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Thread: It's en bloc, not end block

  1. #1
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    Default It's en bloc, not end block

    July 15, 2007

    It's en bloc, not end block

    By Janadas Devan, ON WORDS

    'THAT end block,' a taxi driver told me a few weeks ago, pointing at a block of flats. 'No, no,' I replied, 'not that end block. I want to go to' - and I gave him the address again.

    I had misunderstood him. He was referring to a block of apartments that had recently been put up for collective or en bloc sale and which happened to be in the news that day. I heard him say 'end block' - which, in a way, was literally accurate, for the block in question was indeed going to 'end' soon. En bloc is sometimes also pronounced 'and block' in Singapore.

    If we are going to go gaga over en bloc sales, we should at least try to pronounce the phrase accurately. Correctly pronouncing the ailment will not effect a cure for it, of course, but who knows.

    En bloc is a French, not an English, phrase - en, 'in' + bloc, 'lump'. It should thus be pronounced 'on blok', with the 'o' in both 'on' and 'blok' sounded, more or less, as one would the 'o' in 'hot'. (To hear it pronounced exactly as it should, go to The phrase can be used to mean, variously, 'in a block, as a block, in a lump, as a whole, collectively, all together, wholesale'.

    (En in French is an all-purpose preposition, its meaning dependent on context. Sometimes it means 'in' - as in il habite en province, 'he lives in the provinces'; sometimes 'by' - as in en taxi, 'by taxi'; sometimes 'on' - as in en route, 'on the way'; and so on and so forth. Reader, if you find this confusing, give thanks Stamford Raffles was British, not French.)

    In Singapore, we generally find en bloc used only with reference to property. Actually, the phrase can be used in a variety of contexts - military, political, social. There is, for instance, the 'en bloc ammunition clip' for certain types of firearms where the cartridges come as a unit to be inserted into the rifle's magazine. There is this, from J.S. Mill's Representative Government (1861), the earliest cited use of the phrase in English in the Oxford English Dictionary: 'The amount assigned to each being levied by the local assembly...and paid en bloc to the Treasury.' And there is this, from A.G. Lehmann's European Heritage: 'The civil service moved, en bloc, and with no changes, from serving the Kaiser to serving the republic - equally without enthusiasm.'

    The last quotation suggests why en bloc is apt when applied to collective property sales. The desired result - effecting the profitable sale of a block or blocks of apartments in a lump, all together - requires almost all the residents in those blocks to act, move en bloc - like bees to honey. There can be no collective payout (en bloc profit) without a collective desire (en bloc greed).

    In Singapore, we have not only en bloc sales of private housing estates, we also have the HDB's 'Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme' (Sers). The latter has even gained an entry in Wikipedia. Sers, the entry explains, 'is an urban redevelopment strategy employed by the HDB in maintaining and upgrading public housing flats in older estates in the city-state. Launched in August 1995, it involves a small selection of specific precincts in older estates which undergo demolition and redevelopment, as opposed to upgrading of existing flats via the Main Upgrading and Interim Upgrading Programmes'.

    Question: How come when the HDB wants to tear down blocks of old flats, it calls the exercise the 'En bloc Redevelopment Scheme', but when it wants to upgrade or improve them, it calls the exercise the 'Main Upgrading' or 'Interim Upgrading' programme? How come demolition gets a fancy French phrase and improvement boring bureaucratese?

    I have no idea, but I have a perhaps fanciful theory: Whatever their publicly acknowledged political inclinations may be, all Singaporeans are at heart capitalists. We all secretly believe greed is good. We know that Joseph Schumpeter, the great Austrian economist, was right: There can be no huge profits without 'creative destruction'.

    But like all capitalists, we are embarrassed to acknowledge this inconvenient fact. Creative destruction may be the engine of growth of every thriving economy. But no politician, in any capitalist democracy, would admit that truth frankly or often. Ditto Singaporean property owners. Quick, hide our greed, dress up our urge to destroy and rebuild, prettify the business. No European language can do that as effectively for us - with as much elegance, style, wit and economy - as French.

    If that seems too sweeping a claim, consider the various European words for 'love'. The German liebe sounds - well, German: seriously romantic, idealistic, earnest. The Italian amore is - well, Italian: frankly passionate, interested, gently lascivious (amo...rrr...ay!). The French amour is - well, oh so French: romantic, but not so earnestly idealistic as liebe; passionate, but not so frankly interested as amore. French amour, even if illicit, suggests elegance. Close your eyes, think of amour, and what comes to mind? Surely, it is the oh so stylish, the oh so elegant Jacqueline Kennedy or Audrey Hepburn. The English 'love', by comparison, calls to mind a pudding.

    So the 'Demolition and Redevelopment (aka 'Creative Destruction') Scheme' becomes the 'En bloc Redevelopment Scheme'. So 'collective sale' - a pudding of a phrase if ever there was one - becomes en bloc sale. If the media were to consistently call en bloc sales 'collective sales' - and occasionally mention 'collective greed' for good measure - it is possible we might get a tad embarrassed about this whole business and the property market might cool down a little. Creative destruction is good, but it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

    On the other hand, it is altogether likely that nothing will cool down the red-hot property market except brute economic facts or regulatory action.

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  2. #2
    Registered Guest

    Default Re: It's en bloc, not end block

    It's encore (on core) - not en core or en call.

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