Not say I want to say: “society”

Welcome to the first edition of “Not Say I Want To Say”!

Today’s “Not Say I Want To Say” word is “society”.

Example from a news report:

The status of women in the society is low and the public attitude of men towards women is not healthy.


From “Violence rampant in North East: Rights body”, my emphasis.

How has “society” been misused here?
The speaker is referring to “society” in terms of a community or a collective group of people living together for a particular purpose – in the case above, people living in the North-east in India.

Unless the speaker is using “society” as a proper noun e.g. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – i.e. an actual club, association or body – s/he should not have included the definite article “the”.

How do we use “society” correctly?
Ask yourself: is a definite article (i.e. “a” or “the”) necessary for the purpose I intend?


When referring to the companionship of a particular group:

  • I enjoy the society of women. (Correct)
  • I enjoy society of women. (Wrong)

When referring to an actual club, association or body:

When referring to a community or a collective group of people living together for a particular purpose (in the example below, Malaysians in Malaysia):

Efficiency of non-standard use: Low; can lead to confusion.

Potential for adoption: DO NOT adopt – unless you want the society to crumble and die. (See what I mean?)

Have a good weekend and see you back here on Monday!

Not say I want to say, lah, but…

I don't think I can ever look at a frog the same way again after watching the frog sashimi video on YouTube

I went swimming with two of my closest friends yesterday.

Our engrossment led my sister to say, “I see this is why you are not replying to my Whatsapp messages. You are hanging out with other people who don’t need to work today!”

Sour grapes aside, why I was so engrossed in swimming was because I learnt something very important and potentially life-changing.

One of my friends, who previously worked as a lifeguard and a swimming coach, told me, “Eh fatso, you’re doing the breast stroke wrong. You’re doing this,” he said and demonstrated what I was doing.

“You should be doing this instead,” he continued and demonstrated the correct stroke, which I subsequently tried and kept on practicing for the rest of the time we were swimming.

I don’t think I’ve mastered the correct stroke yet, but suffice to say, I could immediately feel the difference in my speed and efficiency in the water.

And all the time, I thought I was a slow swimmer.

So when I got out of the pool, I realised: What the f-awrawrawrawrawrawr, man.

I’ve been swimming the breast stroke wrongly for 22 years! It’s like speaking the English language wrongly and saying things like “in the society” and “an elderly” and having no one correct you.

How inefficient and backward is that? Shouldn’t we be utilising the respective strengths we have to inform each other of what we’re doing wrong to help each other improve?

So to this end, I’ve decided to start a regular feature in this blog (alongside my other regular “Shared Items” feature) called “Not Say I Want To Say”.

It’ll focus on the appropriate use of Standard Singapore English (SSE) so that my desire to blurt out statements like “Add value! Not value-add!” or “Take medical leave! Not take MC!” in conversations with people no longer needs to be suppressed.


  1. I acknowledge that language can be fluid and meanings of words and styles of expression do evolve over time.

    So besides pointing out the standard form of usage, I’ll also discuss the efficiency of the current meaning/expression and its potential for adoption.
  2. Also, the name of the category itself (“Not Say I Want To Say”) is an expression in non-SSE which means “It’s not that I really want to mention it” – a qualifier that a speaker uses before saying something undesirable in order to ‘give face’ to someone else.

    Why I am using it then, even though it’s in non-SSE? To give you face, lah… LOL! But…
  3. …I’m not infallible myself, so do let me know when I’ve gotten things wrong too – I’d appreciate it very much.