Dumb English for the 21 century

This one does my head in.

As some of my readers will know, MMORPG stands for “Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game”. I know the term has been around for a few years now. If you stick the phrase into Google (with quotes) you get 458,000 hits, so it’s well-established. Yet hands up those of you who think that there’s something grammatically wrong with the phrase?

I think I felt a little disquiet when I first saw the phrase, but didn’t think about it further until just recently and it’s come to seriously bother me. In fact, it’s the first word that’s the bother.

“Massively” is an adverb. Adverbs either modify verbs (e.g. The students were working quietly) or adjectives (e.g. The music was quite loud.). But in the phrase “massively multiplayer online role playing game” we don’t have any verbs or adjectives, and thus nothing for “massively” to modify.

When I try to make sense of the phrase, my grammar is telling me that “massively” has to modify “multiplayer” because in this sort of phrase, adverbs go with the word that immediately follows them. Yet the word really means “large-scale” or, simply, “massive”.

I also tried the grammatically acceptable phrase “Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game” in Google and still got 200,000 hits.

And so we have another example of dumb English for the 21st century. It doesn’t appear to fall under the heading of language change so I don’t think I’m being a hysterical reactionary. [You just keep telling yourself that. –ed.]

[25.07.13. To put it another way, the words “multiplayer, online role-playing” are modifying “game”; and since that is a noun, the other word, “massive”, has to be an adjective. You can say “massive game”, but not *massively game in this particular phrase. I stand by my original view that this is dumb English for the 21st century.]


Last night at the movies


Often the sleeves in which the DVDs come can be quite entertaining. They look pretty much like what you’d expect to see on the shelves in a DVD shop in the West, but that’s where the resemblance ends. The blurb about the film is often in mangled English; the cast list is frequently not the actual cast list; and the excerpts from the reviews are sometimes unflattering.

I didn’t actually know anything about Elizabethtown and had seen it on the shelves for some time, so this was a curiosity buy. For once, the reviews reproduced on the sleeve were fairly accurate:

“When sung lyrics outshine scripted conversations, your movie is hitting the wrong notes.”
“Cameron Crowe’s feel good experiment comes across like a souffle that never rose: undercooked and underwhelming.”

It’s meant to be a comedy, but the whole film limps along like a crippled, arthritic snail suffering from a fallen arch. It’s not clever enough to be dry comedy, and it’s not fast-paced enough to save itself from being little more than a long-winded melodrama (or perhaps that should be “mellow drama”).

Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst just don’t seem plausible. For a start, he’s much too pretty and way out of her league. Neither of them seems to have any flair for comedy, although it might’ve been the script and direction which fell flat.

The film, having reached its climactic point, then tails off into a long denouement where Orlando drives home following the instructions and listening to the music prepared by his sort of girlfriend. This would be a project which would take days for any normal person to do, and I think most people would wondering why they’d bothered.

As I’ve said before, if these things weren’t so cheap, I’d be way annoyed to have actually spent money on this. Another coaster for my collection.


At last something with a little more substance was my reaction when I started watching this. It’s the tale of dirty doings in the Middle East to protect American oil interests. All the different parties are represented: the oilmen and the CIA; the freelance agent; the progressive, liberal Arab prince; his idiot pro-American brother; the disaffected, unemployed Pakistani who becomes a suicide bomber.

George Clooney plays the freelance agent who’s instructed to deal with the liberal prince, but is then taken out of the loop when things go pear-shaped. At the start of the film, he is supposed to destroy a missle that has fallen into Iranian hands, but it turns out there are two of them. The irony is that the missile that wasn’t destroyed at the start of the film is used in the attack on the tanker at the end.

If anything, the film was a little obvious and a little clichéd. We’ve seen these sorts of films before – conspiracies; the bad guys always seem to be a step ahead; the good guys lose. It’s OK, but it might’ve been better if it’d been an allegory.


What are they going to report now?

Reports on the inquest into the death of Annie Pang Chor-ying have become a regular feature of the South China Morning Post recently. But alas, the inquest has come to an end. Annie Pang was a model with a rather screwed up life. She died in July 1995 of an unknown cause. Her body wasn’t found until 1999. She was known to be into drugs and gambling, and had tried to commit suicide.

What gets me about the whole case, is that she could’ve been dead for so without anyone wondering what’d happened to her. Her sugar daddy, John Fang Meng-sang, doesn’t appear to have asked any questions, although he did go to the flat where he completely missed seeing the body. I can only think the flat was a pigsty.

Where do pedestrians go?

They’re doing roadworks on the main street of Changzhou and have fenced off quite a large area. If you’re on the north side of the road, you can get around them without too much grief, but the south side is basically blocked off. The quickest way to get along the road is to walk along the road between the cars and the ubiquitous blue fencing. But in the great Traffic Hierarchy in China, pedestrians are ranked somewhere below rancid pond scum, hence no provision is made for them.

[25.07.13. Seven years later in Wuxi, much the same is happening because of the construction of a Metro system in the centre of the city. Pedestrians can only walk along the outside of a wall fencing off the building site as cars, electric scooters, and cyclists try to get by. In addition, there are large potholes in the temporary road surface which has been in place for the past three (?) years, and as I’m not as insensible to these things as the Chinese, I have to manoeuvre round them and avoid the other idiots on the road.]

Give it time.

I went into the DVD shop near the Changzhou Grand to find that they had the first series of the most recent Dr Who. I’d bought the first two DVDs while I was home last summer. I saw the series in a Tardis-shaped box on sale in HMV in Hong Kong, but it was bulky and cost HK$1960. Anyway, it’s saved me a bunch of money.

[25.07.13. Great entry, Mr Bamboo. History will be grateful to you for recording this.]

The Wild East.

From the few Hong Kong films I’ve seen, I’d have to conclude that there are gun battles in the streets every day of the week. This came true just recently with the shooting of two policemen on Canton Road near Austin Road. This is just north of Harbour City.

The whole business could be a bad Hong Kong film. Two policemen are ambushed by an off-duty colleague who shoots them with a handgun that was stolen five years earlier and had already been used in one murder. They take down their attacker, but the dead policeman’s gun ends up back in its holster. All very mysterious.

This is logical?

Sudoku is meant to be about logical deduction. I do the Post’s sudoku when I get a copy of the paper. The first one I tried was a five star puzzle I did in about twenty minutes on the train back from Suzhou. Most of the hard sudoku puzzles I’ve encountered seem to follow a common pattern of paired numbers so that you know two squares in a box, or on a line or column are limited to those numbers. The process of solving such puzzles is slow rather than hard.

Last Saturday’s puzzle absolutely defeated me because after getting about five numbers there were no further moves without guessing. I checked the puzzle in a sudoku program I have. It got as far as I had, and then said there were no more moves available without guessing.

I’m not sure that that makes for good sudoku because there should be a logical sequence of steps to follow. Guessing shouldn’t be part of it.

There’s always one character…

…which annoys me.

Every so often I’ll bump into a character which I can’t track down. The one that’d been bothering me until last night was “crow; black”. It bears a close resemblance to niao “bird”, but whereas the latter is a radical, the former doesn’t have one. If that’s the case, then you have to look up the character under the first stroke. I thought that’d be the dot (丶), but it turned out to be the hook (丿).

Actually, I tracked it down using a book about Chinese characters which has a section on characters that differ from each other by a single dot. As I guessed, both characters were there, and that’s how I found . I then found it in the dictionary under the right initial stroke.

I’m now trying to think where I first saw the character, apart from the menu in the Fujian restaurant.

Oh well, I track down characters eventually, but it can be an annoying process.

The character is also found in 乌龙 wūlóng, which English speakers know better as the variety of tea called oolong.

Two more film reviews

Ride ’em, cowboy!

I watched Brokeback Mountain last night. It was a tragic romance with gay cowboys, but nothing exceptional. It was kind of the boy version of Oranges are not the only Fruit. (Cowboys are not the only Fruits? Fnarr! Fnarr!) It might’ve been edgier if it’d been set in the Golden Age of cowboys instead of conservative, 1960s middle America.

Whose Buzz the Witty and the Fair annoys.

The other film I watched last night was Capote, the story behind his book In Cold Blood. Philip Seymour Hoffman was irritatingly effete as he in­grat­iated himself with the men who had murdered the family in the farmhouse in Kansas.

Although Capote helps the men at first, his desire for the story to reach its end leads to him distancing himself from them. At the last minute, he visits them for the final time and witnesses the execution of Perry Smith.

Capote’s relationship with Smith was ambiguous. It was hard to say whether Capote fell in love with him, or was merely sucking up to him for the information he needed for his book.

If the Afterword was anything to go by, the work on In Cold Blood had a long-lasting effect on Capote. He may have wanted to distance himself from Smith and Dewey, but he perhaps couldn’t get past them.

No blatancy

You heard the man.

One of the bookshops in town has a list of rules on the walls as you go up the stairs. These are helpfully translated into English. The first one says

No blatancy

Yeah, that’s right. No blatancy. You get blatant in that bookshop, you gonna get yo’ ass kicked.

So, what does the Chinese actually say? It says 清勿喧哗 qīng wù xuānhuá “Please don’t make a racket”.

Some more film reviews

The Wedding Crashers.

All right, so you have these two guys who crash weddings. They plan and prepare meticulously for it. They have a rulebook which they can quote verbatim. They attend the weddings and the celebrations. And what’s the aim of all this effort? To meet girls. Why don’t they just go to a bar?

The Big Book of Plot Clichés was mined for originality on this one because you’d never guess the boys were going to meet two girls they couldn’t get past.

It’s not quite as dreadful as it sounds, but this is the sort of film which you need to see on the big screen with some friends, preferably after a few drinks.

Memoirs of a Geisha.

I’d heard generally negative comments about this, but it’s nowhere near as bad as I was lead to believe. It’s long and slow, but the cinematography is gorgeous. I’m still puzzled why Chinese actresses are playing Japanese characters, but Li Gong and Zhang Ziyi turn out decent English accents while verbally sniping at each other.


This one seems to have escaped from the 60s or 70s, and to have taken it’s plot from The Big Book of Clichéd Cowboy Movie Plots. Evil American bank acquires land for building railway line by killing the landowners. Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz swear vengeance.

Are you expecting cat fights? Well, you get ’em. In fact, if they could’ve got Las Cruz and Hayek mud-wrestling in thong bikinis, that’d be in the film as well. Weak.

Why? Well, because, er… All right, I can’t resist Salma Hayek. Superman has kryptonite; I have Salma Hayek. I’m a sad case.


I was only vaguely aware of this film before it won the Oscar, so I was curious to see whether it deserved the accolade of Best Film. The answer is that it did. The various plotlines are well woven together, and the film is packed with moments of irony.

The film explores racial tensions in LA, but goes beyond the expected white vs. non-white people which you might expect.

Possibly the film has one or two plotlines too many for them to all be reasonably developed, but it’s the way that everything’s tied together that I find appealing.

Walk the Line.

Reese Witherspoon may have won the Oscar for Best Actress, but this is just another biopic of a flawed American hero with all the clichés. We have the narrow-minded, authoritarian father; the long-suffering mother; the favourite son who is savaged by a circular saw; and the woman the hero truly loved.

It may have a resonance for a certain kind of audience, but it didn’t have a lot to say to me.

What if…

A little idle speculation.

What if Henry VIII had kept his tackle in his trousers and had been a good husband to Catherine of Aragón.

It’s a question which has been asked before and, I believe, has been the subject of at least one book I’m aware of. There would’ve been no split with Rome and no Dissolution of the Monasteries. Mary probably would’ve been queen immediately after Henry. She could well’ve been followed by Mary, Queen of Scots, so the actual line of succession may not have been different from the true, historical line, excepr for Mary III.

But I think England may have been a lot like France at this time with a significant numbers of people becoming Protestants. The reigns of the two Marys might’ve been dotted with the rise of sects and various rebellions. Mary, Queen of Scots, may not have been hugely popular.

There would’ve been no Elizabethan Age per se, but it could’ve happened during the reign of Mary II (1558 – 1603??). It shouldn’t have mattered too much who was on the throne because the same talented people would probably have been around anyway. Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene would’ve been a different kind of allegory.

Ultimately, things may have been ironed out in the reign of Charles I with the English Civil War being between Royalist/Catholic forces on one side and Parliamentary/Protestant forces on the other. In other words, England becomes a Protestant country after the Roundheads win the war.

Charles II returns after Cromwell’s death, but is only allowed back as a Protestant king. He’s like, “Yeah, OK”, but has his fingers crossed. James II still goes down in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the rest is history.

Next week: What if the Ottoman Turks hadn’t been stopped at the gates of Vienna?

Things past

Testing times.

We gave our students the first Progress Test from the book today. The writing task was

Think about something important that has happened in your country.
Then write about:
  • what happened and when
  • why you think it happened
  • the effects it had on the people of your country
  • the effect (if any) it has had on your family

Since I had nothing better to do, I wondered what my ancestors did during significant periods of English history. Most of my forebears come from Yorkshire or southern Scotland, and I would assume that they were probably fairly sedentary for most of the past thousand years.

What were they doing in 1066 when William of Normandy invaded England? Did they take part in the rebellion against William which resulted in Yorkshire being laid waste? Or did they merely suffer the consequences of that?

Did they take sides during the civil war between Matilda and Stephen? Did any of them go off on the Crusades?

Some of them must’ve survived the Black Death in the mid 1300s, but how many succumbed to it? How did affect the lives of the ones who survived? Were any of them attracted by the Flagellants? Or did they decide to eat, drink, and be merry? Somehow, I think they probably just got on with things.

What did they do during the Wars of the Roses? Did they fight for the Yorkist cause? From what I’ve read, it seems likely that my ancestors were probably unaffected by the whole squabble.

What did they think about the Reformation and the Dissolution of the Monasteries? There was a popular rebellion in Yorkshire, and there were several important monasteries in the shire, including Rievaulx Abbey. My ancestors could’ve been a part of the Pilgrimage of Grace, and may only have abandoned Catholicism because of the harsh recusancy laws. Did they lament Guy Fawkes’ failure to blow up James II?

Then there was the civil war in the 17th century between the Royalists and Parliamentarians. The Parliamentary army in Yorkshire defeated the Royalists at the Battle of Naseby, suggesting that my ancestors might have fought for Parliament.

And when, over a century later, Bonnie Prince Charlie invaded England, did he have any direct affect on my forebears? Or did his army pass by without seeing them?

What impact did the Industrial Revolution have? Did they head for the towns to look for work, or had they been town dwellers all along? And what involvement did they have in the rise if the British Empire? (Apart from being mere migrants.)

I guess that for most of history my ancestors might’ve been there, but played no significant part in it. Other questions which spring to mind are whether any of them ever joined the church, and who my first literate ancestor was.

The Monk

Not a habit you want to get into.

The Monk was written in ten weeks by Matthew Lewis at the age of 19 and published in 1796. The story, a racy Gothic romance which gained a certain notoriety, centres around the Capuchin abbot Ambrosio whose sermons in Madrid are highly popular and whose reputation for piety is unequalled. But he is seduced by a girl disguised as a boy and, having decided that girls are better than piety, goes after Antonia by way of deviousness and murder. After raping and murdering her, Ambrosio learns the truth of his origins and escapes the Inquisition only to fall into the clutches of Satan himself from whom he learns the truth of his unknown origin.

Running alongside this are tales about the young blades about town and their amours, which intersect with Ambrosio’s unsavoury activities.

The book seems to have it all – a horny monk previously noted for his piety; an evil mother superior; a bunch of cute girls; murder and attempted murder; demons in disguise; magic and witchcraft; and the Spanish Inquisition (which everyone is expecting). The revelation about Ambrosio’s origin at the end is a neat twist because by that stage you’ve forgotten about that little mystery.

Although I’m sure that the writing is in the style of its age, modern readers are likely to find it verbose and rambling, even although the story would probably appeal to Buffy fans. Some of the episodes, such as Don Raymond’s encounter with bandits on his travels or the story of the Bleeding Nun, appear to contribute little to the main plot and are an indulgence. Lewis also has a penchant for delay. Readers will want to know what Ambrosio’s fate is to be after he is caught rather than the ending to the Raymond-Agnes and Lorenzo-Virginia romances.

Overall, The Monk is a ripping yarn and worth reading if you can get over the hurdle of this particular style of writing.

05.07.13. While Lewis was influenced by and thought highly of Ann Radcliffe’s novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho, she disliked The Monk so much that she wrote The Italian as a response to it. In truth, both authors were approaching the genre from different directions. In The Mysteries of Udolpho, the supernatural is implicit, but everything ultimately has a rational explanation.