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Q and A on Miscellaneous Nigerian English Grammar Issues

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D. In this continuation of my Q and A series, I answer many more questions on Nigerian English and other usa...

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

In this continuation of my Q and A series, I answer many more questions on Nigerian English and other usage concerns from readers. Enjoy.

Prof., please are these words Nigerian English words: "bunkerer","bizman","practicalise."? I am writing a project on lexical innovations in Nigerian English. Thanks for your assistance.

Bunkerer is decidedly Nigerian English. It is extended from the verb “bunker,” which means to fill a ship’s large container (called its bunker) with oil or coal. There is no signification of theft in the Standard English meaning of “bunkering.” It simply means to fill with oil. But Nigerian English has not only extended the semantic boundaries of bunkering to mean “oil theft”; it also invented “bunkerer” to mean “oil thief.”

“Bizman” and “practicalise” are not distinctly Nigerian, although they are rarely used in native-speaker English. "Bizman" is used in newspaper headlines, including some American newspaper headlines, as the short form of “businessman.” It is rarely used outside that context.

Which of these are more grammatically correct/appropriate: 1. New Nigerian (name of a Nigerian Newspaper) as against "New Nigeria" or "New Nigerian's" or "New Nigerians'"? 2. Nigeria Broadcasting Code (name of a code of practice for broadcasters by the National Broadcasting Commission, Nigeria) as against "Nigerian Broadcasting Code" or "Nigeria's Broadcasting Code" or "Nigerian's Broadcasting Code" or "Nigerians's Broadcasting Code". 3. African Journalist Awards (name of an award for African Journalists organized annually by CNN/Multichoice) as against "African Journalists Awards", "Africa Journalist(s) Award(s)" "Africa(n) Journalist's Award(s), or "Africa(n) Journalists' Award(s).

Either" New Nigerian" or "New Nigeria" would be appropriate as the name of a newspaper. “Nigeria” refers to the place and “Nigerian” refers to the people or the characteristics of the people and the place. "New Nigerian's" and "New Nigerians'" strike me as unsuited for the name of a newspaper. The possession at the end of both names would leave one wondering what is being possessed.

 "Nigerian Broadcasting Code" is more grammatical than "Nigeria Broadcasting Code" since "Nigerian" is the adjective for Nigeria. Switch to other nationalities and you will see the absurdity of the phrase "Nigeria Broadcasting Code." Would you think twice before realizing that "Britain Broadcasting Code" is wrong? Of course not. And that's because "British" is the adjective for "Britain" just like "Nigerian" is the adjective for "Nigeria." "Nigerian's Broadcasting code" suggests that one Nigerian owns a broadcasting code. But for grammatical completeness, you would need to precede "Nigerian" with an article such as "a Nigerian's broadcasting code." "Nigerian's Broadcasting Code" suggests that the code is owned by Nigerians, which is not the meaning intended by the phrase.

 African Journalist Awards seems perfect to me. "African journalist" is an attributive phrase that modifies "award." The other alternatives you gave don't convey the same meaning. "Africa Journalists Awards" is plain ungrammatical.

Which is correct of the two, please!? 1. Oil bloc(s) 2. Oil block(s).

Both expressions are correct depending on what you mean. If you mean the “large area of land, typically in 1000s of sq. kilometers, that is awarded to oil drilling and exploration companies by a country's government," then it is unquestionably “oil block.” Industry experts call it “oil exploration block.”

 But "oil bloc" can also be correct because “bloc" usually means a politically motivated coalition of countries, voters, politicians, businesspeople, etc. Therefore, an "oil bloc" would mean a coalition of oil tycoons who constitute themselves into a political force to influence government policy. The “fuel subsidy cabal” in Nigeria can legitimately be described as an “oil bloc.”

What is the difference between “in conclusion” and “conclusively”? In Nigeria we tend to use these words interchangeably. Are they the same?

They are different. In conclusion means “finally” or “lastly,” as in: “in conclusion, the story shows that it pays to be honest.” Conclusively, on the other hand, means “once and for all” or “decisively” as in: “we defeated his arguments conclusively.” I am aware that Nigerians end essays with the expression “conclusively.” “In conclusion” is the appropriate expression for ending essays.

Is it: “I read a book titled Things Fall Apart” or “I read a book entitled Things Fall Apart”?

The Associated Press Stylebook, which I, like many journalism professors in the United States, use to teach news reporting and writing, forbids the use of “entitled” to mean give title to a book. The stylebook says the use of “entitled” should be restricted to “a right to do or have something” such as in the sentence “She was entitled to the promotion.” It says “titled” should be used only to convey the sense of giving title to a book, such as “I read a book titled Things Fall Apart.”

However, although I penalize my students who write “the book is entitled,” the AP Stylebook’s distinction between “entitled” and “titled” is not universally accepted in usage circles. In British English, for example, “entitled” and “titled” are both acceptable verbs to use to mean “give title to a book.” There are also many respected American writers who use both verbs interchangeably.

What is the difference between “sometime ago”  “sometimes ago”?

Well, “sometimes ago” is bad English. It should correctly be “sometime ago.” While “sometime” means at some indefinite time, “sometimes” means occasionally. So we can correctly say “I saw him sometime last year” or “sometime in the near future, we should be able to find solutions to these problems,” but “sometimes I wonder if this effort is worth the trouble.” The bottom line is: “sometimes” is correctly used only where we can also use “occasionally,” “every now and then,” “at times,” etc.

My Facebook friends often use the phrase “literal prowess” to mean excellent writing skills. Although I don’t know what exactly is wrong with the expression, I have a feeling that it is grammatically wrong. Can you help me point what is wrong with it?

Your hunch is correct. Your Facebook friends probably wanted to write “literary prowess.” “Literal prowess” makes little sense. Among its many significations, “literal” can mean exact, real, factual, not figurative, without exaggeration, etc. as in: “he is a literal mad man.” That means he is really a man; no exaggerations or embellishments.Or "it is the literal truth." That means you are telling it as it is; no exaggerations or embellishments or metaphors.

“Literal” is not synonymous with “literary.” Literary can mean fictional, related to literature, or characteristic of the elevated language of literature. I think it is the last sense that your friends wanted to convey when they wrote about people’s “literal prowess.” They should have written “literary prowess.”

It is also common for people to confuse “literally” with “literarily.” They are different. The distinction between “literal” and “literary” also applies here. “Literally” is the adverb of “literal” and “literarily” is the adverb of “literary.”

Someone told me the expression “take care” is Nigerian English. Should I stop using it?

First, as I always say, never stop using an expression simply because it has been labeled Nigerian English. Nigerian English isn’t always synonymous with bad English. What you should avoid are ERRORS typical of Nigerian English.

Having said that, “take care” isn’t exclusive to Nigerian English; it’s a standard fixed phrase in all varieties of English I am familiar with. My dictionary defines it as an expression “used to wish someone a good future, especially in parting or signing off a correspondence.” So it’s neither bad English nor unique to Nigerian English.

A Nigerian editor recently wrote that it is correct to say “Goodluck Jonathan is a mediocrity.” That sounds weird to me. What’s your take, doc?

He is absolutely correct! Mediocrity can be used as a noun to refer to a mediocre person, that is, a person with second-rate abilities. “GEJ is a mediocrity” is perfectly right. My guess is that the editor was calling attention to the tendency for Nigerians to misuse “mediocre” as if it were a noun (as in: “Goodluck Jonathan is a mediocre”) when it is actually only an adjective (which means the sentence should correctly be “Goodluck Jonathan is a mediocre president”). (I wrote about that in this article.) If you want to avoid using an adjective to convey the same sense you can say “Goodluck Jonathan is a mediocrity”).  

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