15 November 2015


This photo, of an Australian coffee shop in London, was sent to me by Benjamin Tucker:

The use of an -ie (or -y) suffix is well-known in Australia: so you have:

  • barbie (barbeque)
  • mozzie (mosquito)
  • u-ie (u-turn)
  • eskie (ice box for keeping beer cold)

So, the purpose behind the name Beanie seems to be show it is a coffee shop from Australia. Quite imaginative, really.

05 November 2015

TPP Countries

In a report by the BBC on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) (see here), near the top there is a link to a video which starts by showing the flags of the 12 nations that are involved:

Then, near the end of the article, it is stated that:

The member countries of the TPP account for some 40% of the global economy and include Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.

Given that eleven countries are listed, why not the twelfth country, Brunei Darussalam?

I know that Brunei is small, but it still seems bizarre to omit it when all the other participant countries are listed.

02 November 2015

Car Booth Sale

Here is an extract from an article on page 2 of Media Permata of 2 November 2015, about activities to be held in Tutong District:

Manakala pada 6 hingga 8 November pula akan diadakan Car Booth Sale bertempat di Taman Rekreasi Sungai Basong. [italics in the original]
which might be translated as:
Meanwhile from 6 till 8 November a Car Boot Sale will be held at Sungai Bason Recreational Park.

'Car Booth Sale'? This reflect two aspects of pronunciation: in Brunei English, there is often no distinction between /θ/ and /t/, so speakers are uncertain about the sound at the end of 'boot' and 'booth'; and voiceless TH at the end of a word is pronounced as [t] rather than the [f] that would be expected in Singapore, which reflects the fact that Brunei English is distinct from other varieties of English in the region.

One might also note that this is a kind of folk etymology, where language users re-interpret words to make more sense to them. Bruneians don't use 'boot' for the back of a car, and Brunei Malay uses the word bonet. (I have no idea why people got the wrong end of the car for this term.) Given that 'car boot sale' doesn't make much sense to people who do not use the word 'boot' for the back of a car (the 'trunk' for Americans), 'booth' seems logical to refer to a small stall to sell second-hand goods.

This reinterpretation of a word is also termed an 'eggcorn', after someone who mistakenly used the word 'eggcorn' in place of 'acorn'. (See Wikipedia article.) Some other eggcorns in English are:

  • 'wet the appetite' instead of 'whet the appetite'
  • 'ex-patriot' instead of 'expatriate'
  • 'mating name' instead of 'maiden name'

14 October 2015

Words borrowed from English

My Brunei Malay dictionary shows some words with 'Ig', to indicate that they come from English. While the origin of some is obvious (basikal, batri, kompeni, radiu), others can be more puzzling. See if you can guess what the following might be. To help, I'll give you the meaning.

bikium : a machine to clean the floor
guhit : to move forward
gustan : to move backwards
kulbat : a drain
kumpum : to validate
pain : money you have to pay
putbul : a game
waksap : a place to get your car repaired

The answers are as follows:

bikium : vacuum
guhit : go ahead
gustan : go astern
kulbat : culvert
kumpum : confirm
pain : fine
putbul : football
waksap : workshop

Of course, it helps to know that Brunei Malay doesn't have /f/ or /v/, so /p/ and /b/ are used in their place.

Even so, some of the entries are bizarre, For example, kiket ('ticket') is also listed even though Brunei Malay has a /t/.

10 October 2015


In American English, cooties is used as a term of abuse by children, indicating some other child is abnormal in some way. Typical usage might be 'Now you've got cooties.'

Originally, apparently it referred to lice, but now it seems to have become extended to refer to anything abnormal.

One of my students today told me that it comes from the Malay word kutu, meaning 'louse'.

01 October 2015

wezi sar

A friend was negotiating with an Indian grass-cutter for the fellow to come and cut his grass, and he got the following text reply:

Sar tumaru tudy am wezi sar

He eventually worked it out as:

Sir, tomorrow; today am busy, sir.

I have to admit that it left me completely perplexed; but I guess that people who use text messages more frequently than me might have no problem.

27 September 2015


This is the front of a booklet written by my five-year-old granddaughter, Elsie. Can you read it?

In fact, it says 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears'. To understand it, you have to realise that she gets 'd' and 'b' confused, and she just uses a single letter for 'the'. In addition, she seems to have 'f' at the start of 'three'.

This kind of creative writing, spelling things out as best she can and guessing at words she doesn't know, is actually highly encouraging. It shows she is understands the principles of phonics rather well. In time, she will sort out 'd' and 'b' and the standard spelling of all words.


I recently saw this notice on a glass door at UBD:

The usual wording would be 'CAUTION', not 'CAUTIOUS'. (In fact, the sign has now been corrected.)

But why? CAUTION is a noun, while CAUTIOUS is an adjective. So, why is a noun expected here, not an adjective? In fact, CAUTIOUS seems just as (un)grammatical as CAUTION.

My conclusion is that CAUTION is expected simply because that is the convention, and appeals to logic or grammaticality make no sense.

26 August 2015

Glasgow Subway

While I was in Glasgow, I travelled on their subway system, which consists of a simple line looping round the city.

When you catch the trains, you can take the grey line which is labelled 'Inner' or the orange line which is labelled 'Outer'.

Now, while it is technically correct that the trains along the grey line go along a track that is always on the inside of the loop compared to the trains along the orange line, that reflects an engineering point of view which is not particularly helpful for users. What customers need to know is whether the trains are going clockwise or anticlockwise, and that is far from obvious. (There is a little arrow there, showing the orange line going clockwise, but it is far from obvious, and the signs in the stations don't show it.)

I guess locals get used to it, and Inner and Outer make perfect sense once one gets used to them; but it doesn't seem very user-friendly for a first-time visitor to Glasgow.

Free Cash

I was in the UK for a few weeks recently, and everywhere I went there were notices advertising free cash.

But however many times I tried, I was unable to get hold of any of this free cash. Very frustrating.

Of course, the signs are not offering 'withdrawals of free cash'; instead, they are offering 'free withdrawals of cash'. In other words, 'free' is modifying 'withdrawal', not 'cash'. Or, using brackets, one might show it as [free [cash withdrawals]] rather than [[free cash] withdrawals].

Pity, as withdrawals of free cash sounds like a splendid idea.

28 July 2015


How do you pronounce gaol? If you are in Brunei, you might not know this spelling; but it occurs in the UK. Here is a street sign in Hereford:

In fact, it should be pronounced as /dʒeɪl/, and it is an alternative pronunciation for jail.

The problem with gaol is that it starts with 'ga', and when 'g' is followed by 'a', it is nearly always pronounced as /g/ (e.g. in gas, gap, gastric, gallant, gander, gain, gate, ...). Although 'g' can be pronounced as /dʒ/, this is only when it is followed by 'e', 'i', or 'y' (e.g. gender, generation, gel, gene; ginger, gin, Giles; gym, gyrate, gyroscope ...). Although most speakers of English are unable to state this rule explicitly, they subconsciously know it, which is why they do not expect gaol to be pronounced as /dʒeɪl/.

Although there are no residential properties on Gaol Street in Hereford, there are some offices in addition to the police station, and I was told that when people in those offices need to give their address, they often pronounce it as /gaʊl/, as saying /dʒeɪl/ is unlikely to be understood.

I suspect that the spelling jail may be a pronunciation spelling (in which the spelling of a word changes to reflect its pronunciation), but I need to check that. It is possible that gaol and jail have always been alternative spellings of the word.

20 July 2015


I saw this headline in the Times of 4 July 2015.

When I first read it, I could not understand the final word on the first word: chicest. I thought for a moment that it must be a typo for choiciest.

In fact, it means 'most chic' (where chic, pronounced /ʃi:k/, means 'fashionable'); it is just the use of the superlative suffix -est added to a fairly common adjective chic. So what's the problem? The -est suffix is fairly productive, so it should not be a problem to add it to an existing adjective.

The problem is this: in English spelling, 'c' followed by 'e' is always pronounced as /s/: cell, ceiling, centre, certain, certificate, ceremony, celestial; receive, deceive, incentive, recent, etc. So when I read the word, I initially imagined that it must be pronounced as /tʃaɪsɪst/.

In most cases, if a word ends with 'c' and then a suffix starting with 'e' is added, then 'k' is inserted: e.g. panicked, picnicked. However, in the case of chic, this is not an option, as chickest would look like something else. As a result, there is no alternative but to have 'c' followed by 'e' in chicest.

The only exceptions to the rule by which 'c' followed by 'e' is pronounced as /s/ that I can think of are: cello, in which the 'c' is pronounced as /tʃ/; and celtic, which starts with /k/ if it refers to a language (but /s/ if it is a football club). So now we seem to have one more: chicest.

21 June 2015

Signs in Japan

I was recently in Japan, where some of the signs can be quite challenging. Take this one, on the outside wall of a Buddhist temple.

I think the message is 'Live life in the present', though I'm not sure. Actually, 'Now, Life is living you' seems rather Zen, so maybe it's not so bad after all!

This one was inside the bathroom of my hotel.

I think it is saying that the alarm will go off if you have a shower with the door open; but 'Sound the alarm for steam' is maybe not the best way of expressing this.

In contrast, this one is abundantly clear, especially with the illustration to help:

Maybe we could do with this one in public restrooms in Brunei!

11 June 2015


The word jerayawara ('roadshow') is (I believe) mostly used in Brunei, though I note one entry in the Malaysian PRPM resource (here), so maybe it does sometimes get used elsewhere.

The trouble is it is almost unpronounceable: the 'r-y-w-r' sequence is really tough. Or maybe local people don't find it so difficult? I don't hear Radio Brunei newscasters stumbling over it, so maybe it is just me.

Fortunately, there is no 'l' in it, or it would be truly impossible!

23 May 2015

Tong Sampah

I recently saw this sign in the washroom at the Bangar ferry terminal in Termburong:

The Malay says 'Throw rubbish into the dustbin provided'.

I wonder why the extra word disediakan ('provided') is used in Malay? It doesn't seem to add anything extra to the message. So I wonder why the writer in Malay felt that it was necessary?

21 May 2015


The level of complexity and allusion in some cartoons is stunning. Take the following Dilbert cartoon:

It involves two people, Alice and Walter. Alice's statement "I hate Mondays more than Garfield" is intended to mean "I hate Mondays even more than Garfield hates Mondays", but Walter understands it by its alternative meaning "I hate Mondays even more than I hate Garfield".

However, in the next pane, by making an allusion to Garfield and lasagna ownership, Walter is showing that he knows all about Garfield, so he is basically saying that he is perfectly aware of Garfield's dislike of Mondays. In other words, he is saying that his misunderstanding of Alice was quite deliberate.

Alice understands this, which is why she gets angry. But in the final pane, her threat not to talk to him is taken by Walter as a promise; it is what he was hoping for.

On first reading this cartoon, I failed to grasp much of that; and it was only on reading the explanation on Language Log (here) that I understood it. Partly, that is because I am not very familiar with Garfield and his dislike of Mondays and disregard for ownership of lasagna. But I'm not sure I would have got it even if I had known about these things. I suspect most of us miss the subtle meanings of lots and lots of cartoons.

20 May 2015

berfikir di luar kotak

I saw this headline for an article on page 11 of Media Permata of 18 May 2015:

This can be translated as:

Young people of Sabah urged to think out of the box

Of course, berfikir di luar kotak ('think outside the box') is a direct calque from English.

It seems sad to me, when Malay has such a rich range of idioms and proverbs, that direct translations are taken from English rather than using something indigenous. But maybe this is wrong. Perhaps absorbing idioms from English (and other languages) serves to enrich the Malay stock, so there is nothing wrong in using new idioms wherever you find them.

One other thing about my translation: I used 'young people' rather than 'youths' as an equivalent for belia, as I feel that 'youths' tends to have a negative connotation in English. But that is not how 'youths' is used in the region; so maybe I should have followed local usage and just gone for:

Youths of Sabah urged to thing out of the box