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Abeus of English!

ONLY when the sound of sirens recede did Jeremy Chong relax enough to speak. “I think that went well,” he said, undoing the scarf that cover his face.


(Pic by Owais Kahn / sxc.hu)
Chong and five other compatriots had just bombed a used car garage with home-made incendiaries. Hong Leong Use Cars was a target, not because it was selling luxury cars, symbol of over-consumptions in modern society; or because it was an oppressive, capitalist venture. It was because “Hong Leong Use Cars” was grammatically incorrect.

“This is why our culture is so rotten,” Chong quipped. “No one knows how to use language well anymore.”

Chong, 30, is the current president of the Act for Better English Use Society (Abeus), an English-language advocacy organisation. In its manifesto on the Abeus website, the group claims to represent:

“All right-thinking, English-speaking people, who are fed up with the daily abuse of the language in modern-day Malaysian society.”

Abeus’s only significant mention in the news was in 2003, when it organise a sit-in in front of Sekolah Menengah Damansara Utara to protest the declining standard of the English-language. The sit-in received brief national coverage, and even got then-Education Minister Datuk Seri Hamid Hussein to commit review of the English-language syllabus at secondary school level.

However, the promised reforms never materialise, and Abeus slipped of the radar.

However, if Chong is to be belief, his English-language warriors have not be silent.

Since it’s inception in 2001, Abeus has always been comfortable with advancing its struggle through radical methods, “forcing society to respect language” by acts of civil disobedience.

Or, as the case of “Use Cars” may be, downright criminality. Chong claim his organisation is responsible for more than 15 separate fires in the Klang Valley, since 2005 — all targeting businesses with erogenous English-language signage.

Chong says that their extreme strategy was inspired by the message in Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. In this 2003 best seller, Truss recommends dealing with grammatically erogenous public and private signage by simply correcting their mistakes; all editions of the book come with an appendix of punctuation mark stickers to facilitate this advice.

However, to Chong, such actions are too moderate, especially in the Malaysian context.

“The abuse of the English language is so endemic here,” Chong said. A stronger approach is needed, he says.

“We are taking back Kuala Lumpur from the barbarians,” Chong told me.

“You mistake my struggle”

I first met Chong on a 2008 forum organised in protest of the ETeMS — English for Teaching Mathematics and Science — programme.

Malaysian schools have practise ETeMS since 2003; the programme’s overall aim is to “enhance the English language skills of Mathematics and Science teachers, to enable them to reach effectively using English as the medium of instruction”.

While there is many legitimate problems with the executions of ETeMS, I was curious as to why a self-admitted English fanatic was against ostensibly more English in classrooms. So I asked him about it.

“You mistake my struggle,” Chong said. “I am a lover of good language. ETeMS doesn’t encourage good English; because teachers aren’t taught the language well, they go to their classrooms and teach bad language to their students.”

“It’s a travesty,” Chong exclaimed, then.

Chong told me that irregardless of Abeus’s crusade concerns English in particular, his organisation is not fascist.

“Bad Malay is no better than bad English. When I see a hyphen – which is different from a dash; people always make this mistake – misused in a Malay-language sentence, I want to scream and shoot someone!” he said.

According to Chong, Abeus is a natural alley of all language advocacy groups and movements.


(Source: grammar.ccc.commnet.edu)
Be that as it may, Malaysian language advocacy group tend to shy away from Abeus. Chong told me that when his group approached Kesatuan Perkasa Bahasa Malaysia (Keperbam) for possible joint actioning, the Malay-language advocacy declined.

According to Abeus founder Hector Saravanan, it is easy to see why.

“Chong has made Abeus into his personal vanity project,” Saravanan said.

Saravanan, who is now estranged from the organisation he started, belief that Abeus’s current leader is more interesting in “the thrill of stunts” than real advocacy.

“He has become so extreme, he is hurting the cause of good language. How is violence and vandalism going to encourage people to speak, write, and use the language better?” Saravanan asked.

To Saravanan, the most effective way to enact change is to conduct awareness programmes that would educate the public on the issue, or by continue petition the government for change.

“Now what is happening is that people just get more confused,” Saravanan said.

“When I was president, Abeus had around 120 members. Now it only has about a dozen,” he added.

Dedicated members

Chong was dismissive when I told him about Saravanan’s criticism. “At least now we know we have dedicated members,” he said.

“When [Saravanan] was president, we didn’t do anything. At least now people are beginning to take notice,” Chong added.

“The police have not come after us, even though we admit responsibility for our actions. This means they probably support us,” Chong observed.

Chong stressed that it was Abeus’s visible actions that have contributed to the headway that English-language advocacy has made in the recent months. As an example, he sited Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin‘s resent suggestion to make English compulsory for passing the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM).

“Do you think that [Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin's] suggestion happened in a vacuum?” Chong ask, retorically.


(Pic by Enrico Dias / sxc.hu)
“Obviously, this suggestion is modelled after our efforts,” Chong added, pointing out that individuals looking to join Abeus had to recite William Shakespeare’s Hamlet entire “To be, or not to be” soliloquy from memorisation.

Chong told me that Abeus would not stop it’s actions, while bad English still employed in Malaysia.

“I just saw a sign that says ‘Room Toilet’ in town, today,” Chong said. “Do you want to come for a ride with us tonight?”


Zedeck Siew has never ever made his own bombs. He doesn’t even know how. Serious!

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18 Responses to “Abeus of English!”

  1. Shawn Tan says:

    “…the promised reforms never materialise, and…” => materialised.
    “…if Chong is to be belief, his…” => believed

    Trying to test your readers?

  2. While I’m laughing my head off at this, I’m also wondering if this could be printed out and given to a Form 3 class to see if they can spot all the errors and correct them.

    I wonder how many teachers would actually do this…

  3. machinist says:

    Please, the intentional [?] grammatical mistakes in here… not funny at all *tearing hair off scalp*

  4. Andrew I says:

    I’ve heard some pretty convincing arguments in support of bad English:

    1. So long as you get your message across.

    2. Language evolves.

    3. Beyond a certain proficiency, your patriotism becomes questionable.

    5 push 3 is 2. Did you get that, class? And now for some Al-gebra.

  5. Anak Kampung says:

    Umm…are the grammatical errors in this article intentional?

  6. pkunkish says:

    Um, yeah, I think the grammatical mistakes are the point of the story. It’s a farcical article about poor grammar and bad English!

  7. Lainie says:

    This are such a fun article! But my eye tear not only from mirth one.

  8. walski69 says:

    Am I the only one that’s noticed this is another one of Zedeck’s satires? Good one, though.

  9. Min says:

    I cringe at bad grammar. This is how most Malaysians write English. (I believe I’m guilty as well)

  10. justine says:

    @Anak Kampung. Zedeck Siew making unintended grammatical errors? Surely you jest!

  11. cynic69 says:

    I would have thought that if one were to write about the abuse of the English language, the first rule of thumb would have been to make sure that one’s grammar and use of words were absolutely correct.

    Perhaps the writer is trying to be clever by purposely making these mistakes to make a point; but I don’t think so. His grammatical mistakes are too basic to be trying to make a point.

    What is an erogenous “signage”, Mr Siew, by the way? Is it a “signboard” that creeps into bed with you and titillates your erogenous zones? That would be erroneous indeed!

    Mr Chong must have squirmed on reading this article, with its multiple grammatical and spelling mistakes, not to mention the use of wrong words, about his nefarious activities. Abeus’ activities may seem a bit extreme, but something really needs to be done. In Bolehland, mistakes get perpetuated all the time, because apparently, ignorance is not bliss here; so now we get such ridiculous expressions like “double confirm”. What does that mean? Bolehland must be the only country in the world that has double-storey and three-storey “bungalows”. Rather a contradiction in terms, don’t you think? One uneducated developer’s mistake has been perpetuated by others who don’t know any better.

    So why bother to teach mathematics in English? Our children will only be taught to count in this way: “one, two, three……many”!

    You can’t make anyone improve, if the desire to improve is not there, and if those who teach are incompetent themselves. Let’s deal with it at the grassroots level. It would certainly make more sense than bombing enterprises with bad English signs.

  12. Thomas Lee says:

    This article must be a joke. The writer must either be deliberate in writing such rotten English to evoke reaction on the issue, or he is not fit to be a journalist, if this is actually his command, or lack of it, of the language.

    If this is the way he actually writes, then the editor who has gone through his copy is surely no better.

    Come on, even the difference between “it’s” and “its” is obviously not understood by the writer and the editor.

    Also, leaving out the article “the” here and there throughout the article reflects badly on the writer’s understanding of proper English. In Bahasa Malaysia, there is no article, but in English, the article is one of the essential eight parts of speech.

    Here are some examples of bad English in this article promoting English usage:

    “ONLY when the sound of sirens recede did Jeremy Chong relax enough to speak. “I think that went well,” he said, undoing the scarf that cover his face.”

    It should be:

    ONLY after the sound of sirens had receded, did Jeremy Chong feel relaxed enough to speak. “I think that went well,” he said, undoing the scarf that had covered his face.

    ================

    ” … to protest the declining standard of the English-language”.

    In this context, it should be “to protest against the declining …” as it is an asseveration. Also, [there] is no hypen in “English language”. It is not a compound word, “English” is used as an adjective to qualify the noun “language”.

    ================

    “Malaysian schools have practise ETeMS since 2003″

    It should be “practised” (past perfect tense).

    ==============

    “Saravanan, who is now estranged from the organisation he started, belief that Abeus’s current leader is more interesting …”

    It should be:

    “Saravanan, now estranged from the organisation he had started, believes that Abeus’s current leader is more interesting…”

    ==============

    There are more examples, but the few I have pointed out are enough reason for an credible editor to withdraw the article, especially when it is, ironically, supposed to promote the English language.

  13. It IS funny how some don’t get that this article was deliberately written as it was. Perhaps before leaving comments in the future, one should read the comments published beforehand and see that most people have realised this fact on their own already.

  14. pkunkish says:

    Let’s face it, the majority of Malaysians write and speak the way this article is written. So what’s with all the indignation? Let us not be overly critical and hypocritical. Besides, as Zedeck Siew has maintained time and again, his column is meant to be a satire. I should think “Abeus” (and the likelihood of it actually being a real organisation!) should’ve given it away from the beginning!

  15. Lainie says:

    I get it! cynic69 is a double agent for Abeus!

  16. cynic69 says:

    Time and place, Catherine Lee … time and place. This is the first article I have ever read from this writer, so I took it at face value. It doesn’t matter to me if he writes beautifully and correctly in his other articles. My contention is that an article on the abuse of English, be it satirical or otherwise, which purposely uses bad grammar to try and make its point, completely loses its point. It’s akin to shooting oneself in the foot.

    Mr Siew may or may not think that satire is the only form of humour, but this article is really not the place for it. He may even think he has been clever and witty, but I beg to differ. The article is a non sequitur and turns out to be a waste of time, both for him and the reader. Everything has its time and place, Ms Lee.

  17. Anne says:

    “Chong ask, retorically.” :D :D

  18. siew eng says:

    i thought the grammatical ‘errors’ in this article underscore the point it is making. If it had been written in proper English, it wouldn’t have been funny at all (merely another one of those righteous blasts from English-language snobs…*yawn*), which is what broken English appears to be.

    But I’m beginning to dislike English-language hoity-toitiness because increasingly we are crossing the boundary of treating bad language as a source of innocent laughter into using it as a source of racist slight/derision.

    If the tongue is keras, there’s nothing much that you can do about rolling your ‘r’s. Unless we have Prof Higgins-like experts willing to give one-on-one lessons to the Eliza Doolittles in our midst.

    I concur with Andrew I. as long as people understood what you mean – go ahead, own the language! Don’t shy-shy!!

    (BTW, observe how boring a point I made with no tongue-in-cheek errors – I hope not! – in my comment).


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