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Q and A on Nigerian and American English Expressions—and More

Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D. In this week’s edition of my Q and A series, you will find answers to questions on the grammatical correctnes...

Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

In this week’s edition of my Q and A series, you will find answers to questions on the grammatical correctness of the name of Nigeria’s newest political party, the proper plural form of the noun “faithful” (is it “faithfuls” or just “the faithful”?), and the differences between “rub minds” and “meeting of the minds.”  Enjoy.

I read your column religiously every week. Today I come to you with a question. I am sure you've heard of the opposition alliance APC. I have read and heard several versions of this acronym:  All Progressive Congress, All Progressives Congress, and All Progressives' Congress. I was wondering which of the three versions is actually grammatically correct. And does an acronym have to be grammatically correct?

Of the three names you mentioned, only "All Progressives Congress" is clearly grammatically incorrect. “All Progressive Congress” is correct (note that there is no “s” at the end of “progressive”) because "all" and "progressive" serve as modifiers of "congress"—on the model of such expressions as "all-male party," "all-female company," etc. The problem, though, is that there is no hyphen between "all" and "progressive." 

There should be because both words together function as what grammarians call a compound modifier. But hyphens are difficult to observe, and it is clumsy to have them in the name of a political party—or any organization. "All Progressives' Congress" is also correct—it is actually the best of the three—because it shows a simple case of possession. The apostrophe at the end of "progressives" (note the plural) indicates that the "congress" is owned by, or is for, people who identify with the political philosophy of progressivism.

Yes, it helps for acronyms to be grammatically correct, but names of organizations can flout the rules of grammar. There are many examples of that even in countries where English is a native language. The general usage guide is that you should respect the names that companies and organizations choose to be known by even if, in your judgment, the names violate the rules of grammar.

You once wrote that “faithfuls” is not the plural of the noun “faithful,” that is, a group of people who belong to a religion or a political party. But someone argued with me the other day that “faithfuls” is indeed the acceptable plural of “faithful.” He said he found “faithfuls” in an online dictionary. What can you say about that?

The standard plural for “faithful” when it is used as a noun to mean staunch followers of or believers in a faith, ideology, or creed, is “the faithful,” not “faithfuls.” It should be “millions of the Christian faithful,” “millions of the Muslim faithful,” “thousands of the party faithful at the PDP convention,” etc. I have never heard any educated native English speaker say “faithfuls.” In fact, there appears a wiggly red underline beneath the word when you type it on Microsoft Word, indicating that it’s not recognized as an English word. Plus, the world’s most prestigious English dictionary—the Oxford English Dictionary—says the plural of “faithful” is “the faithful.” It does not list “faithfuls” as an alternative plural form for “faithful.”

I am aware that the online edition of Merriam-Webster Dictionary says that when “faithful” is used outside religious contexts, it can be pluralized to “faithfuls.” It gives the expression “party faithfuls” as an example. That means while it does not recognize the pluralization of “faithful” in reference to religions as legitimate, it tolerates its pluralization elsewhere.

However, when I searched the British National Corpus, the definitive record of contemporary spoken and written British English, I found only two records for “party faithfuls,” but found thousands of records for “the party faithful.” The Corpus of Contemporary American English— which has been described as “the first large, genre-balanced corpus of any language, which has been designed and constructed from the ground up as a ‘monitor corpus’, and which can be used to accurately track and study recent changes in the language”— did not return a single record for “party faithfuls,” but had thousands of matches for “the party faithful.

What this tells me is that “faithfuls” as a plural of “faithful” is rare, non-standard in British English and completely absent in American English. I would never advise you to use “faithfuls” in careful writing or in polite company. It would make you sound illiterate.

Which of the following is acceptable in Standard English: "to robb minds" or "to meet minds," as in “we want to robb minds in order to reach a conclusion” or “we want to meet minds...”

You probably meant to write "rub minds" instead of "robb minds." (To rob, of course, is to steal. I would hope that the world does not degenerate to the stage that people’s minds can literally be robbed! It would make plagiarism lame. Why steal someone’s ideas when you can steal the whole mind that produced the idea?)

On a serious note, I wrote about the expression “rub minds” many times in previous articles. Some language columnists in Nigeria have said it is a peculiarly Nigerian English expression. That’s not entirely accurate.  It’s actually an archaic or rarely used American English expression for "brainstorm," that is, solving a problem by thinking hard about it.

Although it’s clearly an American English expression, there is no record for “rub minds” in the Corpus of Contemporary American English or, for that matter, in the Corpus of Historical American English, which contains an impressive record of spoken and written American English from 1810 to 2009. However, I found an April 4, 1999 New York Times article with the title “The Fledglings Rub Minds With Some High Fliers.”

That means although Nigerian English—and Ghanaian English, Nigerian English’s closest cousin—uses the expression “rub minds” more liberally than any other variety of English in the world, it’s not a Nigerian English invention. Nevertheless, my sense is that you’re unlikely to be understood by young Americans if you say you want to “rub minds” with them on an issue. I have never heard the expression in conversational English here. It is entirely meaningless in British English.

"Meeting of the minds" is another American English idiom that is used more commonly in formal and legal contexts than it is in conversational English. It means "mutual agreement." It does not mean sharing ideas or solutions in the sense that Nigerian English speakers use “rub minds.” The 2002 edition of McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs defines it as “the establishment of agreement; complete agreement.” And here are the examples it gives of how the expression is used:  “After a lot of discussion we finally reached a meeting of the minds.”  “We struggled to bring about a meeting of the minds on the issues.”

A recent example I found of the use of the expression by a notable US news organization is the Christian Science Monitor’s January 20, 2011 headline that reads: “Can Obama, Congress meet minds to revamp No Child Left Behind?” It’s basically the same as “Can Obama, Congress agree to revamp No Child Left Behind?”

The Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms (2003) has a slightly different rendering of the meaning of the expression. It defines it as “a situation in which people find that they have similar ideas and opinions” (p. 266). The following is the dictionary’s example of how to use the expression: “There was a true meeting of minds between the two leaders during the six-hour talk.”

I have read many Nigerian grammar columnists who advised that people should prefer “meeting of the minds” to “rub minds.” Well, the two expressions are completely different and can’t be interchanged.  

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  1. Re - "I have never heard any educated native English speaker say “faithfuls.” "

    Could an educated native speaker sya "faithfuls" with intentional scarcasm or does she need a special poetic license - granted by Her Majesty ?,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.&bvm=bv.42768644,d.bGE&fp=308f516791364cba&biw=1024&bih=610

  2. Re - "I have never heard any educated native English speaker say “faithfuls.” "

    Could an educated native speaker say "faithfuls" with intentional sarcasm or does she need a special poetic license - granted by Her Majesty ?,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.&bvm=bv.42768644,d.bGE&fp=308f516791364cba&biw=1024&bih=610


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