"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: “Add weight,” “on my mind”: Q and A on Nigerian English Usage

Sunday, October 22, 2017

“Add weight,” “on my mind”: Q and A on Nigerian English Usage

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

Question:
I had a conversation with a native English speaker sometime ago. In the course of our conversation, I said something about “adding weight,” that is, getting fatter, but he didn’t understand me. It then occurred to me that I was probably speaking Nigerian English, which wasn’t comprehensible to him. How do native English speakers say it?

Answer:
Native English speakers say “gain weight,” not “add weight,” as in, “If you eat a lot of fatty foods, you will gain weight.” You are right that “add weight” is the Nigerian English expression for “gain weight” in Standard English. Alternative Standard English expressions for “gain weight” are “put on weight” and “add pounds” (especially in informal American English). The Nigerian English “add weight” was probably formed on the model of “add pounds.”

Native English speakers use “add weight” often in a metaphorical sense to mean “make stronger,” such as saying, “Buhari’s reluctance to fire his corrupt Secretary to the Government of the Federation adds weight to the argument that his so-called anti-corruption fight is a farce.”

“Add weight” is also used in Standard English to denote physically increasing the heaviness of something by adding extra stuff on it. If someone is carrying a half bucket of water, for instance, and you pour some more water into it, you’re adding weight to their load.

It’s interesting that although Nigerians say “add weight” to mean “gain weight” they don’t say “subtract weight” or “take off weight” to mean “lose weight,” perhaps because the literalness of “subtract” or “take off” is immediately apparent. The antonym of “gain” is “lose” and the antonym of “add” is “subtract.” If you don’t “subtract” or “take off” weight you why do you “add weight”?

Question:
What is the proper way to call a car with two doors or four doors, because people in Nigeria call cars with two doors “one-door-cars.” 

Answer:
I, too, have always wondered why Nigerians refer to two-door cars as “one-door” cars. As far as I know, in no other variety of English is a two-door car called a “one-door” car. So I would say the proper way to call a car with two doors is a two-door car. A four-door-car is also, well, a four-door-car.

Question:
I have a friend in my office who so loves your write-ups that he now even spends his last kobo to buy Daily Trust on Sunday because of your columns. Can you clarify for me conventional/nonconventional uses of "you and I" and “you and me”?

Answer:
 As I wrote in previous articles, the trick to knowing how to use the pronouns correctly is to first know that pronouns are usually categorized into "subjective" pronouns and "objective" pronouns. Subjective pronouns always function as the subject (that is, main doer of action) in a sentence. Examples: I, we, they, he, she. "Objective" pronouns, on the other hand, always function as the object (that is, recipient of action) in a sentence. Examples: me, us, them, him, her.

So if you look at a sentence and can determine its subject and object, you can pretty much tell when "I" and "me" are used wrongly. Look at this sentence, for instance: “He said the bag was for you and I.” That sentence is wrong because "he" is already the subject of the sentence. The "I" in the sentence should be "me" because "me" is the recipient of an action, that is, it is the object of the sentence.

 If that explanation isn’t helpful, always remember that “you and me” is almost always interchangeable with “us” while “you and I” is almost always interchangeable with “we.”

Question:
Between “on my mind” and “in my mind” which is grammatically correct?

Answer:
"On my mind" and "in my mind" are both correct depending on the context. "On my mind" means something is bothering you. Example: “The plight of the poor is on my mind.” "In my mind," on the other hand, means something resides in your imagination. Example: "I have a picture in my mind of an idyllic village in the deserts of the Sahara.”

Question:
Is it grammatically correct to say “if he were here?” What of “if he was here”?

Answer:
I wrote about this in a previous article. Here is what I said: “There is still a fierce battle among grammarians about the appropriateness of these phrases. In grammar, “if I were” is referred to as being in the “subjunctive mood.” The subjective verb represents the form of a verb used to represent an act or a state that has not happened and has no likelihood of happening but that has nevertheless been imagined. For instance, when Beyonce sang “If I were a boy,” she clearly implied that she was actually not a boy nor could she be one, but imagined herself as one nonetheless. Semantic purists insist that on occasions such as this, “if I were” is the only acceptable expression.

“But the subjunctive verb, which was prevalent in Middle English (i.e. from about 1100 to 1450), is now obsolete. It’s only in the expression “if I were” that it has endured in modern English. Increasingly, however, people, especially young people in both Britain and America, are replacing “if I were” with “if I was,” although “if I was” used to be considered uneducated English. (For recent notable examples of the use of “if I was” in popular hit songs, refer to Far East Movement’s “If I was you” and Liza Minnelli’s “If there was love”). It is inevitable that “if I were” will ultimately die and be replaced with “If I was.” But, for now, my advice is this: use “if I were” in formal contexts and “if I was” in informal contexts.

Question
I want some explanation on this issue: The word “welcome” is an irregular verb but I see that both the BBC and CNN sometimes use it as if it were a regular verb.

Answer:
“Welcome" is a regular verb. Its present tense is "welcome," its past tense is "welcomed," and its participle is "welcomed." But when "welcome" is used as an adjective (that is, when it means "giving pleasure or satisfaction or received with pleasure or freely granted", as in: "your suggestions are welcome"), it does not have a "d" at the end. That is, it would be wrong to write "your suggestions are welcomed." So CNN and BBC are right to use "welcome" as a regular verb.

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