Sunday, December 29, 2013

Useless Repetitions You Should Avoid in English (III)

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

I apologize for my inability to write my column these past weeks. I visited Nigeria and didn’t have the time to write. This week, I continue with the series I started on December 1. I am writing this from Nigeria, but by the time you will read this, I’ll be back to my base in the United States.

58. The RAS syndrome. The phrase stands for Redundant Acronym Syndrome syndrome. The phrase intentionally repeats “syndrome” to underline the phenomenon it describes. It is the tendency to pronounce the last letter of an acronym along with the acronym itself, thus unintentionally saying it twice.   I wrote about this in a June 9, 2013 titled “Between Useless and Useful Tautologies in English.”

 I mentioned a few examples in the write-up. Other examples are GOP (party) (i.e., Grand Old Party party), PDP (party) (i.e., People’s Democratic Party party), GRE (exams), (i.e., Graduate Records Exams exams), HIV (virus), ATM (machine) (i.e., Automated Teller Machine machine), PIN (number), ISBN (number), LCD (display), UPC (code), etc. While the RAS syndrome is indefensible in writing, it is perfectly permissible in speech because it helps the cause of clarity. For instance, in speech, “PIN” (Personal Identification Number) can come across as “pin,” which can mean a whole host of things, but “PIN number” leaves the interlocutor in no doubt what is being referred to. 

59. Had done (previously). “Had done” indicates an action has been completed in the past. 
“Previously” adds nothing to that sense, so “had done so previously” is a pointless repetition.

60. (Harmful) injuries. Since “harmless injuries” are not even in the realm of possibility (it isn’t an injury if it’s harmless), “harmful injuries” is pointless verbiage. Injuries can’t be anything but harmful.

61. (Hollow) tube. Like “empty hole” in number 37, “hollow tube” is a useless repetition. A tube is invariably hollow.

62. Hurry (up). Although this is a standard phrase, it can do without “up” and convey the same meaning.

63. (Illustrated) drawing. A drawing is an illustration by hand. Therefore, “illustrated drawing” is superfluous verbiage.

64. Introduced (a new). To “introduce” necessarily implies bringing something new, so to “introduce a new” anything is redundant. A similar tautology is “introduced (for the first time).” Introduction is always new—and for the first time.

65.  (Knowledgeable) experts. They are experts only because they are knowledgeable. Can you imagine an “ignorant expert”?

66. Lag (behind). To lag is to fall behind in movement, progress, etc.  So “lag behind” is useless repetition since nobody ever lags forward.

67. (Live) studio audience. “Live” meansactually being performed at the time of hearing or viewing.” That is exactly what a “studio audience” also means. So “live studio audience” is a useless repetition.

68. (Living) witness. Witnesses are always living because, well, dead men tell no tales. But if you find a dead witness, please let me know!

69. Look (ahead) to the future. Where else do you look to but ahead, especially when you talk of the future? It would be interesting if one could “look behind” to the future.

70. Look back (in retrospect). Both “look back” and “in retrospect” mean the same thing: thinking of things past, remembering.

71. (Major) breakthrough. Breakthroughs are by nature major. If they are minor, they are not breakthroughs. A similar useless repetition is “(major) feat.” Feats can’t be anything but major; if they are not major, they are not feats.

72. Manually (by hand). When something is done manually, it is done by hand. That makes “manually by hand” a redundant phrase. It’s as redundant as saying “electronically by computer.”

73.  (Native) habitat. A habitat is an organism’s native environment, its home ground. So “nativeness” is an indispensable quality of the notion of a habitat. That makes the phrase “native habitat” superfluous. 

74. (Natural) instinct. Instincts are the inborn, thus natural, patterns of behavior or feelings we evince in response to stimuli. Since it’s impossible to conceive of an artificial instinct, “natural instinct” is a useless repetition.

75. (New) beginning. Although there are occasions when “new beginning” can be justified, as I pointed out in my June 9, 2013 article, the phrase is often a needless linguistic excess. Most beginnings are new, so it’s unnecessary to describe them as “new” again. Related tautologies are “(new) construction,” “(new) innovation,” “(new) invention,” and “(new) recruit.”

76. Nostalgia (for the past). What else can one have nostalgia for other than the past? Nostalgia is sentimental longing for the past, so “nostalgia for the past” is redundant.

78. (Old) adage. Adages and proverbs are old sayings, so it’s useless verbiage to modify them with the adjective “old.” The same is true of “(old) custom,” “(old) tradition,” and “(old) convention.”

79. (Oral) conversation. Conversations are always oral, although it is legitimate to talk of written or online conversations.

80. (Originally) created. Creation is by nature original, that is, not copied from something else. If it is not original, it is not created, so “originally created” is pleonastic.

81. (Overused) cliché. A cliché is an expression that has lost its freshness and vitality because of overuse. It is useless repetition to talk of an “overused cliché.” Clichés are always overused.

82. (Pair of) twins. Twins are by definition a pair.

83. (Passing) fad. Fads are trends that last a short time. That is also the definition of “passing” when it is used as an adjective. That makes “passing fad” redundant.

84. (Past) experience. Experiences are always already about the past. So “past experience” is redundant—just like “(past) history,” “(past) memories,” and “(past) records” are.

85. Period (of time). Just “period” will do since a period also refers to time.

86. (Personal) friend. It is sufficient to simply say a person is your friend. Friendship is inherently personal, so “personal friend” is needlessly repetitive. 

87. (Personal) opinion. Can you think of an impersonal opinion? An opinion is essentially a personal belief or judgment. It is inevitably personal. Therefore, “personal opinion” is a pointless waste of words.

88. Plan (in advance). Planning is necessarily about events or things that haven’t happened yet, so “plan in advance” is a waste of words.

89. (Please) RSVP. RSVP is a French acronym. It stands for “répondez s'il vous plait,” which means “please respond.” That means “please RSVP” is a tautologic expression.

90. Plunge (down). This is another directional tautology. The only direction you can plunge to is down, not up.  

91. (Polar) opposites. Polar means “completely opposed,” so “polar opposites” means “completely opposed opposites.” That’s evidently a pointless repetition.

92. Postpone (until later). Postpone means to put off until later. “Until later” is unnecessary where “postpone” is mentioned.

To be concluded next week

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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Re: A UK-based Nigerian Lecturer’s Comparison of British and Nigerian Universities

My interview with Dr. Aliyu Musa, who is a journalism lecturer at Britain’s Coventry University, evoked interesting reactions, especially from people who are sympathetic to the cause of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). Some people said my questions to Dr. Musa—and the responses the questions elicited— were backhanded jibes at ASUU, which just called off—sorry “suspended”—a cripplingly prolonged strike.

 I can’t stop people from exercising their interpretive freedom, but my object in the interview—and in the series of articles I intend to write on the state of teaching , scholarship, service and remuneration in Nigerian universities—was to establish a global context for the perpetual demands and expectations of Nigerian university teachers. ASUU almost always makes its case for higher wages and perks by appealing to international models. It would really help if someone does a systematic comparison of Nigerian universities with university systems in other parts of the world—of course, taking local peculiarities into account.

I know I will be attacked in the coming weeks for bringing certain issues to light in my comparisons, but as a public commentator, I am already used to that. Plus, I am just interested in democratizing awareness of how our universities are run, given how central universities are to nation-building, especially in a developing country like Nigeria.

A lot of my readers asked many thoughtful questions in response to the interview. My next write-up will address some of these questions. Meanwhile, enjoy a sample of the responses.

Why are there no questions/comments about the comparative level of institutional support for research and professional development, such as conference participation, that is available to Nigerian and UK academics?  Where are the comparative figures on class sizes; and staff-student ratio that UK and Nigerian academics encounter in their contexts?
Felix Kayode Olakulehin, University of Leeds, UK

The interview was basically a comparison between the university systems in the UK or the West generally and in Nigeria. Curiously the crux of the whole article was on Nigerian university lecturers earned academic allowances. One lecturer of Nigerian descent based in the UK was interviewed in which he said academics in the UK don't earn any extra allowances outside their salaries for doing anything they are employed to do.

I have always liked Kperogi's articles, but this one is completely off track! Agreed that lecturers in the UK don't get allowances for any extra work, but do they even do any extra work? How many students does a lecturer have there? The interviewee should equally have told us how much is a salary of a lecturer compared to his counterpart here in Nigeria. And lastly, why is he working there? If he is so jealous about the earned academic allowances why did he run away to the UK to teach? I am sure a Nigerian university lecturer will gladly forget about allowances if his pay will be at par with that of a lecturer in the UK or US or West generally.
Yari Yahya, Bauchi

Interesting interview. Very interesting initiative to compare Nigerian universities to those in the UK and the U.S. Comparison of some kind is inevitable and indeed useful. However, I think that this kind of comparison is too straightforward to be much useful. It merely deals with the effects, rather than the underlying causes, of the situations being compared. It is like comparing wages and salaries in the UK and Nigeria without taking into account purchasing power parity. For example, the working conditions for lecturers in the two systems are vastly different: the number of students per class, the number of courses per lecturer per semester, the number of students per supervisor, availability and quality of resources, facilities, etc. Perhaps a more useful comparison would take these into account. But on the whole, it is good to compare, after all, as the linguists say, meaning is a product of difference.
Suleiman A. Suleiman, Cambridge, UK

I think you missed a question on whether the British system actually has the "excess load" which we have in Nigeria. I have never been there but am sure no lecturer will be assigned as many as 300 to 400 students per class. May be that's why they are not paid for it. Lecturers in developed economies have very few students to teach/supervise, so nothing is excess there. I have a class of 480 students (undergraduate) to teach in my school back in Nigeria. I am doing my PG studies now in a Malaysian university (a developing economy, not even developed). We have a class of 18 but the lecturer has been complaining that she won't be able to teach us effectively. Our system is terrible. If not for ASUU’s series of strikes I believe our universities could have gone the ways of NITEL, NIGERIAN AIRWAYS etc.
Isma'il Isa, University of Malaya, Malaysia

Just think about it, what university in advanced economy would put 300 to 400 students for one lecturer? Doesn't that show the level of incompetence in Nigerian educational management system? It's counterproductive. Many Nigerian universities buildings are left to dilapidation. Their dormitories are pit of hell. I amazed that students are able to learn.
Uche Echi, New York

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Useless Repetitions You Should Avoid in English (II)

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

This is a continuation from last week. (Click on this link for the first part). It was originally published in the Sunday Trust of December 8, 2013.

20. Cacophony (of sound). The phrase is a useless repetition because cacophony is by definition a disagreeable mixture of sounds. Since sound is the stuff of cacophony, it’s pleonastic to talk of a “cacophony of sound.”

21.  (Careful) scrutiny. It isn’t a scrutiny if it isn’t careful. A scrutiny is a close, prolonged, intense examination of something.

23. Classify (into groups). The essence of classification is arranging into groups. Your prose will be more elegant if you eliminate “into groups” from the phrase.

24. Collaborate (together). To collaborate is to work together, so saying “collaborate together” is a pointless repetition.  Similar superfluous constructions are “assemble (together),” “combine (together),” “confer (together),” “connect (together),”cooperate (together),”spliced (together),”integrate (together),” “meet together,”gather (together),” “fuse (together),” “mix together,” “meet together,” “join together,” “share (together),” etc.

25. Commute (back and forth). Commuting involves traveling back and forth, so “commute back and forth” is excess linguistic luggage.

26. Compete (with each other). To compete is to engage in a contest with each other. You can’t compete with yourself. Similar expressions to avoid if you want to save space are “integrate (with each other),” “interdependent (on each other),” “meet (with each other),” “mutual respect (for each other),” “equal (to one another),” etc.

27. (Completely) annihilate. Annihilation necessarily involves a complete destruction. If the destruction isn’t total it’s not annihilation. Similar supernumerary expressions are “(completely) destroyed,” “(completely) eliminate,” “(completely) engulfed,” “(completely) filled,” “(completely) surround,” “eradicate (completely),” “eliminate (altogether),” “(entirely) eliminate,” etc. All the verbs in these expressions entail “complete” actions, so “completely” is a useless repetition.

28. (Component) parts. Both words mean the same thing. You can do without one.
29. Consensus (of opinion). A consensus is the concordance of opinions, so “consensus of opinions” is redundant.

30. (Constantly) maintained. “Maintain” already implies constancy. You cannot intermittently or periodically maintain.

31. Could (possibly). “Could” is a modal auxiliary that expresses possibility. That means the words “could” and “possibly” basically perform the same function, making “could possibly” a surplusage, that is, more words than needed to express an idea. Related surplusages are “may possibly” and “might possibly.” 

32. Crisis (situation). A crisis IS a situation. The addition of “situation” to “crisis” is redundant. This is also true of “emergency (situation).”

33. (Current) trend. All trends are current. That is what makes them trends. If they weren’t current, they wouldn’t be trends; they would be passé. A similar, if less frequent, redundancy is “(current) incumbent.”

33. Depreciate (in value). When something depreciates it loses value. “Value” forms the core of the notion of depreciation—and appreciation. So it’s useless repetition to say something has depreciated—or appreciated—“in value.” It is sufficient to say it has depreciated.

34. Descend (down). Just like “ascend up,” “descend down” is needlessly repetitive since “down” is the only direction to which you can descend. Similar tautologies, which are nonetheless idiomatic in the language, are “drop (down),” “dwindle (down),”  “kneel (down),” “(down) south,” “(up) north,” etc.

35. (Desirable) benefits. Benefits are by nature desirable gains. Unless we can talk of “undesirable benefits” (which would be a contradiction in terms), “desirable benefits” is pointless phraseology.

34. (Different) kinds. They wouldn’t be “kinds” if they were not “different.”

35. Disappear (from sight). Where else do you disappear from? Nothingness?

36. During (the course of). This is more words than are necessary to say “on” or “throughout.” It’s similar to “earlier (in time).”

37. (Empty) hole. Is a hole supposed to be full? It’s a hole precisely because it’s empty.  “(Empty) space” belongs in the same class of tautology as “empty hole,” although I think “empty space” is more defensible than “empty hole.”

38. Enclosed (herein). This popular phrase in email and snail-mail correspondence can do without “herein” and retain the same meaning.

39. (End) result. Results never come in the beginning. They always come at the end. Other finalist tautologies (my coinage for redundant expressions to express an ending) are “(final) conclusion,” “(final) end,” “(final) outcome,” “(final) ultimatum,” etc.

40. Estimated at (about). Both “estimate” and “about” express the same meaning: imprecision, incertitude.

42. Evolve (over time). To evolve means to change over time. Evolution is never constant. That’s why the phrase is a pointless repetition.

43. (Exact) same. Both words express the notion of identical properties, yet many people, including me, love to describe things as “exact same."

44. Extradite (back). Extradite means to hand over back to the authorities of another country. Since extradition involves a “back” movement, the phrase can do without “back.” Similar phrases are “revert (back),” “return (back),” “refer (back),” “reflect (back),” “reply (back),” “retreat (back),” etc.

45. (Favorable) approval. Approvals are always favorable. It’s hard to conceive of an unfavorable approval.

46. (Fellow) classmates. A fellow is someone who is a member of one’s class or profession, so the expressions “fellow classmates” and “fellow colleagues” are pointless repetitions.

47. Few (in number). This is a useless repetition because fewness is and can only be about numbers. This tautology is similar to “many (in number),” “blue (in color),” “short (in stature,” “tall (in height),” “I am Muhammad (by name),” etc.

48. Filled (to capacity) or full (to capacity). This is a well-established phrase in conversational English, but it’s pleonastic nonetheless. “To capacity” adds nothing to the phrase.

49. (First) conceived. Nothing precedes conception. It’s always a first activity.

50. Fly (through the air). Where else do you fly through? The ground?

51. (Foreign) imports. Since an import is by definition foreign, the phrase “foreign import” is a waste of words.

52. (Former) graduate. A graduate is a former student. It is logically impossible to be a “former graduate” since you can’t graduate from graduating. A similar pleonasm is “(former) veteran.”

53. (Free) gift. The American advertising industry perpetually promises people “free gifts,” but it isn’t a gift if it isn’t free. I am yet to see a gift that is paid for.

54. (Frozen) ice. Oh, so you want the ice to burn like a “burning ember”? Seriously, since it has to be frozen to be ice, “frozen ice” is superfluous.

55.  (Full) satisfaction. Unless there is “empty satisfaction,” it is unnecessary to talk of full satisfaction since satisfaction is, of necessity, always full.

56.  (Future) plans. Plans by nature belong in the future, not anywhere else—certainly not in the past. A similar surplusage is “(future) recurrence.”

57.  (General) public. The public is always general, never private, so “general public” is a useless repetition.

To be continued

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A UK-based Nigerian Lecturer’s Comparison of British and Nigerian Universities

Nigerian universities have traditions that I can’t find parallels for in any major world university—such as “excess workload allowances,” allowances for grading papers, and such other strange practices. So I set out to compare the traditions of Nigerian universities with those of the UK and America, two countries whose traditions we ape. I am starting this adventure with an interview with Dr. Aliyu Musa, a former Daily Trust foreign affairs editor who now teaches global journalism at UK’s Coventry University. Enjoy!

1. Do British journals pay reviewers to review articles? And do authors pay to publish articles in journals?

I am not aware of any payments made to journal article reviewers here in the UK. I have reviewed for some journals but never received any payment. So, I don’t think reviewers are paid and this, perhaps, explains why they take their time to review articles (sometimes up to one year). I have heard friends and colleagues say they get payment requests for journal articles; I was once asked to pay. But from my investigations all the journal publishers asking for payment from authors are not based in the UK. And academics who patronise them often learn in the end that publishing with such journals is a complete waste of time, money and valuable research data, because they are not accepted for Research Excellence Framework (REF) return.

Dr. Aliyu O Musa
2. Do lecturers get paid extra allowances for marking papers, supervising exams, supervising undergraduate and postgraduate theses, etc.?

Lecturers are not paid any extra allowances for doing any or all of the above. In fact it is stated in the job advert (duties) that at some point the successful candidate would be asked to do those. It is, as such, part of the package, although sometimes one could negotiate with their immediate manager or team leader when or who should do what, like second marking exams, supervising theses. I did more than five Saturdays of unpaid full day work during Open Days and prospective students recruitment and interviews last academic session. The only advantage is you may ask for one working day off in lieu of each Saturday. In some universities lecturers are not involved in supervising exams – there is exams office under the academic registry, which recruits invigilators. Also, in some departments like mine we do not set exams for students, we assess them both normatively and summatively through presentations, coursework and portfolio of artefacts which are handed at specified times and any late submission attracts a zero mark.

3. Do British universities operate the cohort model of education where people who are admitted to a school in the same year graduate--or are expected to graduate-- at the same time?

Yes, most universities now run September and January cohorts.

4. Do British universities have "carry-over" and "spill-over"?

One is allowed to carry over modules on certain conditions: (a) if there are compelling reasons to allow such students like bereavement, health or if they elect to do a gap year which allows them to do something else (this is only application to undergraduate students; (b) if a students fails to hand in any credit scoring coursework and is marked as absent; (c) if a students fails their second attempt i.e. resit. While in the first case (a) they are allowed to resume their studies without fresh payments (provide they were up to date in their payments) in the other situations they will have to pay fresh fees for the modules they carried over.

5. When students retake a course they failed, do their new grades completely replace their previous failing grades? As you know, in Nigeria, that's not the case.

Yes, but the highest they can score is %40 regardless of the student’s performance.

6. What are the criteria to rise through the academic ranks in terms of teaching and research?

Teaching experience, Research outputs, ability to secure funding and qualifications (qualification is mainly useful at the early stage). And sometime industry experience helps.

7. Do students evaluate their lecturers at the end of every semester? If yes, do the evaluations have any weight in promotion, etc.?

Students do module evaluations plus NSS (National Students Survey, which determine university/department’s position on the league table, based on overall satisfaction and students’ destination). This is one of the criteria for evaluating lecturers’ performance. So, it might impact on promotion. But this will also depend on one’s overall DPR (a review done every six months to set targets or look at one’s achievements). Targets include teaching, contributions to students experience, securing funding, research output, raising the university’s profile through conferences/international seminars etc., recruitment, collaboration with businesses etc.

8. Do British universities have the tenure system where lecturers are given a certain number of years to meet certain expectations (in terms of teaching and research) after which they either get a lifetime employment or get fired?

Not necessarily. Here, based on the need at the time, lecturers are hired on temporary or permanent basis and given six months probationary status. If they are found to be competent on the job they continue, otherwise they are relieved of their responsibilities and asked to go.

9. Finally, what other similarities and differences have you observed between Nigerian and British universities?

1.      There is a lot of emphasis on research and funding
2.      Universities sustain themselves through recruitments (especially international) of students whose fees are very helpful
3.      Lecturers are supported to do their job through continuous professional development like PGCERT which is paid for by the university because the plan is to make sure everyone has some teaching qualification
4.      Obviously there is a robust but healthy competition amongst the universities towards recruitment and securing funding
5.      They are now internationalising by partnering with universities in some countries like China, Nigeria, India, South Africa, Brazil etc.