"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: 09/15/10

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Q and A on grammar

By Farooq A. Kperogi


I have resumed the question-and-answer portion of my column that I suspended for some time. This will henceforth be a regular feature of this page. I encourage readers to send in their questions and I will be sure to answer them. Next week, I will write on the African origins of some common English words.

Question:

Let me start by saying I really enjoy reading your pieces on the English language and I am turning into a fan of yours. I would like to ask for your opinion or rather the correct phrase to use to express the name one would give to a tanker carrying water which has been treated.

Currently here in Kaduna between my parents, fiancĂ©e, and a couple of friends it’s between these two phrases: "treated water tanker" and "treated tanker water".

Thank you very much for your highly anticipated response.

Answer:

"Treated water tanker" is clearly the more correct phrase since what is "treated" is the water and not the tanker. The tanker is merely carrying water that has been treated.

Question:

I’m a frequent reader of your articles at the Nigerian village square. Although I’m not a Nigerian I enjoy reading different point of views wherever I can. I came across some of your write-ups and I was inspired.

Anyhow, I’m Kenyan by nationality. You might be aware about what’s been going on politically in Kenya. For last five years or so, our media, politicians etc, have coined words that have left me confused. Two particularly common words/phrases are (1) “Attack[ed]” and (2) “Kenyans have made up [their] mind.”

What really irks me is how those words are interchanged to drive a political agenda. For example, during political rallies, depending on which political party is addressing contentious issues, a politician standing in front of a mammoth crowd will declare "Kenyans have made up [their] minds" or [will say] his/her party is being "attacked." Of course our news media will repeat the same.

So, I m left thinking/wondering what happens to the rest of Kenyans that don't buy into any political party’s agenda? Do they become less Kenyans?

Hopefully you get my drift.

Answer:

You raise interesting questions about the deceitful use of language for political purposes. This is not, however, limited to Kenya. It happens in Nigeria too. In fact, it happens everywhere in the world and, for that matter, in every generation. George Orwell was the first notable person to call attention to this type of language usage. In his famous 1946 essay titled, “Politics and the English language,” he said, “political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.”

 This is done, he pointed out elsewhere, through staleness of imagery and lack of precision. The expression “Kenyans have made up their minds” is certainly not only stale but also fraudulently imprecise. No one, not least the politicians, have conducted any scientific opinion poll to determine whether or not Kenyans have made up their minds on any issue. The expression is intended only to anesthetize the Kenyan population into a false sense of consensus with the points of views of the politicians making the claims. But more than this, it’s also convenient and ready-made; it doesn’t require any thinking to say it.

Orwell identified three features of the political language of his time: dying metaphors, verbal false limbs, and pretentious diction. This is true of our time too. The evidence can be found in the examples you cited.

Question:
I want to say a BIG THANK YOU for your essays. I personally have gained a lot from them.

I have a question for you. In one of your essays, you wrote that there is no such thing as naming ceremony in both American and British English. I googled "naming ceremony" and found that there is naming ceremony even in Wikipedia and BBC.

There is an English course book (advanced) called Innovations by Hugh Dellar and Andrew Walkley and I found in one of the units naming ceremony. Could you help on this as I am a bit confused?

You can use my questions in your column, but I would like to be anonymous.

Answer:

You are right that there is such a thing as “naming ceremony.” However, the expression has no currency in both contemporary American and British English, precisely because Americans and Britons do not celebrate the christening (that’s the more usual word for “naming” in American and British English) of their children as elaborately as we do. The fact that a word or an expression exists in the dictionary or on a web site does not in itself suggest that its usage is current.

I have been living in America for quite some time now and have never heard any native-born American refer to the christening of their children as a “naming ceremony.” My British friends also tell me they don’t use that expression now. They probably did in the past.

What I have learned, though, after writing the article you referred to, is that Orthodox Jews also call christening “naming ceremony”-- like we do in Nigeria. So, clearly, the expression is not uniquely Nigerian. It probably survived in Nigerian English from old-fashioned British English.


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