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Re: Idioms, Mistranslation, and Abati’s Double Standards

I am going to break tradition this week and feature responses to my last week’s column. I normally don’t do that for my grammar column....

I am going to break tradition this week and feature responses to my last week’s column. I normally don’t do that for my grammar column. But I hope you enjoy the insights shared by my readers in the responses below.

An interesting piece. The description of the translation of “out of sight, out of mind” into “invisible, insane” was priceless. :) Translation is, indeed a complicated task.
R. Kahendi

Prof., let me add one idiom: Let the sleeping dog lie. In Hausa it translates as Abar kaza cikin gashinta. Would someone interpret the English version as “Abar kare yayi barci” and the Hausa one as “let’s leave the chicken in its feather?” Abati's action is deliberate.
Ibrahim Rufai Buhari

A Facebook friend has advised that since Abati chose to translate Buhari’s idiom directly, he should let the translation be 100 percent, that is, “come 2015 election if PDP rigs (which, of course, they will), then Buhari has ordered that everyone should run into the bush, catch and kill dogs and baboons”!
Umar Ibrahim Tafida

My concern is that Buhari's remarks are still a bit problematic even if correctly interpreted. Let's assume that "kare jini biri jini" just means "fierce competition". From his remarks, I can gather two things: 1. Whatever he was predicting will happen AFTER the 2015 election and not before it 2. He is promising a NEW kind of reaction to PDP's rigging different from the way his party has reacted before.

Now, considering these two points, how would you apply the expression "fierce competition" to the 2015 post-election period? Was he referring to a fierce legal battle or fierce post-election press conferences? Or is it fierce rallies and demonstrations? It is unlikely that he was referring to a fierce legal battle because his party engaged in that three times before with no positive outcome. It is also unlikely that he was referring to fierce press conferences to reject the rigged result because his party has done that one too previously. The last one, i.e., fierce protest rallies and demonstrations is the likely one because his party has not done that before officially.

 If my assumption is correct, here is the problem: while peaceful demonstrations and protest rallies are legitimate and legal, what form would CPC post-election protest rallies take in the imagination of ordinary uneducated supporters if their leader says they are going to be "fierce"? In the leader's mind, a fierce rally may just mean a well-attended, noisy and persistent one; to the uneducated supporter, it could mean a rally where participants bear clubs and machetes. This is where the problem lies.
Dr. Bello Raji

Once again, you captured the moment brilliantly with your latest article. The true value of this topic is that it is applicable to a wide spectrum of situations. A politician of Buhari's caliber, however, should understand the mindset of his opponents well enough not to couch his messages in nuanced slang and idioms that give ammunition to his detractors to boomerang them back at him.

Take Politics: With the American presidential election looming, this is just timely. When President Obama says he is in favour of "women having a choice over their wombs," his GOP enemies spin off that the president "declares war on women." When he says he supports "Gay marriages" the blazing headlines by his opponents translate to "Obama declares war on heterosexual marriages."

What I'll like to point out is that in political settings language misinterpretation becomes a tool for propaganda and the dissemination of misinformation. This is largely owed to intellectual dishonesty, paralysing stupidity or political opponents with the unfortunate attributes of being very thick.

Depending on the mindset of the audience they're trying to convince with mangled information (hostile or friendly) it will suit a disingenuous politician to spin, misquote, misinterpret, mistranslate and twist an original speaker's words to suit their multifarious shades of dishonesty.

Take Friends: Again I've seen this sort of deliberate artifice even in ordinary people. A number of friends will read the same article, listen to the same piece of news item and chose to give it a spin that is comestible to the mental palates of people they want to suck up to, as long as the information doesn't chime with the the people they want to please.

It all comes down to integrity not even perception, isn't it? It is gross, disingenuous and egregious falsity. But ambiguous messages leave room for opponents to do the business. It provokes the exact negative sentiment they want their listener to feel. We cannot always trust even the most educated people to understand our own quirks and slang...or give it the benefit of the doubt. We face a triple threat: Dishonesty, ignorance and misunderstanding.

By the way, I know many more people who read your columns, and I've read your direct quotes from them, without the honesty to cite you as their source. Just one point.
Samira Edi

Farooq, you just hit the nail on the head! And we were made to understand that Abati graduated with a First Class degree. Aside the academic aspect, I have always faulted Mr. Abati's mental strength, i.e., his inappropriate application of "wisdom" where it matters. Mr. Ima Niboro was not like that. We could see the way Niboro handled or managed issues relating to the Late Yar-Adua's health at a time cabinet members were misbehaving and our National Assembly members in a fix as to what to do.

In the US, presidential speech writers or spokespersons do their research work very well so that they do not have to embarrass their country or the Commander-in-Chief. But here, Abati seems to do everything in a rush without proper research or consultation. The end result is the over-heating of our polity as we are currently witnessing. And I tell you, Mr. Reuben Abati is embarrassing me.
Christopher Godwin Akaba

Fact remains that majority of Nigerians know that Buhari is hated only by the corrupt. And Insha Allah, we Nigerians will mobilise and get rid of all of them that are destroying our great Nation. Ask yourself why wouldn't these corrupt elements misconstrue Buhari? Of course they will use any form of distractions to cover their tracks. And their cyber dogs will continue to defend them at the expense of the suffering masses. Please don't blame the cyber dogs, they are used to eating crumbs like their Jonathan who has no shoe but suddenly forgets the masses that gave him plenty of shoes.
Marian Iyabode Awolowo

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