By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Last week, I traced the origins of “it is not my portion” to Lamentations Chapter 3 verse 24 of the Bible (“The Lord is my portion, sayeth my soul; therefore will I hope in him.”) and pointed out that Nobel-Prize-winning Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore was one of the first known writers to invert the Biblical “my portion” to “it is not my portion”), but I can’t establish that he is the source or the inspiration for the widespread use of the expression in Nigerian Pentecostal Christianity.
What is clear, however, is that “it is not my portion” has now successfully mutated from the lingo of Nigerian Pentecostal Christians to mainstream Nigerian English. It is so mainstream that wife of President Buhari, Aisha Buhari, used it during her controversial campaign speech in Benin City, Edo State, on March 19, 2015 where she, among other things, said, “[The girl-child] doesn’t have to leave her country to go and prostitute elsewhere. It’s not her portion. Her portion is to have a highly standard and moral society for her to live in, get married, have children, train them and also mould them to become the future leaders.”
There is no more convincing evidence of the mainstreaming of this essentially Nigerian Pentecostal Christian expression than its usage by an eminent northern Nigerian Muslim woman. It is now the portion of Nigerians to say that every bad thing is not their portion.
3. “Send-forth (parties).” This is another “positive-vibe” expression coined by Nigerian Pentecostal Christians. It is used in place of the Standard English “sendoff,” which Nigerian Pentecostal Christians say sounds rather negative. As far as I can tell, unlike previous expressions, “send-forth” traces no lexical ancestry to the Bible. As I noted in my book, Glocal English: The Changing Face and Forms of Nigerian English in a Global World, “The adverb ‘forth’ appears to Nigerians to convey a connotation of forward motion, of advancement, while ‘off’ strikes them as suggesting departure with no expectation of return. So they think that to say they send people off creates the impression that they derive perverse pleasure in the people’s departure from them” (p. 182).
Many Nigerians who are not acquainted with the odd idiolect of Nigerian Christian Pentecostalism now innocently think that “send-forth (party)” is the preferred Standard English expression for a farewell party. In fact, several Muslim organizations in Nigeria, such as the Muslim Public Affairs Centre (MPAC), whose newsletter I am subscribed to, habitually use “send-forth” instead of “sendoff” without any awareness that “send-forth” is a conscious, deliberate Nigerian Pentecostal Christian coinage intended to avoid the “negativity” they think the idiomatic “send-off” conveys.
That the ungrammatical and unidiomatic “send-forth” has now become the preferred expression for “sendoff” even in Nigerian Muslim and non-Pentecostal Christian circles speaks to the powerful cultural and linguistic osmosis of Nigerian Pentecostal Christian vernacularisms.
4. “Sign of end times.” Any unusual thing that deeply scandalizes Nigerians is now described as a “sign of end times”—or other iterations of the expression. This expression used to be confined to Christian religious settings. Of course, both Islam and Christianity talk of signs of end times (Muslims call it “signs of Qiyamah”) in their holy books, but it was Nigerian Pentecostal Christians who, through Nollywood, brought the expression into Nigerian conversational English. “Sign of end times” is now liberally used even by Muslims and non-Pentecostal Muslims, especially in social media chatter, where people previously said, “This is unbelievable!” “This beggars belief!” etc. This is a classic linguistic instantiation of the secularization of the sacred.
5. “To God be the glory.” This is now the expression of choice in Nigerian English to express gratitude. It occurs in sentences like, “My wife has just given birth to a new baby. To God be the glory!” “I have just been promoted in my place of work. To God be the glory!” “I had an accident today but I survived unhurt. To God be the glory!” etc. Even (northern) Nigerian Muslims use these expressions on their Facebook timelines—again indicating the widespread vernacularization of this essentially Christian expression.
Although it appears in Bible translations, the phrase was popularized by Fanny J. Crosby, a blind American woman who wrote a gospel hymn (i.e., a song of praise to God) in 1870 titled “To God be the Glory.” According to Hmnary.org, although the song was first written and recorded in the United States, it was barely known in American churches until the 1950s; it had been almost exclusively sung in British churches until famous American mass evangelist Billy Graham re-popularized it.
But many non-Christian Nigerians like me first encountered the expression from Nollywood movies—many of which are produced by Nigerian Pentecostal Christian churches—with their predictable, infantile story lines and slapdash plots in which good always triumphs over evil. The movies often end with the expression, “To God be the glory!” A former southeastern Nigerian governor was also famous for inscribing “To God be the glory” on all signboards touting his “achievements.”
Many Nigerians think “To God be the glory” is the stock phrase that native English speakers use when they want to express gratitude. I have received several email inquiries from readers of this column asking to know if this is true. Well, “to God be the glory” is not an everyday conversational expression among native English speakers. I would even hazard the guess that because the phrase is structurally archaic, it isn’t used by churchgoing native English speakers. “Glory be to God!” is the more modern rendition of the expression.
But, most importantly, while public display of religiosity even in non-religious situations is normal, even expected, in Nigeria, it is rare in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand where English is spoken as a first language. So a native English is likely to be jarred by the utterance of the expression outside religious settings.
6. “Thank God!” Native English speakers say “Thank God” (also “thank goodness” or “thank heavens”) to express delight that something agreeable happened in an otherwise dreadful situation.
But courtesy of Nigerian Pentecostal Christians, “thank God” is now used in modern Nigerian English as a polite response to someone who says “thank you.” Example:
Mr. A: “Thank you so much for your help.”
Mr. B: “Thank God.”
If you say “thank you” to Americans, they say “you’re welcome” in response. British English speakers say “don’t mention it” or “think nothing of it.” Other stock phrases native English speakers use in response to expressions of gratitude are “You bet!” “It’s my pleasure!” “It was nothing!” “I was glad to do it!” “Don't give it another thought!” “Don't give it a (second).”
As I pointed out in my book, “The sense that Nigerian English speakers hope to convey when they say ‘thank God’ in response to an expression of gratitude is that the honor for the favor they bestow on others belongs to God, not them. It’s a socio-linguistic evidence of the deep religiosity—or pretense to piety and modesty— of Nigerians. However, native English speakers don’t use ‘thank God’ that way. They use it mostly as an exclamation of relief. Example: ‘Thank God he is alive!’ It’s also used in the idiom ‘thank God/Heaven for small mercies/favors,’ which is said when something bright happens in an otherwise hopeless situation. Example:
“Mr. A: My brother was run over by a truck, but he survived it. The doctor said he has a 99 percent chance to be well again.
“Mr. B: Thank God for small mercies!
“Native English speakers also use ‘thank God’ in mildly satirical contexts to call attention to people’s deficiencies, such as saying ‘thank God he remembers my name this time around’ about someone who perpetually forgets your name but remembers it now. So, if a Nigerian were to say ‘thank God’ in response to an expression of gratitude from a native English speaker, the Nigerian speaker might be misunderstood as implying that the native speaker hardly ever shows gratitude. In other words, the Nigerian might be understood as saying, ‘thank God you have the good sense to say “thank you” now!’
“In sum, ‘thank God’ hardly appears as a stand-alone phrase in native-speaker varieties of the English language; it always depends on another phrase or clause to make a complete sense, as the examples above illustrate. Most importantly, it’s never used as a response to an expression of gratitude” (pg. 182-83).
I have not been able to exhaust the Nigerian Christian Pentecostal English expressions I have on my list. But it suffices to point out that expressions like “I reject it!” to express strong denunciation or repudiation, “the devil is a liar” to express courage and optimism in the face of dreadful shock, "I claim it," etc. have now become staple turns of phrase in Nigerian conversational English. No religious persuasion in Nigeria has had as much impact on Nigeria’s conversational repertory in English as Pentecostal Christianity.