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Top 10 Outdated and/Or Made-up Words in Nigerian English

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D. Nigerian English has a wide variety of words that have either run out of fashion in the contemporary English...

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Nigerian English has a wide variety of words that have either run out of fashion in the contemporary English of native speakers of the language or that are entirely peculiarly Nigerian, that is, can’t be found in any English dictionary. In what follows, I identify and discuss top 10 such words:

1. “Rearer.” In Nigerian English this word almost always collocates with “cattle,” as in: “cattle rearer.” I have never heard anyone referred to as a “goat rearer” or a “sheep rearer” in Nigeria, perhaps because Nigerians don’t raise goats and sheep in as large numbers as they raise cattle. The first hint that “rearer” is an unusual word came from Microsoft Word, which disfigures the word with its cheeky red underline to indicate that it's is not in its internal dictionary. But Microsoft doesn't always offer a reliable guide of a word’s acceptability. First, its word bank is severely limited, especially for academics like me who use “big,” unusual, and sesquipedalian vocabularies in our academic writing. Second, it has a notoriously pro-American bias in its linguistic idiosyncrasies, especially if your computer is bought in America.

It turns, however, that “rearer” is actually an old-fashioned or obsolescent British English word. When I searched for it on Google, I found that it appeared only on Nigerian, Indian, and British Guyanese themed websites. I found no contemporary use of the term in British newspapers. Nor did I find it in American, Canadian, Australian or New Zealand websites. So I searched for “herder,” the term I’ve heard native speakers use for what we call “rearer” in Nigerian English and found millions of contemporary uses of the term in British and American news media websites. I modified the search to “cattle herder,” and my keywords yielded over 3 million matches. But a search for “cattle rearer” turned up only a little over 66,000 matches, mostly on the websites of former British colonies.

It is obvious, based on the foregoing, that “rearer” is an archaic British English word that has been replaced with “herder.” However, as is often the case, people on the periphery of the development of a language (such as Nigerian English speakers) are usually the last to catch on to new vocabularies, semantic shifts, and novel usage patterns that occur in the center of development of a language.

2. “Disvirgin.” As I’ve pointed out in previous articles, there is no such word as “disvirgin” in the English language. It is an entirely Nigerian English fabrication. No other variety of English in the world, except perhaps Ghanaian English, uses the word. Native English speakers use “deflower” to express the sense Nigerian English speakers seek to convey when they say “disvirgin.” A rarely used alternative to “deflower” is “devirginate.” The word is so rare that many reputable English dictionaries don’t have an entry for it. For instance, it doesn’t appear in the the most current edition of the Oxford Dictionary of English.  

3. “Opportuned.” Like “disvirgin,” this word does not exist in any English dictionary. It is an entirely Nigerian English word that was formed in ignorance. What exists in English dictionaries is “opportune,” without “d” at the end. Opportune means “timely” or “well-timed.” E.g. “Wait for an opportune moment to tell him how you really feel.” In Nigerian English we use “opportuned” where “privileged” is the appropriate word to use. Where we would say “I am opportuned to speak to this august gathering,” other speakers of the English language would say “I am privileged to speak to this august gathering.”

4. “Convocate.” This is an archaic and rare word that you won’t find in most modern dictionaries and that native speakers of the language never use. Its modern form is “convoke.” But the verb of choice in Nigerian English for the convening of the formal ceremony for the award of degrees is “convocate,” as in: “our school convocated last Saturday.” Native speakers don’t even use “convoke,” the modern alternative to “convocate,” in that sense. They simply say something like “Our school had a convocation last Saturday.” Convoke is often used in relation to formal meetings or gatherings, as in: convoke a conference or convoke a meeting of the National Assembly/the Federal Executive Council, etc.

5. “Gisted.” The verb form of this word is not known to any other variety of English outside Nigerian English. Native speakers say “chitchat” where Nigerians say “gist.” In Standard English gist is usually a noun that means the central idea of a conversation, a speech, an argument, etc., as in: “what is the gist of President Goodluck Jonathan’s long broadcast?” Gist is never used as a verb in Standard English, and it has not the remotest semantic connection with light informal conversations.

I think it was the prolific and highly talented Dr. Herbert Igboanusi of the University of Ibadan who once pointed out that “gisted”—and its other inflections such as “gisting”— started as a slang term in southern Nigerian universities before it percolated into general Nigerian English.

6. “Detribalized.” Nigerians use this word as an adjective of approval for someone who isn’t wedded to narrow ethnic or communal allegiances; it describes a person who is nationalist, cosmopolitan, liberal, progressive, and broadminded. But that’s not the way native English speakers understand and use the word. To “detribalize,” according to the Oxford Dictionary of English, is to “remove (someone) from a traditional tribal social structure.” In Australia, for instance, English settlers forcefully took away children from their parents and took them to white foster homes to “detribalize” them, in other words, to take the “tribe” out of them, to “civilize” them. That program was called “detribalization.” It arose out of the notion that “tribes” are a collection of savages that need to be civilized—or “detribalized.”

It’s a shame that educated Nigerians describe themselves as “detribalized” and think it’s a badge of honor. The ignorance is just galling! 

This is the usage advice that the latest edition of the Oxford Dictionary gives on the use of the word tribe: “In historical contexts the word tribe is broadly accepted (the area was inhabited by Slavic tribes), but in contemporary contexts it is problematic when used to a community living within a traditional society. It is strongly associated with past attitudes of white colonialists towards so-called primitive or uncivilized peoples living in remote underdeveloped places. For this reason it is generally preferable to use alternative terms such as community or people.”

I have written at least five previous articles in the past six years calling attention to the impropriety of calling modern people anywhere “tribes.” It is racist and ignorant.(For my previous articles on the word "tribe," see "What's My Tribe? None!", "Of Tribe and Pride: Deconstructing Alibi's Alibi for Racial Self-Hatred", "The Anti-African Racist Insults Obama Got Away With in Ghana")
7. “Jealousing." I have heard many young Nigerians people say something like “she is jealousing me because of my success.” I thought this unusually nonstandard usage of “jealous” was confined to Nigerian Pidgin English until I heard supposedly educated young Nigerians use it. Well, jealous has no verb form.

8. “Pepperish.” No native English speaker says pepperish” to describe the burning sensation we feel from eating pepper. The usual word is “peppery.”

9. “Cunny.” The adjective usually rendered as “cunny” in Nigerian English (as in: that boy is very cunny; he tricked me into giving him my phone and he ran away with it) is properly spelled as “cunning” in Standard English. Most native speakers recognize “cunny” either as a slang term for the female reproductive organ or as an archaic word for a rabbit.

10. “Mannerless.” Mannerless, the Nigerian English adjective of choice for “rude,” “ill-bred,” etc., is an outdated word. Its modern equivalents are ill-mannered, bad-mannered, unmannered, etc. Someone once challenged me that he found “mannerless” in many online dictionaries and wondered why I said it wasn’t Standard English. Well, it’s because most native speakers don’t use it any longer, its listing in online dictionaries notwithstanding.


“Instalmentally.” This is a uniquely Nigerian English word. In Standard English, installment—or “instalment” if you prefer British spelling—does not take the “ly” form when it’s used as an adverb of manner. Its adverbial form is “in installments.” So it is, “I will pay for my laptop in installments,” not “I will pay for my laptop installmentally.”

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  1. Brilliant article, Farooq. You got the "cunny" and "cunning" parts mixed up though so kindly edit that section. Again, what word should we use in place of "detribalized" then? Thanks a lot!

  2. Thanks, Ifeanyi. I've fixed the mix-up. Substitute for "detribalized"? Sadly, there is none, as far as I know. I suggest you describe the person instead if you are addressing an international audience.


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