Saturday, December 31, 2011

What a Terrible Way to End the Year!

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

With every passing day, my faith in Nigeria dissipates. The wicked and meaningless bombing of Christians while they were celebrating Christmas in their churches dramatize the hopelessness that Nigeria is mired in.  Why would any sane person brutally murder innocent, defenseless men, women, and children who merely chose to practice a different faith and who did no one any harm?

I wept profusely when I saw pictures of dead children torn to shreds by bombs at a Catholic church in Madalla near Abuja. What kind of bitterness can animate that magnitude of savage bloodthirstiness? What happened to our humanity, our sense of compassion, our spirit of neighborliness?

While ordinary folks, who are more alike than unlike, are killing each other senselessly, the cabal of predatory usurpers who rule us will soon visit unexampled misery on working- and middle-class Nigerians through the impending IMF/World Bank-inspired fuel price increase fraudulently disguised as “fuel subsidy removal.” What are Nigerians doing to confront this?

In the past few days, my November 5, 2011 article titled, “Biggest Scandal in Fuel Subsidy Removal Fraud” where I called attention to Jonathan administration’s signing of a multi-billion-dollar contract with Trafigura to ship toxic, low-grade fuel to Nigeria has generated unprecedented traffic. It has received nearly 30,000 hits in a matter of days—and counting. None of my articles has ever received that much attention.

I got word from people in Nigeria that the article was repeatedly mentioned at the Nigerian Senate's public hearing on the removal of fuel subsidy and in many radio programs and informal discussions across the country. That probably explains the explosion of interest in it.

The truth is that the Goodluck Jonathan administration, goaded by the IMF/World Bank which recently paid a “thank you” visit to their minions and foot soldiers in Nigeria, has declared war on Nigerians. They are not only going to increase fuel prices beyond the reach of ordinary Nigerians, they are also investing trillions of naira to import toxic fuel that will wipe off Nigerians from the surface of the earth. Instead of uniting to extirpate this monster of depravity that masquerades as government, savage, bloodthirsty atavists are busy murdering innocents who are just as screwed by this IMF/World Bank controlled government as anybody else.
President Jonathan, IMF president Christine Lagarde, and Nigeria's Finance Minister and IMF "house girl" Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
I am taking the liberty to reproduce below a few of the encouraging comments that readers have left on my website and on my Facebook page. But I am deeply saddened that the indignation and unity revealed in the messages I receive daily from all over Nigeria are undermined by the senseless acts of annihilation we have seen in the last few days. Until we learn to live with our trivial, incidental differences (such as our religious and ethnic differences), we will all be screwed.

This nation is being undermined on all front, i am just wondering what divine string has kept us together this far. But sure ignorance is a factor, how i wish i could translate this into forty Nigerian languages and mass produce it for continuous public sensitization for 4 months let’s see if a REVOLUTION will not sound!
Shittu Fowora

I will never forget the word 'Trafigura.' What a nice piece, Prof! Keep it up.

Dr. Farooq, thanks for this enlightening eye-opener piece. Since we have leaders who dumped themselves on us and who are themselves poisoned petrol, it becomes easy for foreign firms to dump poisoned petrol on us. And now at a higher unsubsidized price--if we allow them and their local corporate (sorry, political) collaborators.

The truth is that we get to hear a whole lot of these but the question is who ACTS.......we have a big problem in all sectors. Solution is farfetched, unless one is ready to take the bull by the horns and not get deceived by the milk that is not even from the bull.

This piece is soul-touching, a clear signal of what is to come from the Mighty PDP, Nigerians 2 decide positively or otherwise; God help us.
Awwal Bashir

Great to have this revealed. Next thing is 'what do we do'? We are a people not familiar with violence such as experienced among some Arab nations. Something needs to be done. It’s unfortunate that our media do not carry out investigative journalism and bring this out to the public. They've all been bought.

Thank you for bringing this devilish act to the open. I hope Nigerians will stand up and fight for their rights. To the NIGERIAN GOVERNMENT: What goes around comes around.
Zainab Zubairu

Thanks to Kperogi for this highly edifying piece! If the facts exposed here are accessible to my fellow countrymen, the much clamoured "Nigerian spring", or better still, Nigerian "winter", if you like, is inevitable.
Samaila Yandaki Suleiman

It is only a fool that will not appreciate this well-researched article by Prof. Farooq Kperogi. You know what? Maybe the Arabs were impatient for starting the 'Arab Awakening' because it should have started in Nigeria, where the government doesn't even care about, much less listen to, the masses which it represents. Prof Farooq, YOU ARE THE TYPE PERSON NIGERIA NEEDS.
Anas Iliyasu

Dr. Farooq, I’ve read your piece and found it quite revealing. I AM SORRY FOR ANY COUNTRY WHICH DOES NOT HAVE INTELLECTUALS LIKE YOU; I AM EVEN MORE SORRY FOR A COUNTRY THAT HAS PEOPLE LIKE YOU AND REFUSES TO LISTEN TO THEM. I am glad that your article found mention in the Senate. But I will not praise them until they are able to pursue this issue to a positive conclusion, particularly now that news has filtered in that the 2012 Appropriation Bill has no oil subsidy allocation.
Tajudeen Sanni

My brother, prof, Jonathan just wants to satisfy the cabals who put him into Aso rock most of whom are importers of this deadly, toxic so-called "petrol." Investigation has revealed that Nigerian masses don’t benefit from the fuel subsides but only a few high-placed people. We shall resist if our Ghana-Must-Go lawmakers fail to act to save us from these cabals.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Top Hilarious Differences between American and Nigerian English

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

This was serialized for two weeks in my Sunday Trust column. That's why it's unusually long.
I could have titled this piece “Top Hilarious Differences between British English and American English” because Nigerian English is, after all, a progeny of British English, with which it still shares many structural, grammatical, and lexical characteristics. However, as the examples below illustrate—and as I have pointed out in several of my writings—Nigerian English has significantly weaned itself from British English and has acquired some distinctive stylistic and lexical imprints that mark it out as a classifiable national variety. 

In what follows, I identify the top humorous differences between the English spoken and written in Nigeria and in the United States.

1. “You’re so silly!” In Nigerian English—which is, of course, derived from Standard British English—this phrase is decidedly an insult. In British English “silly” is chiefly an adjective of disesteem. It usually denotes and connotes stupidity or foolishness. Nigerian English inherited this sense of the term.

 Sometime in 2005 when I told my intercultural communication students at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, about cultures in southern Nigeria where prospective brides go to “fattening rooms” for months to grow “flesh in the right places” so that they would be desirable to their husbands, they thought I was overstretching the bounds of the truth. One of them asked if I was “just being silly.”

Silly? My pride was violently wounded. However, I realized that nobody was shocked by the unwarranted “insult.” That warned me to restrain my emotions. It turned out that in American demotic speech, to be silly means to be willfully and affectionately funny or playful. So the student just wanted to know if I was merely kidding because she didn’t imagine that there were cultures anywhere in the world where “fat” people are not vilified. 

An African-American professor friend of mine who teaches political science at the University of Ohio had a reverse experience in Ghana. While on a one-year sabbatical at the University of Ghana in Legon, a male professor almost physically assaulted her because she told him he was “so silly.” She, of course, meant that he was affectionately funny. “I never used ‘silly’ again for the rest of my stay there,” she told me.

I went to elementary school with children of white American Baptist missionaries who habitually called their parents “silly” and the parents would smile and even hug them. We used to be mortified. We thought Americans had no culture of respect for their parents.

To be sure, the notion of silliness as foolishness also exists in American English, but it co-habits with the denotation of lighthearted joviality. Americans can often tell the difference between the two meanings of the word through context and nonverbal cues. In American English “silly” is also used as a noun to describe misbehaving children, as in: “Don’t be a silly!” But when it is used as a noun in British English, usually as a form of address, it means a foolish person, as in: Come on, sillies!”

Interestingly, according to etymologists, when “silly” first appeared in the English language, it was written as “seely” and meant fortunate or happy. Isn’t it fortunate that the notions of “silly” as stupid and jovial still happily co-exist in American English?

2. “It’s a shame.” As an expression, “it’s a shame” simply means “it’s regrettable” or “it’s unfortunate.” In the US and the UK, the phrase is used both with a tone of approving empathy and of disapproval, but mostly the former. Examples: “It’s a shame your mother died when you needed her most”; “It’s a shame you missed getting a First Class degree by only a few points”; “It’s a shame students of English can’t write good English these days,” etc. 

In Nigeria, the expression is exclusively disapproving. That’s because Nigerians isolate the meaning of the word “shame” from the expression and understand the entire phrase to mean disgrace, dishonor, or embarrassment. The preferred expression in Nigerian English (which is fortunately also present in all other varieties of English) to express approving regret is “it’s a pity.”

 If you’re a Nigerian and you’re reading this, please don’t fight an American or a Briton who says, for instance, “It’s a shame that your country is associated with Internet scams.” The person could actually be saying that he thinks that Nigeria’s reputation as a nation of scammers is undeserved! In both British and American English, the idiom that unequivocally expresses the sense that one should feel embarrassed or ashamed over something is “for shame!” as in: “That’s a terrible thing to say to your parents. For shame!”
3. “You’re so homely.” An American woman I met recently told me she stopped communicating with her Nigerian online lover because he described her as “homely.” She said that was the rudest, meanest, unkindest, and most gratuitous verbal violence she had ever suffered in her life. In American English “homely” means “ugly.” But in Nigerian English it is used of a woman to mean she is warm, friendly, responsible, decent, and worthy of being kept as a wife. This meaning is derived from the (earlier) British sense of the word. The American lady was rueful after she learned that her friend was actually complimenting her.

4. “Are you mad or something?” This question got my undergraduate thesis adviser, the late Professor Mike Egbon, to break up with his first American girlfriend when he was in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The lady wanted to find out if he was angry (which is what “mad” means in American English), but in British (and Nigerian) English “mad” means insane, crazy. My professor understood his American girlfriend as calling him a mentally disturbed person. So he got REALLY “mad” and broke up with her! The lady was flummoxed. When she tried to explain what she meant, my professor said he rebuffed her. A few years later, he realized his error, by which time the woman had moved on.

Curiously, as Ipointed out in previous write-ups, the American usage of “mad” to mean “angry” is faithful to the original meaning of the term up until the late nineteenth century.

5. “Let me take my drugs.” In American English the default meaning of “drugs” is a substance used as a narcotic. In Nigerian English, however, it’s a synonym for medicine or, as Americans now prefer to say, medication. To be sure, both senses of the term exist in both varieties. That’s why, for instance, Nigeria’s anti-narcotic agency is called the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency and why Americans call chemists (or, if you will, pharmacies) “drugstores” and call pharmacists “druggists.”

Early this year, I read of a Nigerian traveler to America who was detained at the airport for hours because she told Custom and Immigration officers that the traditional African herbs she had in her checked-in luggage were “drugs” for her malaria. The “malaria” bit escaped the officers. They were unnerved by what they thought was her forthrightness. After putting the herbs through every imaginable crucible to determine what kind of “drugs” they were and finding that they tested negative, one of the officers had the good sense to pause and wonder if by “drugs” the Nigerian meant “medicines.” It was then they remembered the bit about “malaria” and thought it unlikely that anyone would treat malaria with narcotics. That was how she got her freedom from detention.

My daughter, whose linguistic idiosyncrasies have now become fully American, also recently jumped out of her chair when I said I was going to the pharmacy to buy drugs for her cold. She had just had a “drugs-free day” in her school where she learned about the deleterious consequences of drug use. So she protested, “Daddy, NO WAY will I take drugs for my cold! Drugs are bad!!” I smiled knowingly and told her I meant “medicines.”
6. “I’ll knock you up.” In British and Nigerian English this phrase literally means you’ll knock on somebody’s door. In American English, however, it’s a colloquial expression for “I will get you pregnant”! So don’t say you’ll “knock up” an American woman who isn’t your wife. You could end up in jail for attempted rape!

7. “Girlfriend.” In Nigerian English, “girlfriend” only means a woman with whom a man is romantically involved. But it means more than that in American English. It can also mean a woman’s female friend. The first time an American woman told me she would be meeting with her “girlfriend,” I thought she was an in-your-face lesbian. So I told her she didn’t need to be that direct. She then explained that she merely meant her female friend. I wonder why American men don’t also call their male friends their “boyfriends.”
American women also use “girlfriend” as a form of address when talking to women who are not necessarily their friends, as in: “look here, girlfriend!” I must mention that contemporary British English also uses “girlfriend” to mean a woman’s female friend. My daughter still says “Ewwww!” when her friends call her “girlfriend.”

8. “Offer a course.” In Nigerian English, students, not schools, “offer” courses. A Nigerian reader of my columns recently wrote to tell me that an American university admissions officer was bewildered when she told him she wanted to “offer a course in petroleum engineering”! I told her in America—and in Britain—students don’t offer courses; only schools do. To offer is to make available. Students can’t make courses available in schools; they can only take or enroll in courses that schools offer.

A slightly related but by no means humorous usage peculiarity is the tendency for Nigerian English speakers to “write” tests or exams where Americans “take” them, or for Nigerians to “run a course” where other English speakers are “enrolled in a course.” (I should point out that students in India, Pakistan, Ghana and other Commonwealth countries also “write,” not “take,” tests and exams, indicating that this usage has British origins or influence). 

9.  “You’re welcome” vs. “welcome.” In American English—and increasingly in British English—the expression “you’re welcome” functions only as a polite response to the expression of gratitude through the phrase “thank you.” In other words, Americans only say “you’re welcome” when someone says “thank you” to them. But Nigerian English speakers say “you’re welcome” where a simple “welcome” would do. An American friend of mine once told me how bemused she was when everyone in Lagos said “you’re welcome, madam” to her upon being introduced to them. “I didn’t say ‘thank you’ to anybody. Why were they saying ‘you’re welcome’ to me?” she recalled.

After the “you’re-welcome-madam” pleasantries became unbearably omnipresent, she quickly figured out that it’s the Nigerian English way of saying “welcome ma’am.” It should be noted that British grammarians initially sneered at the expression “you’re welcome” in response to “thank you.” They preferred the cold, curt, detached “don’t mention it” or “think nothing of it.” Now “you’re welcome” is in common use in British English.

10. “We are managing”/ “we are surviving.” As I wrote in a previous article, in Nigerian English, “managing” means struggling to make ends meet, i.e., not doing well. Example: "My brother, the country is hard. I am just managing.” In American and British English, however, to be managing is to be successful. So where Nigerians would say they are “managing,” Americans and Britons would say they are “just surviving.” In Nigerian English, however, to be surviving is to overcome, to be in control.

An American researcher by the name of Rachel Reynolds who wrote about the Nigerian immigrant experience in America for an academic journal was struck by this intriguing dissimilarity in our usage of these expressions. She interviewed Nigerian immigrants in the Chicago area in the course of her research.  Even though her interviewees didn’t seem content with their material lot in America, they said they were “not surviving”; that they were “managing.” She was initially dumb-stricken. When she finally figured out that Nigerians use “managing” to mean “surviving” and “surviving” to mean “managing,” she titled her article: “‘We Are Not Surviving, We Are Managing’: the Constitution of a Nigerian Diaspora along the Contours of the Global Economy."

11. “I will flash you.” This is my favorite Nigerianism. Every Nigerian knows “flashing” to mean a split-second call to another person’s phone with no intention to have a phone conversation. It’s usually a subtle way to say, “I have no units in my phone; please call me back” If the “flashing” takes place in the presence of the recipient, it usually implies: “that’s my number; store it.” 

Although “flash” has a multiplicity of meanings in American English (see my previous article titled “In Defense of ‘Flashing’ and Other Nigerianisms”) the first thing that comes to the minds of American—and British—speakers of English when you say you will “flash” them is that you will briefly expose your naked body or genitals to them in public! That was precisely what happened to a white American Baptist missionary friend of mine by the name of John Dunaway who was born in my hometown in the early 1950s and who, sadly, died last year. (I wrote about him in my Weekly Trust column on May 1, 2010). 

When he visited Nigeria in 2008, a long-lost friend of his asked for his Nigerian phone number. After getting the number, the friend said, “hold on—let me flash you.” My friend said he ran for cover as fast as he could. “I didn’t want to see the naked body of an old man!” he recalled. He later learned from reading one of my articles in 2007 that in Nigeria “flashing” doesn’t mean indecent exposure. In fact, that sense of the word is completely non-existent in Nigerian English.

12: “I will ring you up.” This expression became a part of Nigerians’ demotic speech since the late 1990s when mobile phones became the single most important instruments of communication. When people don’t “flash you,” they “ring you up.” Of course, the expression came into Nigerian English by way of British English where it also means to make a telephone call to somebody. However, in American English, “ring (you) up” has a completely different meaning. It means to check out purchased items on a cash register. 

When you buy things in American stores, the cashiers “ring up” what you buy and tell you how much you need to pay for your purchases. In my first few months here, I recall telling an American friend of mine that I would "ring him up.” His response threw me off balance. “When did you become a cashier? In what shop do you work?” he asked.

13. “I passed out.” Nigerians “pass out” from secondary schools. The British only “pass out” from military colleges, not secondary schools. In both senses of the term, nonetheless, “pass out” is used to mean “graduate” from some kind of school. But when Americans “pass out” they always need to be resuscitated by a doctor. As you’ve probably guessed (if you didn’t already know, that is), the only meaning of “pass out” known to American English is to “faint.” This sense of the term is completely absent in Nigerian English, but it’s present in British English.

 Related Articles:
1. A Comparison of Nigerian, American and British English
2. Why is "Sentiment" Such a Bad Word in Nigeria?
3. Ambassador Aminchi's Impossible Grammatical Logic
4. 10 Most Annoying Nigerian Media English Expressions
5. Sambawa and "Peasant Attitude to Governance"
6. Adverbial and Adjectival Abuse in Nigerian English
7. In Defense of "Flashing" and Other Nigerianisms
8. Weird Words We're Wedded to in Nigerian English
9. American English or British English?
10. Hypercorrection in Nigerian English
11. Nigerianisms, Americanisms, Briticisms and Communication Breakdown
12. Top 10 Irritating Errors in American English
13. Nigerian Editors Killing Macebuh Twice with Bad Grammar
14. On "Metaphors" and "Puns" in Nigerian English
15. Common Errors of Pluralization in Nigerian English
16. Q & A About Common Grammatical Problems
17. Semantic Change and the Politics of English Pronunciation

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Hypocrisies the Nigerian Gay Debate Masks

By Farooq A. Kperogi

Many readers have asked for my opinion on the ongoing debate over the bill that seeks to outlaw gay marriage and criminalize any form of homo-sociality (as same-gender social interaction is now fashionably called in Western academic circles) in Nigeria. My view is that both the unhealthy fixation on the issue by Western governments and the populist grandstanding of the Nigerian Senate mask multiple layers of vexatious, scorn-worthy hypocrisy.

The intrusiveness, arrogance, and downright condescension of Western governments, particularly of the US government, on the issue just make you want to scream. It is hypocritical for Western governments to not realize that the Nigerian anti-gay bill is just as discriminatory as their own anti-polygamy laws are.

In the West, polygamy, a common and culturally accepted practice in over 70 percent of the world’s population, is criminalized. In the United States and Canada, for instance, it’s a felony in the class of murder, arson, etc. for which people are sent to prison for several years.

You can marry and divorce 100 different people in 100 days and you’re perfectly within the bounds of the law. You can also live with multiple sex partners and even have children with them and you’re fine so long as you’re not officially married. But the moment you are discovered to be married to just two wives (or husbands) for one day or for life, you’re toast. How is that for justice and equality? People with this kind of unreasonably discriminatory law want to preach to us about equality.
President Goodluck Jonathan and Vice President Namadi Sambo dance like clowns while Nigeria burns
The landmark ruling that institutionalized the criminalization of polygamy in the United States is particularly noteworthy for its racist condescension and invidious “othering.”

In turning down the appeal by a man named Reynolds who wanted America to recognize polygamy as a legitimate conjugal union, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1878 disparaged polygamy as “almost exclusively a feature of the life of Asiatic and African people.” Notice the racist particularism of the ruling. Since this ruling hasn’t been overturned, that’s still the official position of the law: that polygamy is bad because it’s an African and Asian peculiarity. 

Now, why do Western governments get thin-skinned when Africans also say homosexuality is bad because it’s a Euro-American sexual perversion? Both arguments are, of course, false. According to many accounts, there are as many as 50,000 polygamists in the US, mostly from the Mormon Church. That’s more than two percent of the U.S. population. There are homosexuals in Africa, too. 

The U.S. Supreme Court’s subsequent rulings on polygamy uncannily resemble the phraseology that Nigerian critics of gay marriage and homosexual lifestyle in general deploy. In one instance, for example, the Supreme Court described polygamy as “a blot on our civilization.” In another ruling, it disdained it as "a return to barbarism" and likened it to human sacrifice. Yet another Supreme Court ruling dismissed it as "contrary to the spirit of Christianity and of the civilization which Christianity has produced in the Western World."

Of course, these are all lies. As Professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University observed in an October 4, 2004 article in USA Today, “Contrary to the court's statements, the practice of polygamy is actually one of the common threads between Christians, Jews and Muslims.”

So where am I going with this? A part of the world that criminalizes an enduring cultural practice of 78 percent of the world’s population has no moral right to insist that the rest of the world should not criminalize gay marriage and in-your-face homo-sociality, which they themselves, in fact, are only just now coming to terms with. 

There is this insufferably haughty presumption that whatever is good for Euro-America must be good for the rest of the world. When Europeans thought homosexuality was a terrible sin, they criminalized it in their societies and extended their laws to other parts of the world that they colonized. Now they’ve had an “epiphany” about homosexuality and they want the rest of the world to just immediately give up all that they believed in and accept the newfangled idea about gay rights—or risk sanctions.

 Westerners say homo-sexuality is the business of two consenting adults whose activities don’t hurt anyone. Fair enough. But polygamy is also a consensual union between adults. It also does no harm to anyone. In fact, it guarantees reproductive futurism.

Most importantly, the American government that is making the forced feeding of homosexual orthodoxy on Nigeria a cardinal foreign policy goal is at the same time encouraging our government to increase fuel prices. We know that much from the lavish praise the US ambassador to Nigeria recently showered on the Nigerian government over its plan to increase fuel prices next year, an action that will certainly inflict death and misery to millions of working- and middle-class Nigerians. 

Given President Jonathan’s proverbial cluelessness, I won’t be shocked if it comes to light that the whole “subsidy removal” scam is carefully and stealthily dictated by Uncle Sam whose approval Jonathan so desperately and pitifully seeks all the time. (Recall his laughably juvenile gripe about how Nigerians dare criticize him when almighty Obama patted him on the back for the good job he’s doing?).

Anyway, the same American government that pays $20 billion a year in subsidies to its farmers (a reason food is incredibly cheap here), that gives monthly allowances and food stamps to its poor and unemployed, and that has all kinds of social safety nets for its weak is encouraging another country to hike the consumer price of its main economic product! I’m calling attention to this because the homosexual hysteria in Nigeria is happening at the very same time that the National Assembly is about lend its imprimatur to fuel price increases.

America’s—and Britain’s— unbearably arrogant pronouncement on gay rights in Nigeria has created the basis for the National Assembly to flex populist legislative muscles and to numb the Nigerian masses to the real tragedy that awaits them next year when fuel prices will jump higher than they have ever done in Nigeria’s 51-year history.

In almost every Nigeria-centered discursive arena on the Internet, I’ve read people praising the gallantry of the Senate and even suggesting that Senate President David Mark deserves to be Nigeria’s next president for standing up to Western bullies. The National Assembly has never been more popular. But the legislators are going to ride on the crest of the wave of this popularity to strike Nigerians a deadly blow.

The anti-gay bill is absolutely needless and the National Assembly deserves no praise for it, although I understand why Nigerians are united in their support for it. But the truth is that the Nigerian socio-cultural soil is already infinitely infertile for the growth and flowering of the kind of homosexuality that exists in the West. So we don’t need a law to curb something that is not even remotely in danger of happening. The laws we inherited from our British colonial invaders (who have now become aggressive born-again gay rights protagonists) sufficiently criminalize homosexuality. 

And most Nigerian languages don’t even have a word for homosexuality because it had never been a part of our experiential and conceptual repertoire.

For me, the whole debate is a conspiracy of the hypocrisies of Western governments and our government. The real goal is to increase fuel prices. Western governments’ provocation and the Senate’s response are probably planned to keep the people distracted from the real issues. I hope I am proved wrong.

Related Articles:
Confronting Misconceptions about Homosexuality in Northern Nigeria

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Re: Femi Kusa’s Perverse Dance on Ibru’s Grave

Just as I anticipated, my last week’spiece with the above title was very controversial. While most people agreed with the thrust of my sentiments in the piece, others thought I went overboard in registering my displeasure against Mr. Kusa’s “tribute.” Still others thought I had no dog in the fight I inserted myself into. Below is a sample of the responses I received from readers through email, by Facebook, and on my blog.

I read your article on Mr Femi Kusa's article on the late Alex Ibru with interest. I am linked to the issue in three ways. I worked at The Guardian when Kusa was there. I am currently a member of The Nation's Editorial Board, and in that capacity wrote the paper's editorial on the passing of Alex Ibru (published on November 25, 2011). Even though I may be mistaken, I believe I did a good job, and adhered to many of the prescriptions for obituary writing laid out in your article.

However, I was surprised to see that Dr Tunji Dare, in his weekly column of the following Tuesday (published on November 29, 2011), appeared to deliberately contradict many of the points made in the editorial. He was not as crude as Mr Kusa, in my opinion, but I feel he certainly attempted to damn the late publisher with faint praise. May I request that you examine the Ibru editorial and Dr Dare's column and honour me with your thoughts? Both can be found at The Nation’s website. If there is any difficulty in locating them, I can e-mail them to you.
Thank you.
H. Olufunwa 
Femi Kusa

Candidly, you are a rational, free mind. I’ve been reading you from the first time I saw your column in Weekly Trust, and all the time I’m always impressed with your open-mindedness and logical rationality towards every issue, especially what you love to do most: correcting grammatical errors. But Dr., I’m puzzled that you took on a fight that wasn’t yours.

Perhaps, it’s for the sake of posterity and not to set a bad precedent.  You gave Kusa a treat from the same journalistic pot. I know you won’t be surprised. After all of these guys talk from both sides of their mouths. If one day we hear Rueben Abati wearing the garb of Kusa, I expect you to be a big heart who will call a spade just a spade. Kusa is nothing more than a coward; if not, why couldn’t he say all that when Ibru was still alive? Well, tongue and faith may differ, but in true journalism you stand
 Engr. Ibrahim Mustapha MNSE, Minna

Thanks, Dr. Farooq. Though it hurts to make bad comment against the dead, it seems Femi Kusa has suffered in the hands of Ibru. By the way, let them kill themselves. They are in the same boat. I believe if it [were] a Northerner that wrote that ungrammatical write up as Kusa did, they would disturb us with nonsense that we are semi-literates.
Ibrahim Musa Gwammaja

This will be the first time I will disagree will Kperogi. I just finished reading Kusa's write-up and from my understanding of it there is nothing offensive therein. Lo, when has it become an offense for one to narrate personal experience with others? My surprise is that Kperogi could stoop low as to devote his popular column to an innocuous tribute. May be there is more to it than we know!! However, I agree with Kperogi that the timing is wrong and badly written by the standing of Kusa in journalism profession.
Abdulrahman Abdulyekeen
The late Alex Ibru and Bill Clinton

I just finished reading the write-up on Kusa's article on Ibru. Well, I did not read the original article by Femi Kusa, but I took away some stuff from Kperogi's article: narcissistic, vacuity, mortifying solecisms, swellhead, inebriated, apotheosis, nonpareil, traduce, swath, trammel, sybaritic, pestiferous, facticity....OK. I know you are a prof. of English but sometimes, it's necessary to carry some of us along...especially those of us who are a little bit challenged in the Queen's language. I knew a Kperogi in Okuta, Kwara State. Are you related?
Anonymous comment

Thank you, Prof. It's very fortunate and apt to remind people how to maintain decorum, especially when a man has unwittingly decided to expose his cowardly disposition in print. However, I doubt the quality of education some of these writers have in journalism. A simple principle of sensitivity was blatantly ignored. What a poor piece!
Orji Ekpezie

Like Farooq said in his very articulate piece, Kusa basically waited for Ibru to die to get his pound of flesh. He tried to persuade us that he is a paragon of professional and private virtue but what came across is a man who is small minded and bitter. I have worked for Alex Ibru twice so I know that he was no saint, but there is no excuse for that Kusa's rambling exercise in posthumous assassination...
Paul C. Nwabuikwu

It's an interesting read. People usually show their worst side when you least expect it. It's unfortunate.
Uche Echi

Mr Kusa just hung his dirty linens for the world to see. Such a show of shame and heartlessness!
Labeeba Bulama

Fascinating piece. There is always mirth in negative occurrences.
Sheyi Babatunde

Hey, learn not say or write dirty things about the dead. Farooq, more ink to your pen. There will be the greatest peace when every bad mouth and hand padlock is hung.
Abubakar Yakubu

Thank you, prof.  Don’t get bored. Keep dishing out the stuff. You are simply great.
Zubair Abdulkarim

Someone drew my attention to the fact that Femi Kusa does not work with The Nation.
Danlami Nmodu
Dear Prof:
I have just read your piece with the above title. I am glad.
Osaro Odemwingie

Related Article:
Femi Kusa's Perverse Dance on Ibru's Grave

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Q and A on Usage, Articles, and Tenses

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi
Is the phrase “the reason why” correct? Or should it just be “the reason”? Examples: Should I say “the reason why I left is…” or should it be “the reason I left is …” Thanks!!

Both phrases are correct. However, historically, conservative semantic purists in Britain have dismissed "the reason why" as tautologous and redundant since both “reason” and “why” denote causation. That’s why they dismiss the expression as “causational overkill.” However, “reason why” is considered perfectly correct in contemporary British and American English. All modern dictionaries and usage guides in both the UK and the US accept “the reason why” as a legitimate usage. The objections of conservative grammarians to its usage have been, for all practical purposes, blunted.

For instance, two leading British grammarians, Sidney Greenbaum and Janet Whitcut, in their celebrated Longman Guide to English Usage, noted that “Only very conservative writers object to ‘the reason why’.” In America, almost no grammarian objects to “the reason why.” In fact, “The Reason Why” is the title of a 2010 album by an American musical group called Little Big Town. And there is a classic American military history book titled, TheReason Why: The Story of the Fatal Charge of the Light Brigade.

Nevertheless, somewhat similar causational phrases like “the reason was because” and “the reason was due to” are met with strong objection in most usage guides across the Atlantic (that is, in both the UK and North America). So instead of writing “The reason he failed was because he was ill,” it is advised that you write, “The reason he failed was that he was ill.”

I must add, however, that this objection seems arbitrary and churlish to me. “Reason why” and “reason was because” both exemplify causational overkill. Why one is preferred to the other is beyond me. But as I've said in my previouswritings, grammar, especially English grammar, isn’t always governed by logic. It’s sometimes just the product of the arbitrary “commandments” of snooty prescriptivist grammarians or the tyranny of popular usage.


What is the difference between “alright” and “all right”? Or are they different spellings of the same word?


In both British English and American English “alright” is considered an uneducated approximation of “all right.” For instance, The Associated Press Stylebook, considered the “bible” of American journalism, forbids the use of “alright” in news copy. Many prestigious British English usage guides also object to its use in serious writing.

 However, some grammarians (who are, for now, in the minority) argue that “alright” is a legitimate word that is not necessarily an illiterate approximation of “all right.” They contend that it is in the category of words like “already,” “almost” and “altogether.” Just as “already” (as in: “he is already here”) is different from “all ready” (as in: “they are all ready to go”), “almost” (as in: “it is almost interesting,” meaning it is nearly interesting) from “all most” (as in: “it is all most interesting,” meaning all of it is interesting), and  “altogether” (as in: “it is altogether different,” where “altogether” means “completely”) from “all together” (as in: “they sang all together,” meaning they sang all at the same time) the two spellings “alright” and “all right” are needed to mark a distinction between “The children are all (i.e., all of them are) right in their answers” and “The answers are alright (i.e., they’re OK).”

 This makes sense to me. But since “alright” is met with disapproval by most grammarians in all the dominant varieties of the English language, I’d advise that you should avoid it at least in formal writing. I predict, however, that in the next few years “alright” will enjoy the same respectability and acceptance as “almost,” “altogether,” and “already.”


It truly throws me off when indigenous Africans declare that they “hail from” Washington DC, for instance. “Born in,” “hail from”? I need clarification.


"Hail from" can denote one of the following: 1. come from, 2. be native of, 3. be born in. That means you don’t necessarily have to be born in a place to hail from the place, at least in America. Recent immigrants “hail from” any part of America they are registered to vote. That means, in essence, that it's perfectly legitimate for naturalized African immigrants in, for instance, Washington D.C. to say they "hail from" that city whenever they are in America or are involved in America-specific conversations. Of course, it would be absurd for them to say they hail from Washington D.C. when they are in Africa.

My question is on the omission of the definite article before some singular common nouns and after 'as', e.g. 1. He is captain. 2. He is king. 3. He is elected as chairman. Are those sentences correct? If yes, why is it that the articles are omitted before the nouns: captain, king, and chairman?

Articles are tricky in the English language. That’s why I can’t do justice to your question in this limited space.  I will only say this for now:  “captain” and “king” should be preceded by either a definite article (i.e., “the”) or an indefinite article (i.e., “a” or “an”). So “he is a captain” would mean he is one of several captains, while “he is the captain” would mean he is the one and only person known by that title in a specific area. Same rule applies to “king.” In the third example, the sentence should be “he was elected chairman.” Chairman is not preceded by an article here because the sense is non-specific. Also note that I omitted “as” in the sentence. Other examples: “He was elected president.” “He was appointed commissioner,” etc.

When I watch American soaps, they seem to not care about tenses. Or maybe it’s something beyond me—I don’t know. For instance, a typical dialogue goes like this:
“Daughter: 'dad, do you snore ‘cause I do.
Dad: 'yeah you GET that from me'.”
Should not the “get” be GOT? Could you clarify this for me, please?

Well, it's not true that Americans don't care about tenses. They do. The example of the use of present tense in the dialogue you cited is called the “historical present” in grammar. It's perfectly legitimate even in British English. It functions to make a past event seem more vivid, or to signal continuity between the past and the present. In conversational English, it's particularly used with such “verbs of communication” as “get” (as in: “OK, I get it: you’re a genius!”), “forget” (as in: “I forget his name”), “tell” (as in: “your dad tells me you want to talk to me”). Other verbs of communication that are expressed in the historical present in speech are “write” and “say.”

 I agree with you, though, that Americans tend to use the historical present more often than the British do. The historical present is rarely used in Nigerian English, except by our creative writers who deploy it in their fictional narratives. In the hypothetical dialogue you cited, however, it would also be perfectly legitimate to replace “get” with “got.” In fact, in formal contexts, “got” would be especially appropriate.

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