Our plan for 2014 … and a small, longish reminder

Posted on Sat 18 Jan 2014 @ 9.44am UTC

Hong Kong
2am local time
13°C (55°F), cool and breezy

IT’S 2014 but the merrymaking continues. Let’s remind ourselves what we actually do here, if anyone has paid any attention.

Our efforts here aren’t always met with reasonableness or constructiveness, though we expected that from the beginning. With a name like Learn English or Starve, what else could we expect, right?

We’ll start with the reasonably exciting stuff first, and then follow through with what this blog is and isn’t.

In the pipeline

This blog has no formal coverage or editorial policy. That, however, doesn’t stop us from doing forward planning.

The initial lineup (not in any particular order except for the first one):—

lipsReview of 2013
This two- or three-part mega-feature is coming soon. It will highlight 2013’s biggest yee-yee-ass timewasters of English for native speakers. It will also tell us the pointless but nasty bickering about English usage among non-native speakers.

castaway1Roundup of the ‘scholarism’ row
This will tell us what Learn English or Starve has discovered, noticed and deduced from that stupid non-article that many seem to think it’s a row or an attack.

my-brain-is-full-of-fuckA list of Hong Kong English words with totally different meanings from their proper English meanings
The hilarious but barmy stuff that Hong Kong people have been mistaught over the years. We’re still organising this humongous crap, so we can’t say much at the moment.

fail einsteinDeeply flawed assumptions that the media keeps recycling about education
How the world’s smartest kids got to be that way — and how the rest of us got spoonfed shite. The focus revolves more on the language aspect than about education itself. Comes with an Asian bent.

Curator is not always a curate

The 100 Disruptive Words Nobody Should Use
You’d be surprised which 100 words prove fatal to putting yourself in a good light. From an exclusive survey of 26 organisations done by Learn English or Starve (and costing us a pretty penny).

word loatheMortal Enemy Cometh
Check out which country’s English-language proficiency is on the up and up in relation to Hong Kong — including the craptastic reasons we’ve heard to explain things away.

gangsterWhy the ‘REA’ doesn’t work in the English-speaking world
If you don’t know what REA stands for, you’ll just have to wait for this post to come out.


… and ad-hoc posts on particular words or phrases that stump both native and non-native speakers, especially when coming from the laughing lips of pretentious wankers users of English.


Up your nose

And now, to dispel some myths about what this blog is and isn’t.

We do have a blog mission.

what the fuck over

Image (adapted from Snafu 2006) via Xarkaganda

Or something resembling that. Notice that our front-page widget actually says:—

“Looking at and into the wankery and antics of pretentious and anal-retentive writers and speakers of English.”

That should be clue enough even for the clueless.

For the benefit of those who can’t see the obvious even when shoved in front of their eyeballs, we’ll be extra accommodating and rephrase it this way:—

Looking into pedantic, pretentious and hypercorrect English.

Naturally, you’ll know this blog doesn’t concentrate on just that, but that’s the main focus. Our About page has a much better version of the ‘ultimate’ mission of this blog.

This isn’t a grammar blog.

my english is not very well

Image via Teach Abroad Spain Blog/CIEE Teach Abroad Blogs

Most first-time visitors here make this first mistake. Most repeat offenders continue to make this mistake.

In the words of the late Robert “I Have All The Answers” S. McNamara (the U.S. Secretary of Defense during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations):—

“And the conventional wisdom is don’t make the same mistake twice, learn from your mistakes. And we all do. Maybe we make the same mistake three times, but hopefully not four or five.” (‘The Fog of War,’ documentary by Errol Morris, 2003)

(Quotation corrected and updated.—Editor, 19/1/2014)

There are loads of brilliant grammar sites and online articles out there. They’re damned good too. We use them; so should you. Anyone with an authentic grammar query could easily obtain a superb answer — or one they feel most comfortable to believe in — using Google or whatever.

We’re not going to lie. Our knowledge of formal grammar is no better or worse than any professional editor with 20 or 30 years of editorial experience. Truth be told, even the very best editors out there are quite weak in this department. You may not believe this, but it’s true — even for many English teachers, as this one fesses up:—

“Don’t let my American accent, Masters of Journalism and English teaching job fool you. I’m not an English expert. I’m gonna keep it real here and confess my English sins. I honestly couldn’t tell you the difference between the first and third conditional, nor could I list every modal verb or properly explain what the impersonal passive voice is. On top of that, my English has gotten progressively worse the more time I spend in Spain. […] So what the hell am I doing teaching English to secondary school students? Good question.”
— Allison Clark in Teach Abroad Spain Blog (at CIEE Teach Abroad Blogs), 23 Feb 2013

Grammar is no trivial matter. Grammar helps stabilise and standardise the language (particularly written language). The blog’s official position is to support BOTH prescriptive and descriptive grammars because both are right.

Ultimately, in the cold light of day of everyday life, Learn English or Starve must steer a sensible, middle-of-the-road course — what is necessarily correct in formal grammar isn’t necessarily right in actual usage in the context of everyday, efficient and effectual communication, yet everyday usage has its limitations too.

In other words, grammar aids literacy but doesn’t determine it. We don’t accept the position (one that certain people may have) that ‘good’ grammar results in good literacy. It doesn’t — in our professional experience we’ve found quite the reverse (i.e. high literacy often leads to ‘good’ grammar). Indeed, in our professional lives, we’ve seen those who know a lot about grammar often turn out to be terrible, ‘dead fish’ type of writers and speakers. As the English saying goes, A little too much learning is a dangerous thing.

This blog isn’t trying to dumb things down. Check for yourself the grammatical correctness of our articles. We don’t deal with certainties — we deal in probabilities. Naturally, our assessments are filtered through our previous experiences. If it freaks you out to hear we’re 100% grammatical, okay, we’ll say 95% probable correctness. But you’ll find 90% of our posts are 90% grammatically correct. Just skip the 10% boobies.

If that’s too hard to understand or too galling to stomach, then we suggest you go and get a nice little blowjob at lunchtime and read a grammar blog instead. We’re not that.

This isn’t quite a usage blog either, though we are in many ways.


Image via Joe Allenbeck

We simply relay information on conventional forms of English that are reasonably grammatical and occurring in the most number of averagely or reasonably educated L1 (native) speakers in places where English is the universally spoken indigenous language.

We make no claims or representations to be any more or less than that.

Reasonably grammatical means grammatically correct within reasonable limits. Some of our visitors/readers have a hard time accepting this and come up with all sorts of exotic or esoteric definitions of what ‘reasonable’ means (or how it should mean). We take the reasonable line that reasonable means moderate, modest, not making unfair demands, within the limits of everyday life. That should automatically exclude quite a big chunk of the formal grammar stuff you read in textbooks.

We most certainly don’t take ‘reasonable’ to mean ‘in pursuit of or showing reason’ in the sense of formal logic, or any other kind of logic.

Averagely or reasonably educated means as people have been educated as they usually are. Most people (in the English- and any other language-speaking worlds) are educated to only mid-secondary standard (or middle high school to our American cousins). Most countries set the legal school-leaving age at 16, and the state provides children with some form of state schooling up to that age, and that’s usually middle secondary.

We don’t honestly think we need to explain most, universal and indigenous, do we?

For instance, we explained why cum is no longer socially acceptable (Your ‘cum’ is rubbish, 15 May 2012), but nobody seemed to have listened.

We explained why scholarism doesn’t mean scholasticism (Scholarism? Is it edible? 1 Sept 2012). That post generated an enormous amount of misplaced and misguided flak from people who seem to have dyslexia or dementia praecox or went on some kind of racist fit.

We satirised Singapore English (To lah or not to lah, that is the question, 07 July 2012) but at the same time showed how it’s still closer to authentic English despite its funny-sounding characteristics. Interestingly, a comment on that post is also a teachable lesson in the complete failure to comment properly.

We make a sincere effort to produce posts of good quality.

red blue pencils 5 rings

Image via Rongcheng Great Stationery

With a blog title like Learn English or Starve, it behoves (BrE) / behooves (AmE) us to post articles in good, clean, crisp, authentic English that is readable and understandable for the widest-possible spectrum of readers.

Ultimately, our aim is to produce posts that others would find useful and useable.

We make an effort of will to compose and edit our posts in such a way that they add to the overall readability and quick understanding for the most number of readers. Most means most, and that doesn’t mean some select group of readers trained in something or whatever.

In short, we try to be more like Hemmingway or Mike Hammer (the hard-boiled character in Mickey Spillane’s novels) and less like the overwritten, literary muscle-flexing stuff of Brideshead Revisited, Rudyard Kipling, James Joyce, Jane Austen and their kind (which we have read and loved, by the way). We may succeed in this, or we may not.

Should we have to do it, we gear our amendments of third-party texts to be as self-explanatory or self-revealing as humanly possible. In short, we make our amendments to be reasonably obvious to the average reader on the balance of probability.

To paraphrase the late President Lyndon B. Johnson, we try our best and that is all we can do. If that doesn’t meet with anyone’s approval, then we welcome his or her version of it. Really.

We protect our readers from legal liability.

gavel and computer

Image via Alexandria Times of Virginia, USA

Richard Burton’s line in the movie The Night of the Iguana (1964) has it that:—

“We all have to operate on some realistic level.”

We like to rephrase that to We all have to operate on some realistic legal level.

This blog is luckier than most in that we haven’t received too many complaints or negative comments.

Yet with special regard to our post Scholarism? Is it edible? (1 Sept 2012) plus its follow-on posts, we’ve refused to approve most on-site comments for that topic. We’ve also withheld the publishing of their off-site/private comments altogether.

The comments for that kerfuffle frequently contain manifestly racist tones or, indeed, elements of outright criminal intimidation. Some have been bonkers beyond belief — great comical value, alas! if only we could share them openly here.

Had we approved or published those comments, their content would have caused us to be in breach of the WordPress.com Terms of Service.

More seriously, it would also expose those commenters to civil liability and/or criminal prosecution by being in breach of the laws of Hong Kong (where this blog’s contents originate) and/or the laws of the USA (where the WordPress servers are located).

In other words, no one can fault this blog for failing to take reasonable steps to protect readers and/or commenters for the backfireable stupidity.

In hindsight, we should’ve just let through the over-the-top comments, let the tide rip, and see who gets the soggy end of it. We may change our minds and might take that route if there’s no let-up to the stupidness — if only just for the lulz.


Featured image of pipelines via Construction Week Online

© Learn English or Starve, 2014. (B14028)

Posted in: Site Updates