bono

To work without charging a fee. In the past this phrase was longer: pro bono publico meaning for the public good.

In the early days of the Roman Empire lawyers were aristocrats who worked for nothing. But in later years lawyers accepted fees in the way of artworks or other valuables. This inspired the phrase quid pro quo meaning a deal whereby you arrange an exchange or barter goods or services.

Because many Bar Associations insist their members do a certain amount of pro bono or free work for people who would otherwise not be able to afford legal fees every year, the expression is commonly used in the legal profession. However, anyone doing work for free can use it.

Example: Angela is doing some pro bono English teaching in her local orphanage.

Ad hoc

Something that is improvised or made up on the spot. Also something that is created for a particular situation.

Anyone who is stuck in a difficult situation that requires an instant response will take an ad hoc decision. However, as these measures are decided in a hurry and without consideration for the effects they may have on other situations, ad hoc decisions may later lead to lots of trouble.

Example: The practice of announcing cost reduction schemes on an ad hoc basis in monthly budget meetings must stop.

Nil desperandum

A literal translation is never despair. The great Latin poet Horace used this expression in his works around 23BC and it has remained a popular slogan ever since.

This exhortation became popular in Britain in the 17th century and is still popular, especially with sports captains and business managers who are trying to cheer up their teams in bad times.

Example: Our shares have dipped by 20 sen today but nil desperandum chaps, we’ll do better tomorrow!

Nil nisi bonum

This is the short version of various longer Latin proverbs that all translate loosely as don’t speak ill of the dead.

Although the Latin version is becoming less popular now that so many schools have given up teaching Classics, movie buffs will remember it as the opening line from Lawrence of Arabia where a clergyman looking at Lawrence’s grave in St Paul’s Cathedral asks, “Well, nil nisi bonum, but does he really deserve a place in here?”

A related expression that mothers and editors like to use is if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

Example: Andrew was a difficult man to get along with but nil nisi bonum. We will miss him.


Friday November 13, 2009

Monday, 16 November 2009

Speak Up and be Counted


Sometimes it takes an extreme act to wake us up to our rights and guard against extremism.

THERE was a flurry of excitement last week when the Selangor Islamic Department (Jais) arrested Datuk Dr Mohd Asri Zainal Abidin, the popular former mufti of Perlis, for supposedly teaching Islam without a licence.

Surrounded by some 40 policemen and then almost handcuffed like a common criminal, Dr Mohd Asri was taken to the police station but not charged. Nor was he charged in court the next day.

The fiasco may or may not have been related to a memorandum put up by the Syariah Lawyers’ Association and supposedly handed over to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. The group then apologised, and in 24 hours withdrew it so the question of the arrest as well as other defamatory statements made by various individuals remain.

Presumably, none of the people out to get Dr Mohd Asri quite realised how popular the ex-mufti is.

To call a man who has written that Muslims should be nice to their non-Muslim friends, should ensure that women get justice in the courts and that we should treat animals kindly, an extremist defied all logic.

This must have been news to them: kind people are popular!

Indeed there were many statements condemning Jais’ actions. Politicians on both sides of the fence, as well as NGOs lent their support to Dr Mohd Asri.

One of the best statements came from the Muslim Professionals Forum (MPF). In their statement, they said Dr Mohd Asri’s arrest was an affront to “the spirit of intellectual freedom in the history of Islam.”

They also reiterated that “every person has the right, guaranteed by the Quran, to freely follow and express his convictions, irrespective of whether he is right or wrong.”

And what’s more, they decried the tendency of various groups to resort to “labelling and branding Muslim scholars on the basis of their opinions, with a view to disparage the person instead of countering their opinions with proofs and arguments based on the Quran and Sunnah.

“By invoking the age-old argument of protecting the Muslim community in Malaysia from confusion, these groups have exposed their inability to grasp the spirit of Islam and have only created a hole for them to hide in every time they are intellectually challenged.”

The right to “freely follow and express his convictions” is not just a right in Islam but also enshrined in Article 10 of our Federal Constitution, which guarantees the freedom of speech and which can only be limited by Parliament. Obviously some of these “Muslim” NGOs and agencies like JAIS have never read the Constitution.

Otherwise they would not be writing endless memorandums or lodging police reports against people for expressing their opinion. As the MPF have pointed out so succinctly, not only do these acts violate the Federal Constitution, they violate Islam itself.

It is ironic that the very people who want to establish an Islamic state are violating an Islamic tenet. What’s more, they will no doubt hide behind that same “secular” Article 10 if need be, although given that some of their statements are in fact defamatory, they may not have even that defence.

In many ways, this incident has been a real boon for the Malaysian public because it brings into focus the issue of freedom of speech as never before. We now know that our Federal Constitution and Islam are completely in synch on the issue.

Even more interestingly, Islam does not specifically apply the right to free speech only to Muslims either, thus making us all equal, as we are under the Constitution. Amazing what a little education does to how we think about ourselves.

This is why we should encourage everyone to educate themselves about their religions, including the majority Muslim population in our country.

After all, if we rely totally on agencies like Jais, what happens when they do strange things like arrest highly qualified ulama like Dr Mohd Asri?

We also should educate ourselves on our Federal Constitution so we know our rights as citizens of this country. In fact, it should be a school subject, just as it is in Britain.

But to help everyone along, the Bar Council is organising a My Constitution campaign to educate the public about our Federal Constitution.

To be launched on Nov 13 (this Friday) by the Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk V.K. Liew, the campaign aims to get the public to understand, via simple booklets, videos and forums, what exactly is in the Constitution, and perhaps clear up some misinformation about what is not.

An educated citizenry is not just a more empowered citizenry, but also a more responsible one. That surely is a goal that nobody can argue with.

Perhaps it does take an extreme act for us to wake up and understand our rights. The right to speak on anything, including religion, is a right for all, not just some.

Note: No reproduction of this article is allowed without the author's consent.

Feminine or Masculine?

I received the following from my niece via email recently. This wasn't the first time I read this but this time I'd like to share it with others.

A SPANISH Teacher was explaining to her class that in Spanish, unlike English, nouns are designated as either masculine or feminine.

'House' for instance, is feminine: 'la casa..'
'Pencil,' however, is masculine: 'el lapiz.'

A student asked, 'What gender is 'computer'?'

Instead of giving the answer, the teacher split the class into two groups, male and female, and asked them to decide for themselves whether computer' should be a masculine or a feminine noun. Each group was asked to give four reasons for its recommendation.

The men's group decided that 'computer' should definitely be of the feminine gender ('la computadora'), because:

1. No one but their creator understands their internal logic;

2 The native language they use to communicate with other computers is
incomprehensible to everyone else;

3. Even the smallest mistakes are stored in long term memory for possible
later retrieval; and

4. As soon as you make a commitment to one, you find yourself spending half your paycheck on accessories for it.


The women's group, however, concluded that computers should be Masculine ('el computador'), because:

1. In order to do anything with them, you have to turn them on;

2. They have a lot of data but still can't think for themselves;

3. They are supposed to help you solve problems, but half the time they ARE
the problem; and

4. As soon as you commit to one, you realize that if you had waited a little longer, you could have gotten a better model.

The women won.