By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Over the past few days, I was dragged into many online arguments about the grammatical correctness of certain popular Nigerian English expressions. My responses to these conversations form the core of today’s column.
Is the word “outrightly” an illegitimate word even though some online dictionaries have an entry for it? Why don’t native English speakers use “faithfuls” as the plural form of “faithful” even when some online dictionaries have an entry for it? How about “graduand”? Is that a real word?
“Outrightly” is bad grammar
The use of "outrightly" as an adverb is nonstandard. In standard usage "outright" is both an adverb and an adjective.
In a December 31, 2009 article titled "Adverbial and Adjectival Abuse in Nigerian English," I wrote: “Chief among these are the words ‘outrightly’ and ‘downrightly.’ They are probably not strictly Nigerian inventions, but native speakers of the English language don’t say ‘downrightly’ or ‘outrightly.’ These adverbs don’t take the ‘ly’ form. So where a Nigerian would say ‘Yar’adua’s handlers are outrightly lying to us,’ a Standard English speaker would say ‘Yar’adua’s handlers are lying to us outright.’ Where Nigerian speakers would say ‘he is downrightly hypocritical,’ a Standard English speaker would say ‘he is downright hypocritical.’ So, although these words are adverbs of manner, they don’t usually admit of the ‘ly’ suffix.”
People who were told “outrightly” wasn’t Standard English pointed out that online dictionaries, including Oxforddictionaries.com, have an entry for the word. There are two things wrong with this. First, the printed editions of all Oxford dictionaries don’t recognize “outrightly” as a word.
Second, lexicography (i.e., writing of dictionaries) isn't always synonymous with grammar; dictionaries merely notate the lexical components of a language and don't necessarily make judgments on usage and correctness. With the rise and popularity of web-based corpus linguistics, if enough people use a word it will have an entry in most online dictionaries. But the fact that a word has an entry in an online dictionary doesn't necessarily mean it's "correct."
You sometimes have to go beyond the dictionary to figure out if the word is standard, nonstandard, regional, formal, informal, colloquial, slang, uneducated, etc. (OK, I admit that learners' dictionaries like the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary and others have usage notes on some words and expressions. Incidentally, even the online edition of the Oxford Learner's Dictionary doesn’t recognize "outrightly” as a legitimate English word).
The use of "outrightly" as an adverb started life as learner's error. It arose from the notion that the adverbial form of the word “right” is “rightly.” This morphological logic was extended to all words that have or end with “right.” Thus, “outrightly” and “downrightly” were born. The reasoning is perfectly sensible and logical. It’s just that grammar, especially English grammar, isn’t always sensible and logical.
The superfluous addition of the “ly” morpheme to “outright” and “downright” has emerged as one of the features of non-native English usage. You won't find an educated native English speaker write or say "outrightly." The Corpus of Global Web-Based English shows that "outrightly" appears disproportionately in Nigerian English.
It’s OK to say or write "outrightly" when you communicate with Nigerians. But if you are communicating with educated native English speakers and don’t want to stand out, avoid it. Always remember that “outright” is both an adjective (used immediately before a noun, as in, “That’s an outright lie”) and an adverb of manner (used after a verb in a sentence, as in, “Lai Mohammed lied outright.”)
“Faithful” Has No Plural
People also got into an argument about the expression “Muslim faithfuls.” Someone pointed out that it was solecistic and another person defended its correctness by pointing out that an online dictionary has an entry for it.
Well, I once wrote the following in response to a reader's question challenging me that "faithfuls" is a legitimate plural of “faithful” because an online dictionary says so:
"The standard plural for 'faithful' when it is used as a noun to mean staunch followers of or believers in a faith, ideology, or creed, is 'the faithful,' not 'faithfuls.' It should be 'millions of the Christian faithful,' 'millions of the Muslim faithful,' 'thousands of the party faithful at the PDP convention,' etc. I have never heard any educated native English speaker say 'faithfuls.' In fact, there appears a wiggly red underline beneath the word when you type it on Microsoft Word, indicating that it’s not recognized as an English word. Plus, the world’s most prestigious English dictionary—the Oxford English Dictionary—says the plural of 'faithful' is 'the faithful.' It does not list 'faithfuls' as an alternative plural form for 'faithful.'
"I am aware that the online edition of Merriam-Webster Dictionary says that when 'faithful' is used outside religious contexts, it can be pluralized to 'faithfuls.' It gives the expression 'party faithfuls' as an example. That means while it does not recognize the pluralization of 'faithful' in reference to religions as legitimate, it tolerates its pluralization elsewhere.
"However, when I searched the British National Corpus, the definitive record of contemporary spoken and written British English, I found only two records for 'party faithfuls,' but found thousands of records for 'the party faithful.' The Corpus of Contemporary American English— which has been described as 'the first large, genre-balanced corpus of any language, which has been designed and constructed from the ground up as a "monitor corpus", and which can be used to accurately track and study recent changes in the language'— did not return a single record for 'party faithfuls,' but had thousands of matches for “the party faithful.'
"What this tells me is that 'faithfuls' as a plural of 'faithful' is rare or non-standard in British English and completely absent in American English. I would never advise you to use 'faithfuls' in careful writing or in polite company. It would make you sound illiterate." (This was first published in my February 24, 2013 column titled, “Q and A on Nigerian and American English Expressions—and More”
There are many more examples of popular words in Nigerian and other non-native English varieties that have entries in online dictionaries but that are never used by educated native English speakers. “Academician” is another example.
In a December 6, 2015 column titled, “Academician”or “Academic”? Q and A on Nigerian English Errors and Usage,” I wrote:
“So what is the difference between an ‘academician’ and an ‘academic’? Well, an ‘academic’ is someone who teaches or conducts research in a higher educational institution, typically in a university. In British and Nigerian English, academics are also called ‘lecturers.’ In American English, they are called ‘professors.’
“An ‘academician,’ on the other hand, is a person who works with or is honored with membership into an academy, that is, an institution devoted to the study and advancement of a specialized area of learning such as the arts, sciences, literature, medicine, music, engineering, etc. Examples of academies are the Nigerian Academy of Letters, the Royal Academy of Arts, the Royal Academy of Music, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, etc.
“Not all academics are academicians and not all academicians are academics. In other words, you can teach in a university, polytechnic, college of education, etc. and never be made a member of an academy, and you can become a member of an academy without ever being a teacher or a researcher at a higher educational institution. Note that while most academicians are also academics, most academics are never academicians.
“A little note on pragmatics is in order here. Although many [online] dictionaries have entries that say ‘academician’ and ‘academic’ can be synonymous, this isn’t really the case in actual usage, at least among educated native English speakers. It is considered illiterate usage in British and American English to call higher education teachers and researchers ‘academicians’; they are properly called ‘academics.’ Many dictionaries merely capture the entire range of a word’s usage without discriminating socially prestigious usage from uneducated or archaic usage.”
Is “Graduand” a Nigerianism?
No, it’s not. Someone wondered why Nigerian newspapers use the word “graduand” even though the word doesn’t have an entry in many print dictionaries. Well, it’s because it’s a Briticism. That means it is unique to British English and the heirs of its linguistic heritage, such as Nigerian English. It means someone who hasn't graduated but is about to graduate. It is entirely unknown in American English.