"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Top 10 University Student Slang Words in Popular Nigerian English

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.


Slang words are often, by nature, transitory and limited to particular age groups, subcultures, eras, and even professions. But a few slang words do endure and make the transition from marginality to respectable mainstream usage. A notable example of a word in common usage today, especially in British English, that started life as a student slang term is “don,” an alternative word for a university teacher. An English-grammar website called World Wide Words says it was undergraduates at Oxford and Cambridge universities who first used “don” as a slang term to refer to their teachers. And then the term caught on.


“The source [of the word] is the Spanish Don, originally a term of high rank, which derives from Latin dominus, master or lord, which has also bequeathed English words such as dominate and dominium, as well as domine, a one-time term of respect for a clergyman or a member of a learned profession and — as dominie — for a schoolmaster in Scotland. Around the middle of the seventeenth century, English began to use don for a leader or a man of importance or ability; to be a don was to be an adept at some activity, whether literature, cricket or a craft skill. Undergraduates at Oxford and Cambridge began to humorously apply don to the tutors and fellows of their colleges, with perhaps an echo of domine, and the term went into the language,” the website says.

There are many words in mainstream Nigerian English that also started as university student slang words but are now in general use in Nigeria. In fact, many Nigerians don’t recognize these words and their meanings as nonstandard. I list 10 such words below.

1. “Dub.” It means to cheat during exams by copying another person’s test answers word for word. It’s obviously derived from a metaphorical extension of the sense of dubbing that means “make a copy of a recording,” as in "dub music from CD to tape." 

Slang terms are notoriously difficult to periodize and etymologize because they are usually first primarily spoken for a long time before they are written, but it seems to me that “dub” entered Nigerian English in the early 1980s and reached the peak of its popularity in the 1990s. I thought it had lost currency in contemporary Nigerian English until I saw it used many times on a popular Nigerian online discussion site called Nairaland.com by people who are obviously not students.

2. “Gist” (sometimes misspelled as “jist”). This is probably the most popular Nigerian student slang term that has transitioned to mainstream Nigerian English.  In both formal and informal Nigerian English “gist” now means light informal conversation, especially about other people’s private business. A Nigerian celebrity gossip website called “gistmania.com” derives its name from this sense of the word. 

It can be used both as a verb (as in, “I’ll gist you about my ex-boyfriend”) and as a noun (as in, “I have hot gist for you about your friend”). Many Nigerians don’t seem to be aware that this usage of the word is nonstandard; that it started life as student slang, probably in the 1970s, in southern Nigerian universities. In Standard English, “gist” doesn’t have a verb form. It’s always a noun, and it means the main point of something, usually a message, a literary work, etc. Example: The gist of his 300-page book is that Nigeria can be salvaged.

The Oxford Dictionary says “gist” was originally a French word, and was rendered as “gesire.” It meant “to lie,” that is, to be located somewhere. In the 1600s, “gesire” entered English as “gist” first in legal vernacular and later in popular usage. Its meaning has remained unchanged since then—except in Nigerian English. 

3. “Form.” This word is used as a verb in Nigerian English to mean put on airs, that is, affect manners with intent to impress others, as in “the guy is just forming; that’s not the way he speaks naturally.” I thought the word was self-evidently slangy until I found that it is used even in formal contexts by Nigerian English users. Someone with a high level of proficiency in English also once asked me if the word was standard. That was when it really dawned on me that the word had crossed over to mainstream usage in Nigeria.

4. “Popsy.” This annoying word for father in informal Nigerian English was also initially a student slang term. It’s probably coined from a mimicry of “pops,” the colloquial American English term for father, which Vocabulary.com says is “derived from baby talk.” But, more crucially, “popsy” is a real word in British English and means—wait for it—an attractive young girl! It is also sometimes used as the diminutive form of poppet, a term of endearment for a girl or a child in informal British English. So good luck with calling your dad “popsy” in Britain.

5. “Mumsy.” This is the feminine version of “popsy,” also probably derived from the American English “moms,” the informal term for mother. Nevertheless, the Oxford Dictionary also says “mumsy” started to be used as a humorous variant of “mummy” (which Americans spell as “mommy”) since the 19th century. Maybe, that’s where the Nigerian English “mumsy” comes from. But in contemporary British English “mumsy” is chiefly an adjective of disapproval to describe women who are drab and unfashionable. Cambridge Dictionaries Online gives this example of the word’s usage: “As she became more successful, she changed her mumsy hairstyle for something more glamorous.”

6. “Swags.” Swag is universally recognized as the short form of “swagger,” a pompous manner of walking intended to impress others. But Nigerian youngsters tend to add an “s” to the end of the word, which makes it sound like British thieves’ slang term for stolen goods.

7. “Runs.” This slang term is too semantically slippery to be adequately captured in one definition, but it generally tends to be used to denote borderline illegal or immoral activities. It has graduated from a student slang word to a mainstream colloquial term, and appears to collocate frequently with “girl” or “babe,” as in “runs girl” or “runs babe,” which refers to polished, well-dressed girls, often university students, who engage in a form of soft prostitution.  Patrons of “runs babes” on university campuses are called “aristos,” the short form of aristocrat. But “runs” can also mean “run errands” with no suggestion of illegality or immorality, as in “let me do some runs before my 2 o’clock appointment.” 

8. “Jambite.” This refers to a first-year undergraduate, what Americans call a freshman, or what the British call a fresher. It’s formed from the acronym JAMB, which stands for Joint Admission and Matriculation Board, the agency that regulates entry into Nigerian universities. This previously marginal student slang term has gained mainstream acceptance in Nigerian English. It’s not unusual these days to see the term used in official communication from university administrators. 

9. “Number six.” It means one’s brain. To be told to use one’s “number six” is to be exhorted to be sensible. As Roger Blench observes in his draft Nigerian English Dictionary, this expression started as student slang. My recollection of the origins of this expression is that biology teachers in secondary schools often assigned the number 6 to the cerebral cortex, the grey matter of the brain. If my recollection is wrong I’d appreciate a correction from anyone who knows how the connection between number 6 and the human brain started in Nigeria.

10. “Toast.” This word competes with “gist” for the most popularly used Nigerian student slang term in mainstream Nigerian English. Used primarily as a verb, it means to talk to a girl. In the pre-Internet age, there used to be pamphlets that gave teenage boys tips on “how to toast a girl.” Now several Nigerian websites give tips to young men on “how to toast a girl.” As with most slang terms, toast has no basis in anything. It just erupted out of nowhere in student dorms.

 When toast is used as a verb in Standard English it usually means one of two things: to make something brown through exposure to heat (e.g. to toast slices of bread) or to say nice words before drinking a glass of water or wine in honor of a person or an event (as in, “let us toast the birthday boy!”).

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Re: Ebola, Ewedu, Babalawo Professors, and NAFDAC

Many readers, including medical doctors and professors of medicine and pharmacology, have reacted to my columns of the last two weeks on the fraudulent claims of Professors Adebukola Ositelu and Maurice Iwu who said they have found herbal cures for Ebola. What follows is a sample of the reactions. Enjoy.

Gosh, this is alarming. She actually looks and sounds like an imbecile.  It would be hilarious if it weren't about something so serious. This is exactly one of Africa's biggest problems -- the presence of a glut of opinionated ignoramuses who are only too willing to give their asinine advice to a superstitious public.

We have these highly-schooled idiots, who never enjoyed the benefit of real solid education, spreading their rash of misinformation on a whim. For all we know, this god-influenced professor could either be revealing the details of a dream she had, products of her warped imagination or something from a hallucinatory episode. Instead of confining such glaring idiocy to herself -- knowing that it is too foolish to be shared--she rushes to the press to talk some careless mumbo jumbo.

This ignorance and the unflinching belief in the supernatural is a growing concern in Africa, even in the 21st century, when information is readily available at the click of a button everywhere. But still, we have the likes of these capricious professional mischief-makers like Professor Maurice Iwu, and now this one, joining the ranks of stark illiterates like that tribal faith healing charlatan in Sierra Leone who carried her affliction from the bushes in Sokoma in Guinea, with astonishing claims that she could cure the disease. And people believed her, dying in droves and paying for their stupidity!! Even as I write today, Africans with long academic titles appended to their names are abusing the privilege of their connections to the internet with jaw-dropping claims about cures and conspiracy theories. This is incredibly rank from the lot of literate illiterate nincompoops. Thanks for another great write up.
Samira Edi, London

Vintage Professor Farooq Kperogi! I can't but agree with every line of his argument in his latest trending essay. It is unfortunate that a medical doctor at the rank of a professor can make such a weighty claim that Ewudu can cure Ebola without a single shred of evidence.

NMA and MDCN must urgently do something to stop further peddling of this kind of malignant ignorance designed to deceive the gullible mind.

When did we start having this Babalawo belief creeping in to 21st century medicine in Nigeria? I thought we've learned something from Abalaka's debacle on false claim for cure of HIV/AIDS!

Anyway, it is tragic that the motive of this spiritual cure may be dictated by the way the Nigerian Minister of Health (professor of orthopedic surgery) nearly committed millions of dollars of tax payers to procure a herbal preparation called Nanosilva from some American scammers as a cure for Ebola. It took the disclaimer by FDA to alert Nigerians of what the FG was trying to do. Why won't someone come up with Ewedu angle too? Fraud is half Nigerian.
Dr. Ibrahim Musa

Nigerians love cheap publicity and are titlemaniacs. And the most dangerous ones are those who bring religious sentiments into issues when what we need are hard facts.  A colleague of mine who is a psychiatrist told me that many religious leaders in Nigeria have psychiatric illnesses and that is why they claim revelations, prophecies, visions, etc. And with orthodox treatments by competent psychiatrists such hallucinations disappear.

You would expect that learned people would be more circumspect about their utterances since people look up to them; especially where religion is concerned.  After all, we all have our individual religious convictions, but we don't have to force it down other people’s throats just because we can command an audience.
Dr Amina A. AbdulRahman

It’s a huge relief reading that NAFDAC was alerted about this witchdoctor. I think I will dig out to find how she became a Professor in the first place. It may shed more light on her present shameless show of ineptitude.
Muhsin Ibrahim

I read your piece and found it very interesting and revealing, as usual. However, I wish to point out that "Ewedu" is known in Hausa as "Ayayau", and not "Rama", as you described in your write-up. And potash is called, "Kanwa", in Hausa, and not, "Kaun", at least the Hausa spoken in Katsina, Sokoto and Kano. I'm not sure of other places.
Ahmed Abdulkadir

Dr Kperogi, you are truly a professor of journalism. These professors of medical and pharmaceutical sciences know the ethics of scientific publishing, but prefer the ephemeral fame and lime light than sticking to norms of scientific empericism and documentation. Unfortunately our professional associations and regulatory agencies do not sanction such unscientific conducts. I hope they will be shamed by this piece. Thank you.
Prof. Jacob Kwaga

Reminds me of Dr Abalaka of Gwagwalada who not only claimed a cure for AIDS in those days, he administered the 'cure' in his clinic for a considerable length of time. And there is also Gambia's buffoon-in-chief Yahya Jammeh who can cure AIDS, asthma, hypertension and infertility. But at least, these two are not professors like the ones you wrote about.
Dr. Raji Bello

Sir, e be like say u wan make 'Nigerian Academia " blacklist you o. Na you raise issue about number of journals being published internationally by our 'know-it-all' professors, and questioning their productivity. You raised the lid on the “father of internet,” Phillip Emeagwali, Ndi Okereke Onyiuke, and other jegudujera professors. You were the one who opined on the consistent agitation for increased pay by our lecturers despite being the 13th highest paid in the world, and 'undermining' ASUU struggle. You're now calling our esteemed Pharmacognosy Professors,' Ebola Profs.' Diaris God ooo. All these facts you're sharing, do you want us to collapse the educational sector ni?
Kazeem Yusuf

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Ebola, Ewedu, Babalawo Professors, and NAFDAC

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

When I wrote my column last week titled “Nigeria’s Growing List of Voodoo Ebola Professors” I didn’t expect it to be as impactful as it turned out. First, Professor Adebukola Ositelu,  the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) eye doctor who claimed, without any empirical evidence, that ewedu “can prevent and cure Ebola” (causing me to call her “a Babalawo professor”), as if responding to my criticism of her, doubled down on her outrageous claims.
Adebukola Ositelu
She told the Guardian that her ewedu prescription for the prevention and cure of Ebola was inspired by a revelation from God, not by scientific research. "This was revealed by God to His people at a reservation after prayers,” she said. “If you want, you take it, if you don’t want, you reject it. There is no cause for argument; the wisdom of God is more than any other person’s. He is the one who created all these things and He can reveal it to us as He wants. It’s a grace which I think everyone should embrace. Ewedu is what we all eat, but the way they told us to prepare it is very different from what we’ve been doing before because we use it as delicacy [sic]. But this time around, it is used as medicine, for prevention and cure.

 “This confirms that the wisdom of man is foolishness before God and He only grants knowledge when He desires so to do [sic] for the benefit of mankind, whereas many believes [sic[ that it is their ingenuity that grants them fame- this is underserved accord [sic]."

The contemptibly sinister ignorance contained in this absurd rant is simply beyond the pale. How in God’s name did a woman with this kind of superstitious and atavistic mindset become a professor of medicine? Medicine! I certainly wouldn’t want someone like that to treat me if I have eye problems. She’s a real danger to humanity.
Ewedu
It appears that this women either isn’t who she claims to be or needs some mental examination. Something is definitely amiss. When a medical scientist mistakes her bizarre hallucinatory fantasies as divinely ordained cures for a fatal, pernicious disease, you know something isn’t screwed right somewhere. The Nigerian Medical Association should investigate this woman and stop her from endangering more lives.

When I called her a “Babalawo professor” last week, I was only being facetious. But she has now justified the label by telling the media that she didn’t need scientific research or drug tests to come out with a novel cure for an unknown disease. She evidently missed her calling. She should be a witch doctor, not a medical doctor. In fact, I think she has already cast her lot with witch doctors.

It is tragic that there are many glorified witch doctors with lab coats like Ositelu in our hospitals and universities. They are more dangerous than Ebola. They are insidious, hard-to-detect but persistent and privileged human viruses of illiteracy who spread and replicate fatal medical ignorance among gullible and helpless people. “Professors” like Adebukola Ositelu are a blight and a crying shame on the Nigerian academe.

That is why I’m relieved that the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, (NAFDAC) said it would prosecute “Professor” Ositelu for “making unverified claims that could mislead the public.”

Interestingly, the language that NAFDAC used to call out Ositelu is eerily similar to the language in my column. For instance, NAFDAC’s Director General, Dr. Paul Orhii, was quoted in the Vanguard of September 17, 2014 to have said, “One consequence of these unsupported and possibly fraudulent claims is that people may be misled into a false sense of invincibility on account of eating Ewedu or bitter kola and drop their guards.”

Compare that to what I wrote in my September 13, 2014 column: “One of the consequences of their flippant, unsupported, and probably fraudulent, claims to herbal cures for Ebola is that scores of people may be led to let down their guards and to be lulled into a false sense of invincibility on account of eating ewedu, or bitter kola, or whatever other wacky herbal remedy some other lazy, attention-seeking voodoo professors may come up with.”

The NAFDAC DG obviously got some inspiration for his intervention from reading my column. That’s heartening, even flattering. Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery. But it’s perplexing that Ositelu made her first claim about the curative efficacy of ewedu for the treatment and prevention of Ebola at a NAFDAC event, and she wasn’t cautioned by NAFDAC until we called her out. Well, better later than never.

Ositelu’s pronouncements constitute a grave medical malpractice because she is exploiting her prestige as a professor of medicine in one of Nigeria’s leading teaching hospitals to practice and popularize babalawo (or is it mamalawo) medicine. The social basis of her legitimacy derives from the fact of her being a medical doctor who is thought to be trained in the scientific method, who rose through the ranks to become a professor of medicine. But she clearly regards herself as a witch doctor who has no use for science and research, for whom psychoactive oracular visions are superior to scientific inquiry.

I hope people of conscience in the Nigerian medical and pharmacological community will rise up and speak up against this charlatan in their midst.

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