The recent government ‘Appreciate Hong Kong’ campaign came with a slogan that you
can still see around, splashed across bus bodies and billboards:
In Hong Kong we trust, we love, we appreciate
According to Chief Secretary for Administration Carrie Lam, writing on the Appreciate Hong Kong webpage, the purpose of the campaign is “to consolidate the forces from every sector and instil the positive energy to the public from various aspects.” (http://www.appreciatehk.gov.hk/eng/)
There’s no doubt that in English, the words trust, love and appreciate all carry the ‘positive energy’ that the Chief Secretary is so keen on. Unfortunately though, the impossible grammar of the slogan brings with it a lot of negative energy too!
The first part of the slogan, ‘In Hong Kong we trust’, is modeled on a very famous expression in English that can be found on every US banknote: ‘In God We Trust’.
This is a striking and powerful expression because of the way ‘In God’ is positioned at the start of the sentence. The grammatical ordering highlights and foregrounds the important thing that is trusted. The ‘Appreciate Hong Kong’ slogan writers have copied this to create a similarly powerful opening, ‘In Hong Kong we trust’ (though it does raise the question, how exactly do we ‘trust in’ Hong Kong? Normally we talk about trusting a person, a system or an institution. Does this mean we trust in the government of Hong Kong?).
Now, though, the grammatical problems start. Two more parallel clauses are added to qualify ‘In Hong Kong’ – we love, we appreciate. To show why these are problematic, let’s give the sentence a more standard arrangement:
Though we can talk about ‘trusting in’ someone or something, we cannot talk about ‘loving in’ or ‘appreciating in’ someone or something. In other words, these three expressions are not - and cannot - be placed in parallel in English. What is really meant is ‘we love Hong Kong’ and ‘we appreciate Hong Kong’ – but this is not what the slogan says!
The slogan writers have tried to achieve a nice, catchy three-part parallel structure. And they have done so, but only by breaking the rules of English grammar! For a slogan that spent six months and more splashed on the side of Hong Kong’s buses, that’s not a good look….
About this blog
This blog arises from keeping an eye on English in Hong Kong. I often use signs, notices and advertisements that I see as starting points to write about English issues that commonly challenge Hong Kong writers.