Thanks to all those who responded to our mailout for “What is wrong with this report?”
I trust you had fun as I have in reading your responses.
Did any of the responses correctly identify what was wrong in the report? The answer is yes and no. Yes, because others have identified errors outside and behind the report. No, because the supposed errors can be argued either way depending on the standards used or sometimes on the writer’s preference and style.
As an example: Ham dela Torre and lakanlawin7 pointed out the use of “have” instead of “has” when referring to a collective term like “A total of…” which suggests singularity. That is the usual take. But there is also another school of thought which argues that the collective term “A total of…” can also suggest plurality depending on the context within which the term is used. In other words, the collective term “a total of…” can be singular or plural. For this reason, some authorities suggest that writers should avoid using this collective term as there is no definite rule in its usage.
What then is that single error I was hoping to flush out?
If I say that the error is in the incorrect use of ‘other’ followed by a number, would you agree?
Let me explain:
1. The report said: “Those cases were reported from nine countries…” citing the United States and Mexico as two of those nine countries.
2. Then the next paragraph of the report said: “The other seven countries…” enumerating the seven countries with the number of cases in bracket.
Now, let us examine the phrase “The other seven countries….”
What does it imply? That there were seven countries previously mentioned?
No. Since only two countries were cited prior to this paragraph, then this paragraph should have been written as: “The seven other countries…” and NOT “The other seven countries…”
But come to think of it. How many popular writers have you read who are similarly guilty of this oversight? I am sure you have encountered a lot.
Another example of incorrect use of ‘other’
Here’s another example. I extracted this one from an article published by a technology website last 23 October 2008.
Software for the other five billion
Although there are well over six billion people on the planet, just a little over one billion have access to computers or the internet.
Given those one billion already provide big profits for tech giants such as Google and Microsoft, is there any point in bothering with the other five?
The article refers to the over six billion people world population, with only a little over one billion having access to computers or the internet.
But analyze the article carefully, especially its title. What does “the other five billion” amount to? Does it mean there are 10 billion people on the planet?
An example of correct use of ‘other’
Here is an extract from a news story, Ex-Nomads boss on teen kidnap charge, which appeared on the 8 May 2009 issue of the Daily Telegraph, a Sydney-based daily:
Ibrahim allegedly punched the boy in the face before bundling him into a red Holden Commodore.
The teen was then taken to a nearby park where he was questioned by Ibrahim over the attempted break-in.
It is alleged Ibrahim and two other males then took the teenager to his wife’s house at Greystanes.
She allegedly told Ibrahim the teenager was not the one who attempted the break-in.
What if the report was written like: “Ibrahim and other two males…” ? Wouldn’t the number of those involved change – at least in the minds of the readers? Instead of three, now there would be five males including Ibrahim.
Is “the other half” correct? It is, if you are referring to one unit.
Is “the other third” correct? No such thing. It should be the “remaining third” or the “remaining one-third” if two-thirds had been mentioned beforehand. Conversely, if “one third” had been mentioned beforehand, then the “remaining two thirds” and not “the other two thirds.”
“The other side…” implies two sides. If there are four sides, and one side had been mentioned beforehand, then “the three other sides” and not “the other three sides.” If two sides had already been mentioned, then “the two other sides” or “the other two sides.”
Numeracy in writing and editing
With this exercise, I hope you will now appreciate the work of an editor who is expected to have a good handle on both literacy and numeracy.
Just remember: If ‘other’ is followed by a number, then the total would be twice that number.
If you missed spotting the error, don’t worry. Even veteran writers sometimes make the same mistake. Myself including.
Again, thanks to all those who participated. For those who posted comments, don’t forget to email me your postal address.
For those who have just joined us, feel free to post your comments.