"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Is “Febuhari” Nigerian English’s Most Creative Pun?

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D. 
Twitter: @farooqkperogi 
 I am blown away by the morphological and semantic creativity in the coinage of the term “Febuhari” by the contagiously ebullient social media foot soldiers of APC presidential candidate General Muhammadu Buhari.  It’s a well-thought-out pun that simultaneously exploits the ambiguities of sound, meaning, time, and language to make a compellingly humorous yet deeply political and rhetorical statement.

Puns, also known as paronomasia, are, by definition, a play on words. According to the Oxford Dictionary of English, puns artfully manipulate “the different possible meanings of a word or the fact that there are words that sound alike but have different meanings.” Based on this definition, it is customary to taxonomize puns in many different forms, but I’ll discuss only three types of puns in this piece. The commonest type of pun is the homophonic pun. This type of pun depends on the similarity in the sounds of words to achieve its effect. Examples are: “Why is it so wet in England? Because many kings and queens have REIGNED there.” “Doctors need PATIENCE.” In these examples, the writers exploit the similarities in sound between “rain” and “reign” and between “patience” and “patients” to achieve both humor and intentional ambiguity.

Homographic puns are the other common types of puns. They exploit the similarities in the spellings of otherwise dissimilar words. An example is: “There was once a cross-eyed teacher who couldn't control his PUPILS.” In this example, “pupil” is exploited for humor and creative ambiguity.  “Pupil” both means a schoolchild and the black dot in the eye. In the context of the sentence, both senses of the word convey two equally valid but different meanings. When you’re cross-eyed, you can’t control the pupil of your eyes, and when you’re a cross-eyed teacher, it’s hard to control unruly pupils because you can’t see them clearly.

There is another type of pun called a recursive pun. It’s a two-pronged pun that requires the reader to have some familiarity with the first part of the pun in order to make sense of the second. Example: "A Freudian slip is when you say one thing but mean your mother." To understand “the Freudian slip” part of the pun, you need to know about Sigmund Freud’s controversial Oedipus complex, which basically says men’s subconscious desires to sexually possess their mothers causes them to be hostile to their fathers.

“Febuhari” encapsulates several of these categories of pun. Let’s start with the obvious. The forthcoming presidential electoral contest of which Buhari is a major contender against the incumbent will take place in February this year. The similarity in sound between February (pronounced fe-bu-wari in Nigeria and fe-biu-ari in southern United States) and “febuhari” makes “febuhari” a homophonic pun. 

In fact, in southwest Nigeria where most Yoruba people don’t phonologically distinguish “h” from “e” in spoken English (which some people have called the “h factor” in Yoruba English) “febuhari” and “February” may actually sound alike in everyday conversations. Similarly, in writing, “febuhari” and “February” share striking orthographic similarities. The similarities are not sufficient to qualify “febuhari in February” as a homographic pun, but it closely approximates it.

It’s probably the rich cultural ingredients in “Febuhari” that make the coinage particularly profoundly creative. The presidential election won’t just take place in February; it will take place on February 14, which is Valentine’s Day, celebrated worldwide as a day of love. Now, here is where it gets really intriguing: “ifẹ” in Yoruba means “love.” Thus, “febuhari” roughly translates as the clipped version of “love Buhari” in Yoruba.  There are two ways in which this is a deeply poignant recursive pun.

First, Buhari’s social media aficionados have implored Nigerians to show love to Buhari on “lover’s day” by voting for him en masse. This political advocacy exploits the coincidence of the dates of Valentine’s Day and of Nigeria’s presidential election in remarkably inventive ways. In other words, the Buhari social media enthusiasts (let’s call them “febuharists”) are saying: “let Buhari be your Valentine this Valentine’s Day.” As people who are familiar with Valentine’s Day tradition know,  to agree to be someone’s Valentine is synonymous with agreeing to risk all for the sake of the love you have for the person. This love isn’t necessarily amorous; it often, in fact, is agape love, as selfless, fraternal love is called in Christian theological discourse. In any case, Valentine actually means “strength” in Latin. The word shares lexical ancestry with “valor” and “valiant,” which both mean bravery, heroism, gallantry, etc. So the dimension of “febuhari” that means a call to action for Nigerians to leave everything aside and vote for Buhari on February 14 requires a knowledge of the traditions of Valentine Day celebrations. That makes it a recursive pun of some kind.

Second, if Buhari wins the 2015 presidential election, it would be because of the political alliance he struck with the Yoruba people in Nigeria’s southwest. In the three previous elections he ran for president, Buhari’s appeal—and votes—were confined to the Muslim north. As I’ve pointed out in previous articles, that’s never sufficient to win a national mandate. What has changed in this election cycle is the massive “ifẹ” (let’s just shorten it to “fe”) that Buhari seems to be getting from the Yoruba people. If the unprecedentedly effusive profusion of “fe” from Yoruba people for Buhari leads to his electoral triumph in the February 14 election, it would give a whole new meaning to “febuhari.”

Now, I am aware that President Jonathan’s supporters have come up with a counter Twitter hashtag called “FailBuhari.” There isn’t even the tiniest smidgen of linguistic creativity in the hashtag. It suffers from several originality deficits. It doesn’t manipulate any aural, semantic, or visual cues to convey any special sense. In other words, it isn’t the least bit punny. Maybe the creators of “FailBuhari” would have had better luck inventing their own pun around “good luck,” the president’s first name, which lends itself to countless punning possibilities. 

You don’t have to like Buhari’s youthful and high-spirited online devotees (some of whom can be insufferably obnoxious) to admit that they have created Nigeria’s most ingenious political neologism. 

In an April 8, 2010 article titled “On ‘Metaphors’ and ‘Puns’ in Nigerian Media English,” I wrote: “Then you have ‘pun intended’ or 'no pun intended,’ which our journalists— and people who are influenced by their writing— understand to mean any meaningless and arbitrary collocation of phrases. I have read many articles by Nigerians with the phrases ‘no pun intended’ and ‘pun intended’ and couldn’t help wondering if the writers actually know what a pun means.” Febuharists may not know what a pun is, but they will sure go down in history as Nigeria’s best punners.

The last two columns contained proofreading errors that I wish to draw the attention of my readers to. In my January 18, 2015 column titled “President Jonathan’s Awkward Grammatical Miscues on the Campaign Trail,” I wrote: “American English speakers now just say ‘senior(s)” instead of ‘citizen citizen(s),’ although ‘senior citizen(s)’ still appears in America’s informal and formal registers.” Change “citizen citizen(s)” to “senior citizen(s).”

In my January 25, 2015 column titled “Q and A on Nigerian English Learner Errors,” several ungainly proofreading errors appeared. I wrote “Although Nigerian speaker use it a lot, contemporary English speaker no longer use it.” Elsewhere, I wrote, “Nigerian English speaker routinely pluralize it” and “have never hear a native English speakers…” The sentences should be “Although Nigerian speakers use it a lot, contemporary English speakers no longer use it.” “Nigerian English speakers routinely pluralize it.” “[H]ave never heard a native English speaker…”

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Re: Between Obama’s “Birthers” and Buhari’s “WASCers”

Last week’s column inspired many reactions from readers. Read a sample below.

“WASCers.” Wow! That’s an apt coinage. It almost sounds like “rascals,” which is what these conspiracy theorists are. No evidence will convince them that GMB has a WASC. Not even a statement from Cambridge University itself will make them change their minds. They are far too gone in believing their own lies that it’s pointless trying to persuade them. Thanks for your wonderful and creative comparison of Obama’s plight in the hands of American “birther” conspiracy theorists and Buhari’s “WASCer” conspiracy theorists. If there is one lesson we can learn from your comparison, that lesson is that Buhari will ultimately overcome these knuckleheads. That’s why they are scared to death. Thank you for another pleasant read!
Sabi’u Umar

Indeed, the issue in this election is the growing insecurity in the land, the mass of unemployed youth, the hopelessness of the economy and the unprecedented scale of corruption. Having been in power for nearly six years, President Jonathan is manifestly incapable to save the situation. Not long ago, under his watch, many innocent youth, in their prime, died while attending interview into Nigeria Immigration Service. Unfortunately NOBODY was sanctioned for this heinous crime. The Chibok girls are still in the custody of Boko Haram, corruption is still being officially glorified and handsomely rewarded, the country has never been so divided along some primordial lines for some selfish gains etc.
Idris Muhammad

Personally I am not enthused by this certificate brouhaha, because Nigeria has more records of certificate failures than certificate successes in high places. Jega for example is a University Professor in political science, but he could not make and deliver ordinary voters cards to Nigeria over a span of four years. Is this not a certificate failure just like Goodluck's certificate? Dr. Ngozi Eweala who is a World Bank trained expert in finance claimed she didn't know when $49 billion and $20 billion were stolen from Nigerian treasury. No, no, no more certificates or doctors or professors. Nigeria has suffered badly from certificate brouhaha.
Abubakar Ahmed

"It’s frankly silly to obsess about the “O” level school certificate of a man who not only rose to the pinnacle of his military career but became the head of state of his country. In all this, though, it is the Nigerian military’s public statement on this issue that bothers me deeply. When a national military that can’t defeat a gang of domestic terrorists gets embroiled in dirty politicking, you know you’re in really perilous times.”

I agree with the above, but the rest of the essay is simply a lot of noise to mask poorly Farooq's preference for Sai Buhari. America's constitution is not cut-and-paste like Nigeria's. If they ask you for a birth certificate, that is what you give them. If they ask you for your high school certificate that is what you give them. No "presidential candidate" worth his salt drags himself into a non-issue and then gives it traction. Buhari is not ready for prime time. He simply allowed the crooked duo of Tinubu and #‎PremiumLies to embarrass him.
Ikhide R. Ikheloa
I am not deceived by anything. The school published the results of the entire class. His name was there as a graduant in 1961 along with other prominent names. The INEC accepts his affidavit, that's enough for me, and other clear-thinking Nigerians. He will run for president, this much is fact, find peace!
Emmanuel Aja Oga

The last time I checked "The secondary school" he attended, have released his "detailed statement of results" and "the statistics of the entire 1961 set" to the print media. But the WASCers (as expected) still said it is "forgery" (like BIRTHers) and doesn't meet the constitutional requirements which states: "....educated up to school leaving certificate level or equivalents". Like "BIRTHers", like WASCers......
Idris M Kabir

Dr Farooq Kperogi evidently took the bull by its horns. But I bet the political nitwits and fried-brained chihuahuas won't stop barking. They can't stop an idea whose time has come. Their gang-up won't stop a moving tsunami.
Asaju Tunde

Remember Zambia, too, where the then ruling party succesfully stopped a former independence President of the country, Kaunda, from contesting an election on the grounds that he was not born in Zambia....they claimed he was a Malawian; worse, they succeeded in pushing him out permanently.
Ibrahim Gashash

You got it as it really is, Prof. Kperogi. Above everything else, the ‘intervention’ of the military scares me the more. Nigeria is truly in trouble; its unity is held only by a thread. Almost all the security institutions of the country are covertly or overtly partaking in filthy politicking. Earlier on, the police tear-gassed the Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal, and then the DSS gave the opposition an ultimatum against ‘insensitive’ remarks while thugs like Dokubo Asari are continuously calling for war should President Jonathan lose the election. What’s more? May Allah’s miracle save our dear country from ruin, amin. May the “WASCers” lose the same way the “birthers” did, amin.
Muhsin Ibrahim

"Do you find any parallels here between American birthers and Nigerian WASCers?" Yes, I do. The parallels are strikingly similar, I must say. But I'm very, very optimistic that the WASCers will fail, like their counterpart Birthers did fail in America.
Àmà Usman Mohammed

This has indeed made not just my day, but my whole weekend readings. Thanks a lot, sir.
Ahmad Ibraheem Na-Allah

Related Article:

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Q and A on Nigerian English Learner Errors

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

This edition of my Q and A column answers such questions as why I wrote “I know all this” instead of “I know all these” in a previous article, why the Nigerian media English expression “rented the air” is wrong, why “yesternight” isn’t a legitimate word, and why “yesteryear” and “kith and kin” are never pluralized in Standard English. I also answered a question about the grammaticality of the expression “it is high time we invited them.” 

If you’re on Twitter, follow me and feel free to send your questions to me via the medium. My handle is @farooqkperogi.

In your November 15, 2014 Weekly Trust column titled “Wole Soyinka’s Ignorant Statement on Ebiras and Fulanis” you wrote “I know all this because…” I think you’re wrong. It should be “I know all these because…”

You’re not the first person to express this sentiment. I have received at least 10 other emails from readers who thought “all this” should be “all these.” I want to first note that I make no pretense to being perfect. I, too, make mistakes. But “all this” isn’t one of them.

“All this” is perfectly grammatical. But I can understand why some Nigerians think it’s ungrammatical. The first time I came across “all this” in a book a long time ago I also thought the book’s author was wrong. After all, when used as a pronoun “all” means “all people” or “all things,” which makes it a plural anaphor that should agree with plural nouns and verbs. (An anaphor is any word, for example a pronoun, that helps us avoid repetition by standing in for what had been mentioned earlier). But that’s not always true; “all” does not always agree with a plural verb. This is evidenced by the age-old proverb that goes: "all is well that ends well." No one says “all are well that end well.” Also note that the fixed expression “granting all this,” which is synonymous with “even though,” isn’t written as “granting all these.”

Having said that, it helps to know that there is a difference between “all this” and “all these.” “All this” means several things taken as a single whole while "all these” means several things considered as separate items. If I had written "I know all this things because..." I would have been guilty of a subject-verb discordance. But I wrote "I know all this because..." It means I regarded all that I mentioned before as a single whole.

 Another way to explain it is to say “all this” is the only appropriate phrase to use when the plural subjects you refer to are abstract. “All these” is appropriate only when concrete, discrete things are mentioned or implied AFTER the phrase, as in “all these people,” “all these things,” “all these drinks” etc.

Professor David Jowitt’s book, Nigerian English Usage: An Introduction, actually identifies the tendency to use “all these” in the sense you—and other Nigerian readers who wrote to me— suggested I use it as uniquely Nigerian English usage. On page 248 of his book, he wrote: “[Popular Nigerian English] regularly uses ‘these’ as an anaphoric pronoun referring to several abstract entities, where [Standard British English] uses ‘this.’ The [Popular Nigerian English] usage may be a sign of phonological non-differentiation (i.e., of /I/ and /i/…).” He cited a passage from Chukuemeka Ike’s The Naked Gods to buttress his point. The passage goes thus: “The only thing missing was a swimming pool, and he had hoped to make this up by importing one of the portable type [sic] from the States. In preparation for his impending reunion with his family, he had begun to construct a volley ball pitch and an archery range. The sudden decision to leave had upset all these.”

In the last sentence, “all these” should correctly be “all this.” Professor Jowitt’s suggestion that the tendency for Nigerian English users to use “all these” where native speakers use “all this” is a result of their inability to phonologically differentiate “this” from “these” isn’t accurate. While it is true that most Nigerians can’t phonologically differentiate “these” from “this” in their spoken English, I think their inability to differentiate “all these” from “all this” in their written English is a consequence of learner error. Nigerians have been taught that “these” is the plural form of “this,” and that “these” anaphorically refers to plural subjects while “this” anaphorically refers only to a singular subject. So they use this knowledge to make faulty inferences about the rules for using “all these” and “all this.” They haven’t been taught that “all this” is the only acceptable option in standard written English when reference is made to abstract subjects taken as a single whole. As Jowitt’s example shows, even Nigeria’s finest writers haven’t caught on to this tricky rule.

In Nigeria we like to say things like “shouts of ‘thief!’ ‘thief!!’ rented the air.” My question is: is the word “rented” used correctly here? If yes, is “rent” the present tense of “rented”? In other words, can I say “shouts of ‘thief!’ ‘thief!!’ will rent the air”?

I addressed this issue in my forthcoming book, which should come out in July or August this year. This is what I wrote in the book, which is being published by Peter Lang Publishing USA: “Nigerian newspapers customarily write that shouts or cries “rented the air,” such as in this Vanguard news report: ‘There were uncontrollable shouts of “Nigeria sai Shema”, which rented the air when Sambo climbed the rostrum before he began his speech prior to his commissioning of the secretariat, which many interpreted to be a tacit call on Shema to take a shot at the presidency or vice presidency’ (Umoru, 2014). In Standard English the fixed expression that means ‘disturb (the air, silence, etc.) with a shrill or piercing tone’ is ‘rend the air’ and its past tense is ‘rent the air’ (as in: ‘shouts of “PDP!” rent the air’). ‘Rented’ is the past of ‘rent,’ that is, the temporary use of something under a contract such as renting an apartment.”

So saying “shouts of ‘thief!’ ‘thief!!’ will rent the air” would be ungrammatical. It should correctly be “shouts of ‘thief!’ ‘thief!!’ will REND the air.”

I had a prolonged argument with my friends as a result of a sentence we heard in a Nollywood movie. Desmond Elliot said, “Is this girl your sister? “It’s high time she LEFT this house...” They giggled terribly. They said he was wrong; that it was supposed to be “Its high time she LEAVE”. Prior to that, another person in the same film stated in another different scene that “It’s high time we INVITED the police”. I tried to convince them that that those sentences were right but they didn't believe me. I will like you to kindly help us out.

You are right, and they are wrong. "It's high time" or sometimes "it's time" usually goes with a past tense if the intent is to convey the sense that something which should have been done has not been done or is late being done.

Is “yesternight” a legitimate word? How about “yesteryear”?

Although Nigerian English speakers use it a lot, “yesternight” is an archaic word. That means contemporary native English speakers no longer use it. I have never heard a native English speaker say “yesternight” in all the years I’ve lived here. In place of “yesternight,” they say “last night.”

Yesteryear, on the other hand, is still in common use among native speakers. It means past times. However, unlike Nigerian English speakers, native English speakers don’t pluralize “yesteryear.” That is, “yesteryear” is never pluralized to “yesteryears.” It remains “yesteryear” whether it’s singular or plural, as in, “the people of yesteryear must give way to the youth.”

What is wrong with saying “kiths and kins” as a synonym for “relations” or “family members”?

The usual expression is “kith and kin.” It is never pluralized, although Nigerian English speakers routinely pluralize it in speech and writing. 


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