By Farooq A. Kperogi
Contemporary Nigerian media English, for the most part, derives from a fetid repertoire of aggravatingly stereotyped and error-ridden phraseology. I have isolated 10 recurrent ones that particularly grate on my nerves.
While some of the expressions I have highlighted below are outright grammatically incorrect, others are grammatically correct but either laughably outdated or hopelessly clichéd. Either way, they all need to be dumped like “the verbal refuse” that they are. The numbering of the expressions is entirely arbitrary; it doesn’t indicate a hierarchical ordering of their egregiousness.
1. “Remains deposited at the mortuary.” This is almost the standard expression in Nigerian media English to say that a dead body has been delivered at the mortuary. There are two problems with this expression. First, the word “remains” is too formal for a news story. “Corpse” and “dead body” are the more usual words. And “deposit” is a singularly quaint verb to associate with death, especially in popular usage.
There are three principal senses of the word “deposit” in conversational English. The first and most popular is to put money or other valuables in a bank account. The second sense is to put, fix, force or implant something, as in “deposit a bullet in the table.” And the third sense is to situate something, that is, to put something somewhere firmly, as in “deposit the suitcase on the bench.” It’s unclear how this expression sprang in Nigerian media English, but it makes me sick to my stomach.
2. “Hear him,” or “in his words.” These are not strictly grammatically incorrect expressions; they are just ugly, inappropriate and superfluous verbiages. The convention in journalistic writing globally is to quote a source and acknowledge attribution by writing “(s)he said” at the end of a sentence. Example: “I hope Yar’adua lives long enough to save us from a potentially destructive constitutional crisis,” he said.
Now, when Nigerian newspaper journalists write “hear him,” they are not only being superfluous; they are also being unfaithful to the medium in which they write. We don’t literally “hear” people in print; we read them. And to write “in his words” while at the same time inserting quotation marks to those words is redundant. It is precisely because you’re quoting your source “in his words” that the sentence is in quotation marks. It’s, of course, appropriate to write “in his words” in broadcast scripts since they are meant to be read out.
3. “As at the time of filing this report.” Well, the correct expression, which is actually a fixed prepositional phrase, is “AS OF,” not “as at.” So, that sentence should read: “As of the time of filing this report.” This solecism has sadly percolated deep into the conventions of Nigerian English in general.
4. “Men of the underworld.” This expression has lost currency in other parts of the English-speaking world. But my gripe with it is that it’s a hackneyed, flyblown cliché that evinces the intellectual laziness of Nigerian journalists. Why not simply write “criminals”?
5. “Names withheld.” This expression rankles me to no end. It’s not only unprofessional and irresponsible journalism to habitually conceal the identity of the subjects you are writing about (as in, “a south-south governor in an oil-rich state [names withheld] is involved in a corruption scandal”); it’s also exasperatingly redundant to state that you have withheld the name of someone whose name you have not mentioned anyway! It is obvious to any reader that a name has been withheld if it’s not mentioned. But what is particularly irking about this practice is that it is used even in reporting stories of crucial public importance.
If reporters and editors are not prepared to name names, even where it is legally and ethically safe to do so, why waste ink and space to opaquely hint at them? But the bad news for editors and reporters who practice this imbecilic and feeble-minded journalism is that, in media law, not directly mentioning the name of a person or an organization is not sufficient safeguard against legal liability. If a person or a company can prove that there is sufficient material basis for “right-thinking” members of the society to infer that they are the object of a libelous newspaper innuendo, the paper is in the soup.
6. “Electioneering campaign.” “Electioneering” and “political campaign” mean the same thing. So “electioneering campaign” is tautologous. It’s either electioneering or campaign.
7. “Our story is true in every material particular.” The phrase “in every material particular” is an archaic legal jargon. It is not used in everyday English in any native variety of the English language.
8. “Yesteryears.” This old-fashioned word, which is sometimes used for literary effects, has no plural in both the British and American varieties of Standard English. It remains “yesteryear” whether it’s in the singular or plural form. Another word that Nigerian newspapers—and by extension Nigerian speakers of the English language—pluralize against conventional practice is “slang.” The plural is often rendered as “slangs” in Nigeria. In Standard English, however, the plural form of slang does not take an “s”; it is often rendered as “slang expressions.”
9. “A free-for-all fight.” This tautologic expression is probably a consequence of the misrecognition of the part of speech of “free-for-all.” It is a noun, not an adjective, and cannot modify another noun. It means a brawl, a noisy fight in a crowd. So it is sufficient to simply write that there was a free-for-all without adding “fight.”
10. “Not unconnected with.” This expression is not grammatically wrong but is hopelessly hackneyed and pretentious. George Orwell once urged us to laugh the not un- formation out of existence by memorizing this sentence: “A not unblack dog was chasing a not unsmall rabbit across a not ungreen field.”