Monday, August 29, 2011

The Pink Gorilla & How To Use 'Since'

(Note: The purpose of this post isn't to proclaim mastery over the English language. It isn't my first language and I will be the first to admit that I'm far from perfect at it. But the idea here is to help fix an error which I see recurring too often.)

I recently moved to Bangalore. The newspapers I read here are Times of India and Bangalore Mirror and I often find myself wincing when I spot a 'for' and 'since' error. And it's been happening so often, I've made peace with it — which I shouldn't. Making peace with editorial errors is a sin for editors, a threat to our existence. Dinosaurs can't get cozy with asteroids, lions can't be friends with zebras, and editors can't accept bad grammar.

See for yourself.

Exhibit 1: Erroneous uses of 'since' in Mirror. It's a shockingly long list.

Exhibit 2: The absence of the same on Guardian and NYT.

Why Guardian and NYT? While writing, I often have doubts over the arrangement of words. I cross-check those sites to ascertain if I'm wrong or right. And my experience says those guys get it right more often than us. English, after all, is their first language.

After encountering these errors as frequently as I do, I'm compelled to write this post.

Part of the reason for these errors is the Indianisation of English. The literal translation of the Hindi phrase "picchle paanch din se" would be "from the last five days." The correct translation, of course, would be "for the last five days". But for, since and from have become interchangeable in our everyday usage. So face, meet palm.

Language is shaped by consensus. It constantly moves from its acceptable standard towards the more error-prone version widely embraced by common people. But until an error becomes the acceptable standard, I will choose to call it an error, even if it is a widely understood localisation.

How can we avoid these errors? Here's a small checklist.



'For' is used where the length of time is defined in exact or inexact terms.

For 10 hours.
For 10 days.
For 10 years.
For the longest time.
For ages.
For 50 overs.



Since is used when we define a point in time, exact or inexact.

Since 1998.
Since last week.
Since yesterday.
Since last summer.
Since whenever.
Since the World Cup final.


Since and for are often used in place of 'because'.


Here's an illustration to guide you.

Think of a length of time (years between 1998 and 2002) as the distance between Delhi and Mumbai (1400 kilometers) covered by a train journey. The use cases emerging from this illustration are as follows.


For four years, I've not seen a pink gorilla.
For 1400 kilometers, I've not seen a pink gorilla.


Since 1998, I have not seen a pink gorilla.
Since I left Mumbai, I have not seen a pink gorilla.

Here's a PDF you can download and print for reference.

The Pink Gorilla and the Mumbai Rajdhani Express


Miss Europhile said...

I have been a fan of ur writing and wit exemplar "SINCE" time immemorial :D An excellent post!

AR Hemant said...

OMG! A comment! :D

Thanks for reading. I recently revived this blog after a long break. Have we interacted before, Miss Europhile?