Speak good English meh?

Most people go grocery shopping on the weekends. I went on a Monday. Then I get subjected to travesties like this.

The friendly policeman cut-out says, “Shop theft is a crime”. I say, so is bad English.

Ironically, this comes right after the conclusion of this year’s Speak Good English Movement activities, the government’s regular attempt to remind Singaporeans to speak good English instead of Singlish. I guess the Movement didn’t have the chance to vet this particular item before it went to print.

It’s also funny because this year’s ad campaign for the Speak Good English Movement is all about swopping Singlish phrases for grammatical English ones, e.g.:

  • Instead of “What time start?”, say “What time does the event begin?”
  • Instead of “How long more to Raffles City?”, say “How much further is it to Raffles City?”
  • Instead of “Can you off the lights?”, say “Can you switch off the lights, please?” (which also subliminally encourages people to be more polite)

However, the policeman cut-out isn’t so much an example of Singlish as of just plain incorrect English. Unless the local police force is worried about people stealing entire shops (in which case I would argue that successful shop theft ought to be decriminalised and lauded as a feat of logistical excellence), what they really mean to say is that shoplifting is a crime. It’s a strange mistake to make, leaping from the figurative “shoplifting” — did someone confuse “lifting from a shop” with “lifting a shop”?

Perhaps it would have been more intelligible to fall back on Singlish and just say, “Don’t steal, hor!”

2 Comments so far

  1. Nat (unregistered) on September 7th, 2006 @ 3:31 pm

    Actually…I beg to differ. I wouldn’t call the phrase “shop theft” incorrect per se, as it appears to be quite widely used in most Commonwealth countries, and is likely to have its origins in British English. I’m quite sure it isn’t some phrase a Singaporean cop dreamed up! On the other hand, “shoplift” appears to have its roots in American English, which might explain why it wasn’t used in this case. (Or not…)

    Whichever way you cut it though, you’re probably right – “Don’t steal, hor!” is probably most effective! ;)


  2. dennis (unregistered) on September 10th, 2006 @ 12:16 am

    Nothing really wrong with this one. Just because ‘car theft’ means the stealing of a car doesn’t mean that ‘park theft’ means the stealing of a park, or that ‘office theft’ means the stealing of offices. The first word (shop) is an adjectival noun and simply acts as an adjective – in the case of ‘car’, the way it’s interpreted is as the object of the theft, while it could be interpreted in other ways for other types of words (e.g. the location of theft).



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