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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Q and A on Nigeria’s and Anglophone Africa’s Strange Political Expressions

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.


In this edition of my Q and A series, read why the expressions “cross-carpeting,” “decamping,” “decampees,” and “all protocols duly observed” are nonstandard. Enjoy.

Question:
Is it "cross-carpeting" or "carpet-crossing"? I could find neither in my dictionary. Do these words exist? If yes, do they mean “defecting"? Also, is "decamping" as used in Nigerian media correct?


Answer:
“Carpet-crossing” is certainly not a Standard English expression, but I would hesitate to characterize it as a uniquely Nigerian English expression because it also appears frequently in other varieties of West African English, notably Sierra Leonean and Ghanaian English, and occasionally in Indian English.

There is no doubt that it is derived from the British expression “crossing the floor (of the House),” which occurs when a member of parliament either bucks his political party and votes with members of an opposing party on an issue, or when he entirely switches political affiliation. In the British Parliament, members of the ruling party sit on the right side of the Speaker while members of the opposition sit on the left side. Members of parliament who have a reason to change political allegiance always have to “cross the floor” to join members of the other party.

During Nigeria’s First Republic, a carpet (which is the same thing as a floor since floors are always carpeted)  also separated members of parliament from the ruling party and those from the opposition parties, so changing political party affiliation also required “crossing the carpet” to the other side.

Under Nigeria’s current American-style presidential democracy, the expression is not only outdated; it is also unjustified. Although members of Nigeria’s national and state assemblies still sit according to party affiliations and are separated by a carpet, they are no longer the only players in the democratic game. There is a president, a vice present, governors, and deputy governors who are not members of parliament (who therefore don’t even have a chance to cross any carpet) and who can—and do— change party affiliations.

Now, here is the crux of the issue. In the First Republic, politicians from Nigeria (and other Third World Commonwealth nations) invented the term “cross-carpeting” on the model of the British expression “crossing the floor” because they practiced parliamentary democracy. Now that Nigeria no longer practices British-style parliamentary democracy (which has no provision for a president, vice president, state governors, etc. and where even the prime minister has to be first elected to the parliament from his constituency), what term should we use to refer to change of political party affiliations, especially for elected and appointed officials who are not members of the national and state assemblies? Maybe we should look to America since Nigeria practices American-style presidential democracy.

What we call carpet-crossing in Nigeria would be called “party switching” (sometimes “party switch”) in America. People who switch parties are called “party switchers.” But Americans also have the expression “crossing the aisle” for the act of members of Congress voting against the official position of their political parties. It is used only for members of Congress and does not refer to the act of changing political parties.

Perhaps Nigerian English can retain “cross-carpeting” to describe the act of members of the national and state assemblies voting against party lines and use “party switching” or defection for the act of changing political party affiliation.

Of course, other countries have different names for party switching. In New Zealand, for instance, it’s called “party-hopping” or “waka-jumping.” I know “waka-jumping” sounds a lot like Nigerian Pidgin English where “waka” means “walk away,” but it’s actually derived from Maori, an aboriginal, Polynesian language in New Zealand. In Maori, “waka” means a boat. So the Standard English rendering of “waka-jumping” would be “jumping ship,” which is what switching political parties entails—figuratively, that is.

South Africans call party switching “floor-crossing” or “crosstitution.” Crosstitution is a blend of “crossing” and “prostitution,” implying that elected officials who switch political parties are political prostitutes.

You asked if the tendency for the Nigerian media to use “decamp” to mean party switching is standard usage. No, it’s not. So is “decampee.”

In everyday Standard English, “decamp” means to abscond, to run away, to leave a place suddenly or secretly, often taking something along, as in: “The accountant decamped with the cash from the safe." Decamp has other meanings, but it is never used by native English speakers to refer to changing political parties.

 “Decampee” does not exist in any Standard English dictionary. It’s purely the invention of Nigerian journalists. As I wrote earlier, the American English expression for people who defect to another political party is “party switchers.” They are also called “defectors,” although the word is primarily used of a person who abandons military duty.

Question:
A friend of mine says it is grammatically wrong for one to say "all protocols duly observed" when called upon to deliver a formal speech. Is this true? If yes, what is the correct alternative?

Answer:
It isn’t just grammatically wrong; it’s also unidiomatic, ungainly, purposeless and unnatural to native English speakers at least in Britain, America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. (I recently discovered that Caribbean blacks—Jamaicans, Trinidadians, etc.—who are technically native English have borrowed this expression from African English. Given that the expression is used all over Anglophone Africa and has now crossed over to the historic black diaspora it probably qualifies to be called a global Black English expression.

 First, let’s look at the grammaticality of the expression. It’s incomplete. A grammatically correct and complete rendering of the expression would be “All protocols have been duly observed.”

But it is not a fixed phrase that enjoys currency outside Africa and the Caribbean Islands. A Kenyan writer by the name of Caroline Nderitu-Benjamin captured it well in an August 22, 2012 article when she wrote: “[The expression] is clearly a lie. In essence you have NOT observed all protocols. It is just a claim that the necessarily rules of decorum have been observed but we all know protocol was overlooked altogether. Consider this, if you had been asked to pass a vote of thanks, would you thank one or two people and then state ‘All thanks given’?

“There are other ways to observe protocol without having to mention each and every dignitary present. One way is clustering: You can use a general phrase to address all that fall within a certain category – honourable delegates, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, your excellencies, my Lords etc. That way due diligence is paid.

“It is a home-grown expression, unrecognised by the rest of the world. Other than Kenyans, Nigerians, Ugandans and some South Africans who have become accustomed to hearing this, the expression remains totally alien to the rest of the world. Your audience will be at a loss as to what you mean; and as to why you have opted for that ‘short-cut.’

“It is not necessary to use that expression when protocol has indeed been observed. At times the speaker does indeed take his or her time to mention the dignitaries in the audience in order of precedence but spoils it by concluding the list with “all protocols observed.” If protocol has indeed been observed then that will be apparent to the audience and therefore redundant to include that out-of-place phrase. A note from David FGM (communication expert):  "Ladies and Gentlemen, all protocols observed". Thus the phrase means something like: "You know who you all are, just take it as read that I have listed you as correct protocol dictates, OK?"

I couldn’t have said it better.

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