Saturday, 4 June 2011

English as it should be writ (Part 3)

In the GE2011 period and its aftermath I cannot help but notice that Singaporeans tend to:

(1) use the word "stay" when they mean "live", and

(2) use the word "house" when they mean "flat".

I have not done any research or looked up any dictionaries, so feel free to fire arrows.

Typically "stay" suggests a temporary stopover.

So if you run into friends while on holiday they might enquire, "Where are you staying?" Your answer might be "such-n-such hotel", or "I'm staying with my friends", etc.

The location at which you spend most of your life outside work and school is where you "live".

If you say, "O! Fred? He lives at the casino now," we would conclude that Fred is in serious trouble.

In the UK I live in Greater London. In Singapore I am a person of "no fixed address" or "no fixed abode", so my family and I usually stay at the YMCA. ("Homeless in Singapore", that will be another post.)

My mum-in-law? She does not live with us. She lives a four-hour drive away.

Of course when you say that you "live with" someone, it often suggests that you are in a special relationship with that person.

Thus on bio-blurbs you might read that "so-and-so lives in such-and-such with her partner, two step-children, a parrot and two cats".

If the person you live with is not your "partner" as such, you'd probably describe this person as your "flatmate*", "landlord" or something else. *The Americans tend to use "room-mate".

In Singapore we often use the words "house" and "home" interchangeably. This is probably because in the Chinese and Malay languages "jia" and "rumah" mean both house and home.

In the UK I find that English speakers are often more particular. A house refers to a two-storey property. It could be a stand-alone and therefore "detached" house, or a "semi-detached" property (two houses sharing a common wall).

Houses in a row that share common walls on both sides form a "terrace". The end houses in the row with only one common wall is "end-of-terrace" and therefore more expensive, though it is still not as prestigious as a semi-detached.

Single-storey detached houses are called bungalows. If a second (half) floor is added to it where the attic used to be, it is a "chalet bungalow". Etc. etc.

So the Brits are miffed when Singaporeans say "Come to my house for a visit" and find that the "house" is actually a flat.

Yet, let me add, there is nothing shameful about the flats we have in Singapore. Most of our flats in Singapore are larger than the flats you'd find in the UK.

The flat I lived in for nearly five years would be claustrophobic by Singaporean standards. The upside is there is a little garden.

In summary, most Singaporeans do not stay in houses. We live in flats. Nice flats.

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