Ken Lyen's Home
Ken's Links
London Revisited 2000
Letter from London 2006
Singapore Musical Theatre
Making the Grade
Writing Musicals
Musicals from Movies
Fred Ebb
The Story of Chess
Mama Mia
Bad Vibrations
Chestnuts 2003
Chestnuts 2004
Chestnuts 2005
Incubating New Musicals
List of Musicals on Film
Is Musical Theatre Dead?
Is Classical Music Dead?
Is Poetry Dead?
Why Read Poetry?
New Words
Nothing's Wrong
Hippie Dictionary
Singlish Dictionary
Blog Dictionary
Best of the Best
English Spoke
Reading in Decline
Too Many Books
Magic of Reading
Pablo Neruda
Graphic Novels
Writers Bar
Lost For Words
Encyclopedia Wars
Library in Cyberspace
The Bridge
Growing A Film Industry
Great Levellers
Rote Rites and Rongs
Beautiful Minds
Create Talented Individuals?
Rise of the Creative Class
Perchance to Dream
Children's EQ
Gifted Education
Gifted Children
Mozart Effect
Confucius and Multiple Intelligences
Predicting Your Future
Mistyping Personality
Messy Homes
Does Age Matter?
Too Young for Philosophy?
Philosopher for Hire
Deconstructing Derrida
University Quotas
Ranking Universities
University Ranking Continued
The Future of Universities
If Thine Eye Offends Thee
If It Ain't Broke
New Exams for Old!
Too Many Test
The Sincerest Form of Flattery
Childhood Memories
Signs of Success
Follow Your Dreams
First Impressions
Handphone Etiquette
Handphones Silenced
Apple Of My i
Sex and the Media
The Greeks
Geographic Clangers
Domino Theory
Hello Kitty
Heels on Wheels
What a Racket!
Potty Training
Skip to the Loo
Corporal Punishment
Is Modern Art Rubbish?
Mona Lisa Grins
Sunday in the Park
Vision and Art
Spam Glorious Spam!
Humble Pie
Sour Grapes?
Murphy's Law Calculator
Perfect Search
False Logic
Noah's Ark
Who Discovered America?
Palaces of Dictators
Joys of Stress
Games Academics Play
Virtual Reality Treatmemt
Autistic Underconnectivity
Asperger Syndrome
Pay Attention!
Attention Deficit
Speech Delay
Almost Normal
Prozac Nation
Gilles de la Tourette
Singapore Medicine
Virtual Dissection
War Against Malaria
Into the Frying Pan
Back to Methuselah
Poetic Medicine
Far Eastern Economic Review
History of the Singapore Musical
My Research
Singapore Idle
Best Countries
Brain Drain
Greatest Happiness
Remaking Singapore
Singapore Nobel Prize
Singapore MRT Map
National Day
Caste System
Doctors' Fees
Leadership and Teambuilding
Doctor Do-Much
Play it Again, Doc
A Dose of Music
Prescription for the Heart
Multiple Personality
Fly By Night
Rape of Nanking
Iris Chang
Anne Frank
Angela's Ashes
The Notebook
Hollywood Insider
Fahrenheit 9/11 Pirates
The Front
The Barbarian Invasions
Les Choristes
The Return
Road Home
Farewell My Concubine
So You Want to be a Nurse
School House Rockz
Makan Place
e-mail me




by Kenneth Lyen

The newspaper of 10 July 2004 announced that the Vietnam Government had culled 8000 chicken because some of the fowl had contracted bird flu. Immediately I thought what a euphemistic way of saying that they killed poultry. I thought that the word "cull" was a corruption of the word "kill". It is therefore to my surprise to discover that this is not the case.

Now, I must confess that we writers (referring to yours truly), have a somewhat distorted view of life. First what are the facts? The World Health Organisation reported that so far 100 million chicken have been culled due to Asian influenza, and to date only 22 humans have succumbed to bird flu. Instead of discussing the morality of pre-emptive mass slaughter of innocent chicken to save a rather undeserving humanity, I am focusing on the etymology of the words used to carry out this avian holocaust. So sue me.

Used as a verb, "to cull" is "to remove rejected members or parts from", for example, a herd. It also has a meaning of "to pick out, gather, or collect". The word is derived from the Latin, "colligere" which means to "gather together." Tennyson used the word with this meaning in a poem: "Whitest honey in fairy gardens culled."

When "cull" was first used in the English language around 1330, it meant to "put through a strainer." It is this connotation which evolved into its more nefarious meaning. So when Dryden used the word in his poem, it had already attracted this more sinister meaning: "From his herd he culls, For slaughter, from the fairest of his bulls." Thus can you picture government officials ramming their bird flu suspects through a giant strainer, and oozing from the bottom is a chicken puree?

When used as a noun, "a cull" is "something picked out from others", especially something rejected because of inferior quality. An example of this is the "cull tree", which is live saw-timber and pole-timber size trees which do not contain a merchantable sawlog due to poor form, quality, or undesirable species.

It would be beneficial for cancerous cells in our bodies to be culled. But it would definitely not be desirable for people to be culled.

Coming back to my mistaken assumption that cull is a corruption of kill, you would probably have already realised that the etymology of "kill" is quite different from "cull". "Kill" is derived from the Old English "cyllan", or possibly from the Indo-European "gwel-in".

In the final analysis, to cull is really to kill, regardless of the etymology. So Quentin Tarantino, might you call your next film Cull Bill 3?

PS: I just read a new report blaming the bird flu on ducks rather than chickens. Poor chicks, little did they know that the doctors were a bunch of quacks!