Sunday, July 3, 2011

Americanisms I Can Do Without

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

There is no doubt that, over the past few years, my expressions have become more Americanized than I ever thought they would be. It’s inevitable that when you live in a place for a long time you will eventually come to adopt, reflect, and even inflect the place’s linguistic idiosyncrasies. Plus, I actually genuinely think American English is admirably colorful and rich. However, there are certain Americanisms I simply can’t bring myself to embrace, however hard I try. I identify them below:

1.      “Shower” or “shower bath.” American (men) don’t bathe or have baths; they just “shower” or have a “shower.” A bath in American English involves cleaning of the body by elaborate immersion into a relatively large open container of water or into a bathtub. So only women and babies have baths. When I told my friends in Louisiana many years ago that I was going to “have my bath,” they all looked at me quizzically. “A bath? Are you a woman?” one of them asked.

The exchange that ensued in response to his question taught me that in America “shower” is the usual word for what we call a “bath” in British and Nigerian English. I am uncomfortable with the word “shower” because it’s not all the time that I use the plumbing fixture that prays water all over one’s body when I go to the bathroom. What if I just manually spray water all over my body from a pail of water? Is that still a shower? In American English, the answer is yes.

 In America, you have a “bath” only when you fill up the bathtub with water and add something to foam and scent the bath water. This is also called a bubble bath. Men hardly do this. But my own understanding of the difference between a shower and a bath, which I am reluctant to give up even at the expense of being misunderstood here, is that a shower is a quick cleaning of the body, usually without soap and sponge, with or without water sprayed from a nozzle, while a bath is the cleaning of the body with soap and sponge. It is immaterial if you use a bucket or a projecting spout to discharge water to the body.

I should point out that “shower” has another meaning in American English: It can mean a party of friends or colleagues gathered to present gifts (usually to celebrate a wedding or the birth of a baby) to a person. A “bridal shower” is a gathering of friends to give gifts to a friend who has just wedded, and a “baby shower” is organized to give gifts to a friend or a colleague who is expecting a baby.

2.      “Proctor an exam.” This is the American English expression for “invigilate an exam,” that is, to watch over students taking an exam. A proctor is also an invigilator. When a colleague of mine in graduate school sent me an email requesting that I help him “proctor an exam” because he would be away from school, I shot back a request for clarification: “By ‘proctor an exam’ do you by any chance mean ‘invigilate an exam’?” He was as clueless about the meaning of “invigilate” as I was about “proctor.” That day we both learned something new. Seven years after, my teeth still itch when I say “proctor an exam.”

3.      “We are pregnant.” American husbands say “we are pregnant” when their wives are pregnant. I don’t think I can ever bring myself to say that. First, it’s a biological impossibility for a husband to be pregnant. But I understand the sociological basis for the expression. The modern American husband is often deeply involved in the pregnancy of his wife. But while it is socially defensible for a husband to claim to be “pregnant,” the expression is biologically absurd. I also think it’s an extreme dramatization of the famed feminization of the American husband. I can be involved with my wife’s pregnancy without being “pregnant”!

4.      “Pants.”  Almost everyone who speaks English knows that Americans call trousers pants. Because I grew up referring to the undergarment that covers the body from the waist to no further than the thighs “pants,” I have a hard time giving up the name “trousers.” But the American “pants” is actually the short form of pantaloon, which is an archaic word for trousers. In American English, undergarments (i.e., “pants” in British English) for adults are called “underpants” or “undershorts.” Undergarments specifically for women or children are called “panties.”

5.      “Gas,” “gas station.” I can’t get used to calling petrol “gas” and petrol station “gas station,” especially because I have been brought up to think of gas as a state of matter that is different from liquid or solid matter. In fairness to Americans, however, gas is only the short form of gasoline, an older name for petrol.

6.      “Uh-huh.” Increasingly in American English, the default response to the expression “thank you” is an irritating grunt that sounds like “uh-huh.” Conventional responses like “you are welcome,” “not a problem,” “you bet,” “sure” are declining in currency. Of course, older forms like “don’t mention it” and “think nothing of it” have been dead long ago. I am often reluctant to say “thank you” to people who respond to my expression of gratitude with the rude grunt “uh-huh.”

7.      “I could have went.” The past participle is dying in American English. But I have vowed never to participate in its burial. Clearly grammatically inaccurate expressions like “she should have saw [seen] him,” “they could have went [gone] there,” "he was beat [beaten] to death," etc are commonplace in modern American English. They grate on my nerves to no end.

8.      “Wait on somebody or something.” In British English (and American English until the last few years), it is customary to differentiate between “wait on” and “wait for.” To “wait on” somebody or something is to work for or be a servant to that person or thing, and to “wait for” somebody or something is to stay in one place and anticipate or expect somebody or something. That distinction still makes sense to me. That is why I will never be caught saying “wait on” when I mean “wait for.”

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

Re: Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke’s fake doctorate and professorship

As you would expect with subject-matters such as my last week’s column, I received tons of responses from readers, some of which I have decided to publish below. 

Dr. Farooq, thanks for this revelation. Nsukka must investigate this thoroughly. In the same university, students are known to obtain PhDs within 2 years. The forgery reminds me of one "Prof" of scam who got appointed as DG of NIPSS in Jos! You have also raised a timely comment on the poverty of scholarship in our universities. At times I really feel ashamed of being called a professor because of how it has been bastardized. A friend of mine jokes that professorships in our universities are now more like traditional titles. What campaign can be mounted through the NUC to sanitise the system? The future of the country certainly rests on this.
Prof. Jacob Kwaga 

In Nigeria 90% of us are busy looking for food. Our journalists have gotten their meal tickets by keeping quiet. You are talking of people who can pay. Please continue to expose them as you are out of their reach being that you are up there in the USA.
Salihu Elugi

I want to say that your argument has no basis. You are one of those that is out to assassinate characters of noble men and women of south East , who has [sic] added positively to our country. I am yet to see a Northerner of Islamic background that you will dig there [sic] profiles....There are so many of them there parading themselves. You are an Extremist.
I pray that God will make the Biafrans to be there [sic] Independent state. We do not want such religious bigotry [sic] like you!!!
Ugo Richie, Australia

Imagine the Real McCoys that were denied the opportunity to put their knowledge into practice for lack of godfathers and skills to kowtow. With young Nigerians reading these revelations and nothing is being heard from official quarters, do you need to go further asking questions on why and how Boko Haram may be spreading fast in Nigeria?
Abubakar Umar

I like it when fraudsters (irrespective of who they are) are thrust forward and shamed! This stinks to high heavens. And you hit the nail right on the head: it is debatable that there is any individual hired at any level of government in Nigeria who has got to that position on merit. And if merit is not the deciding factor, why would any one bother crosschecking credentials and certificates? I am ashamed to say the least.
Basil Ugochukwu

I read the article in today's WEELY TRUST. I just don't know what to say or even how to think of it. How could all these be happening in our Naija even with “Madam rebrander”? No wonder nothing got rebranded under her. How could it, with all the details you highlighted? I don't know what you think, but isn't the future bleak? Allah ya kwauta!
Is’haq Zango

Shakespeare it was, who said, do not be afraid of greatness; some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness bestowed upon them. But as a Nigerian I would add, some others forge or fake to greatness.

Criminals exist everywhere. In other sane climes, once caught, justice is carried out in the interest of the common good, but in Nigeria what do we do? At most, a pat on the back, 'go in peace son or daughter and sin no more.' I remember the case of Salisu Buhari of the Toronto fame and many others that followed. I'm happy that the writer also mentioned Mrs Dora Akunyili. The most annoying part is that these are individuals we worship and lavish praises and all kinds of honor on. I am terribly embarrassed.
Kalu Akaraka Friday

Hmmm! This is what one journalist wrote about her: "Her entry into the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) was hailed by industry players in the country and abroad. She came in with intimidating credentials having studied in the United States of America and worked with the prestigious New York Stock Exchange where she reportedly excelled…” Unknown to the gentleman, that intimidating CV was fake! In a serious country she would be made to refund all the entitlements she collected and jailed.
Bala Aminu

What an interesting piece. Was she not the same lady that organized a fund-raising dinner for the Obama campaign here in Nigeria until EFCC made her to return over N100 million donor's monies? Obama at that time also disassociated himself from her. Honestly, from the way she talked and acted when she was at the Nigerian Stock Exchange (Oh la la, did someone say she was never at the New York Stock Exchange as she had claimed?), I have always doubted if she's truly a professor? Obasanjo must have known something about this and kept quiet, while poor chaps like Speaker Salisu Buhari were given national humiliation for certificate forgery in this country? Now, the second chicken has finally come home to roost. Who will be the third chicken?
Christopher Godwin Akaba

Dr. Farooq, you have done a great service to Nigeria. You are commended. Our President needs to make all federal civil servants, ministers, advisers and consultants to show their certificates for verification! So, all along, she was using native intelligence, and possibly corruption, to run her organisation! No wonder that the whole market is now in shambles! Garbage in garbage out. Thank You Dr. Farooq. More exposure of the undeserving people, wherever they are in Nigeria.
Sani Mustapha

I am going through your very shocking article. Are we all fake in Nigeria now? My brother, I thank you for this exposure.
Ewoma Taigbenu

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