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8: Auntie…erm, Miss… September 14, 2010

Posted by The Truth in What Were They Thinking?!.

Whoa! Finally, a readworthy article on the State’s Times! I would like to commend the State’s Times on raising people’s awareness on General Idiocy in Singapore. Really, it’s very important…considering that there are enough idiots in the world, it makes sense to train the spotlight on one once in a while, isn’t it?

I would really like to start bashing, but first, let me rebutt each argument point by point:

  • “Proper terms of address for people” has been oversimplified. The proper way to address a particular person depends on context in the broadest sense of the word. Many factors count towards properly addressing someone, e.g., if you are in a familiar context, you wouldn’t address a friend (unless ironically) as “Mr./Mrs./Ms. X”. If you are in an unfamiliar context, there again differences. You would address someone as “Mr./Mrs./Ms. X” if you are in a working, white-collar context and you want to remain professional, i.e., you are either distancing yourself socially from your conversation partner, or you are addressing someone of a different social ranking. Using “Uncle” and “Auntie” has the effect of creating immediate rapport, since the very words uncle and auntie imply a certain close relationship between both conversation partners, while remaining respectful by constantly placing the addressed person in a socially higher rank.
  • Building on that, I can easily refute the 2nd paragraph. There, it is said that: “Very often, at places like wet markets, hawker centres and heartland shops, one can hear the shop or stall owners addressing men and women who appear to be in their 40s as “uncle” and “auntie”. It is ridiculous to see even middle-aged and elderly people address these men and women that way.” Given that the context always determines what the proper way of addressing someone is, I do not see what is ridiculous in this at all. Although it may seem semantically strange, it is actually a very meaningful way of addressing someone. A shopkeeper wants people to buy their wares. So, naturally, the simplest way to approach a customer with respect would be to address him using a term which would naturally place the customer on a higher social ranking. And having rapport also helps you to convince your customer, no?
  • Which brings me to the third paragraph. How it is neither respectful nor right is not clear to me. Maybe i’m dense, but didn’t i just argue that “Uncle” and “Auntie” are a) terms of respectful address and b) very appropriate given the contexts in which they are used?
  • And so I come to your suggestion. Replacing “Uncle” and “Auntie” with “Mr./Miss/Mrs.” etc will destroy your very argument, since you so wilfully neglected to see the context in which such linguistic phenomena are situated. Let’s say you go to Best Denki and a salesperson addressed you with “Sir”/”Madam”. Well and good. Now, let’s say you go to your local mama shop and demand to be addressed as “Sir/Madam.” You’ll either be laughed out of, or kicked out of the shop. The terms “Sir/Madam” and “Mr./Miss/Mrs.” are respectful, but in no way are they markers of attempting to strike up rapport with your conversation partner. In fact, in a Singaporean context (outside the office), such terms serve to distance speaker from recipient, and shows a general ignorance/refusal to accept the conversational context one finds oneself in. At the very least, it is incorrect usage, if you have a bad day, it’s downright disrespectful. (And yes, as special lexical items, they have their places in Singapore Standard English! No person, no matter how polished their English may be, will go to a coffeeshop and order “A coffee sweetened with condensed milk and two hardboiled eggs, if you will, Sir.”)

Your letter, therefore, should have landed directly in the Editor’s shredder. The very fact that he deigned to publish it means that he probably thought it was Nation-Building to Educate the People About Idiocy. Did you pause to ask yourself why these words are used as terms for addressing someone in Singapore? No. Did you probe deeper into the phenomenon? Nope. Do you have a skewed view of reality? Maybe. Did someone address you as “Auntie”, and you happen to be around 40 years of age? I don’t know. Are you an overzealous English teacher? You should have known better – or didn’t you learn this at University? Do you see things in black-and-white? Definitely. Are you, by some freak of nature, from the Victorian Era and don’t know how you got to this sweltering tropical island? Hmm.

Well, Victorian or not, you certainly get my facepalm. Eat this, Auntie…Miss!



1. Daily SG: 15 Sep 2010 « The Singapore Daily - September 15, 2010

[…] angmo preese – Die neue Welle: Auntie…erm, Miss.. – FOOD fuels me to talk: Jest wot is gut spoken English? – TOC: The Satirist Says: Speak Good […]

2. Weekly Roundup: Week 38 « The Singapore Daily - September 20, 2010

[…] angmo preese – Today: A note too far? – Die neue Welle: Auntie…erm, Miss.. – FOOD fuels me to talk: Jest wot is gut spoken English? – TOC: The Satirist Says: Speak Good […]

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