"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: May 2013

Friday, May 31, 2013

Kperogi: The Man Who Redefined Grammar Column Writing in Nigeria

A Nigerian blogger by the name of Suraj Tunji Oyewale recently had an interview with me on my writing. See below his lavishly kind introduction and the link to the interview:

"Grammar column writing did not start with him; in fact, this specialization is almost as old as newspaper column writing itself. But not a few people will agree that Dr. Farooq Kperogi, Kwara-born, US-based Assistant Professor of Journalism and Citizen Media at Kennesaw State University, redefined that branch of columnism in Nigeria.
I grew up reading ‘Mind Your Grammar’ columns in Nigerian newspapers, but while other writers focus on correcting grammatical errors in newspapers’ publications, Dr. Kperogi goes beyond that traditional approach. This is why you see him write articles like ‘When Food and Grammar Mix’, ‘Top 50 Words Nigerians Commonly Mispronounce’, ‘ Why is Sentiments Such a Bad Word in Nigeria?’, ’10 Most Annoying Nigerian Media English Expressions’, ‘In Defense of Flashing and other Nigerianisms’, ‘Top Election-Related Grammatical Errors in Nigerian English’ etc. That Dr. Kperogi has introduced uncommon creativity to grammar column writing is not in doubt.

What’s more, Dr. Kperogi’s social media savviness has also meant his articles travel beyond the conventional newspapers pages and websites to Facebook, Twitter, online discussion forums and blogging platforms. He is perhaps the first name that comes to mind when grammar column writing is mentioned among millions of cyberians (Nigerians – at home and in diaspora – on the cyberspace), a term Dr. Kperogi coined.
But how did he carve such an enviable niche for himself within a short period of time? Suraj Oyewale, Jarushub’s editor, got him answer this and other questions:"

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Raw Video of How Nigerian Governors Voted

This is embarrassing! I lost hope in the capacity for Nigeria to be truly democratic. In this video, we clearly see that Governor Amaechi won 19 out of 35 votes and Governor Jang won 16 out of 35 votes. Yet Governor Jang was declared winner. People who can rig an election that involved only 35 people under one roof have no credibility to organize ANY election.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Malcolm Xian Logic in Jonathan’s Praiseworthy Boko Haram Offensive

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

I memorized almost all of Malcolm X’s speeches when I was an undergraduate at the Bayero University in Kano. You may disagree with the man’s philosophy (and I disagree with many) but you can’t resist being a sucker for his irresistibly brilliant witticisms, his spellbinding oratorical genius, his folksy yet profound insights, and his ornately phrased rhetorical counterpunches during debates.

When I read that President Goodluck Jonathan had declared a state of emergency in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe states and instructed the military to frontally confront the vicious Boko Haram terrorists that have made life a living hell for the masses of our people in northern Nigeria, I couldn’t help recalling a powerful Malcolm X speech I memorized 20 years ago. 
Malcolm X in Africa
Malcolm X in Ghana

On February 14, 1965 in Detroit, Michigan, Malcolm X addressed a crowd of supporters about the ironic communicative and dialogic utility of retaliatory violence. He was talking about the best way to confront the persistent violence of the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist, negrophobic group that used terrorist tactics (including lynching and other kinds of extra-judicial murders) to intimidate and overawe American blacks. During the speech, he said:

“You can't ever reach a man if you don't speak his language. If a man speaks the language of brute force, you can't come to him with peace. Why, good night! He'll break you in two, as he has been doing all along. If a man speaks French, you can't speak to him in German. If he speaks Swahili, you can't communicate with him in Chinese. You have to find out what does this man speak. And once you know his language, learn how to speak his language, and he'll get the point. There'll be some dialogue, some communication, and some understanding will be developed.

“You've been in this country long enough to know the language the Klan speaks. They only know one language. And what you and I have to start doing in 1965—I mean that's what you have to do, because most of us have already been doing it—is start learning a new language. Learn the language that they understand. And then when they come up on our doorstep to talk, we can talk. And they will get the point. There'll be a dialogue, there'll be some communication, and I'm quite certain there will then be some understanding.”

Now, I am NOT an advocate of violence. I have never held a real gun in my entire life and probably never will. I am a pacifist, but I’m not a naïve, simple-minded pacifist. I know that the only language Boko Haram terrorists speak and understand is the language of violence, and you can’t speak or dialogue with them with the language of peace. There will be a communication breakdown—the kind that will result if you speak Mandarin Chinese to a farmer in the jungles of Papua New Guinea.

Retaliatory violence doesn’t always eliminate violence, but it sometimes provides a, if not the, basis for the negotiation of the cessation of violence. That’s why Gandhi’s oft-quoted aphorism that “an eye for an eye will only leave the whole world blind” is not entirely accurate. It unduly pampers the aggressor, unfairly restrains the victim, and defeats the logic of proportionality of justice.  A potential eye “plucker” may hold himself in check if he discovers that one eye “plucker” nearby has had his own eye plucked in retaliation. Freedom from the consequences of our action can encourage a repeat of the action.

That is why this whole proposal to grant “amnesty” to Boko Haram was wrongheaded from the beginning. Boko Haram predictably rejected it because it thought it had the upper hand in a balance of terror with government security forces. As Zainab Usman, the incredibly smart and perceptive Oxford University PhD student, noted on her blog in the wake of Boko Haram’s rejection of government’s amnesty offer, you can’t legitimately offer forgiveness to a man who has—or thinks he has—an upper hand in a confrontation with you. 

“This phase of the Boko Haram insurgency against the Nigerian state and the offer of amnesty by the government is analogous to two people, Mr. A. and Mr. B., engaged in bloody physical combat with Mr. A gaining the upper hand against Mr. B. Upon realising how imminent his defeat is, Mr. B. proclaims in between steely punches smashing his face ‘I forgive you Mr. A., I grant you amnesty.’ Of course at this point, Mr. A will realise how powerful he has become, and simply finish off Mr. B.,” Zainab wrote.

The logic that flows from Zainab’s unassailable analogy is that the federal government should first militarily subdue Boko Haram before it would be in a position to offer it amnesty. To paraphrase Malcolm X, the Nigerian state has to understand and speak the language of Boko Haram. Then, there will be some dialogue, some communication, and hopefully some understanding. Although security forces had confronted Boko Haram before, the confrontations had been halfhearted, fragmentary, and ineffectual. Of course, I am not unmindful of the fact that it was the Nigerian police’s high-handedness that radicalized Boko Haram in the first place, but it also can’t be denied that the group has transmogrified from a lunatic fringe preaching strange doctrines to an insidiously malignant group that indiscriminately murders innocent men, women, and children without reason or rhyme.

That’s why, as much as detest this government, I wholeheartedly support President Jonathan’s current action against Boko Haram. But while I applaud the latest sustained offensive against Boko Haram, I worry that the Nigerian military’s scorched earth policy may not spare innocent civilian populations in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe—as happened in Baga. That would be monumentally tragic. We cannot win the war against Boko Haram if the government and its forces can’t give everyday, innocent civilian populations caught in the labyrinth of Boko Haram’s confusion a clear distinction between Boko Haram and government security forces.

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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Top 30 Common English Words That Are Derived from Names of People (IV)

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Top 30 Common English Words That Are Derived from Names of People (I)
Top 30 Common English Words That Are Derived from Names of People (II)
Top 30 Common English Words That Are Derived from Names of People (III)

21. Pasteurize. My scientist readers said they would not forgive me if I fail to mention this word in my list. Well, even people who aren’t medical scientists know that "pasteurize" means to boil food, water, etc. in order to kill the bacteria in them. The process of doing that is called pasteurization.  The more common alternatives to “pasteurize” and “pasteurization” are “sterilize” and “sterilization.” Pasteurize is derived from Louise Pasteur (1822-95), the French chemist and microbiologist who discovered that it is bacteria that cause food, milk, wine, etc. to ferment. He recommended sterilization to reduce the risk of getting sick from fermented food.
Louise Pasteur
Louise Pasteur

22. Pavlovian. This word is often used as an adjective to mean predictable, unthinking, or knee-jerk reaction, as in: "the politician gave pavlovian answers to journalists’ questions during the news conference." The word owes its provenance to Ivan Petrovich Pavlov (1849-1936), a Russian physiologist and Nobel laureate “who discovered that the repetition of a stimulus conditions a predictable response pattern.” Pavlov famously conducted an experiment with a dog to test knee-jerk reflex action. He trained the dog to salivate when he rang a bell by making it relate the sound of a bell with the presence of food. So to be “pavlovian” is to do something automatically without thinking.
Ivan Petrovich Pavlov
Ivan Petrovich Pavlov

23. Quisling. This word was brought to the mainstream of Nigerian English lexicon from the early to the mid-1990s by Afenifere, the Yoruba political pressure group that was popular in southwest Nigeria until the late 2000s. The group described its erstwhile activists who served in the military regime of General Sani Abacha as “quislings.” A quisling is a collaborator with an enemy. In other words, he is a traitor, a betrayer. It is derived from Vidkun Abraham Lauritz Quisling  (1887–1945), a Norwegian politician who collaborated with the Nazis who took over Norway during World War II. He served as “Minister-President” during the three-year conquest of his country by the Nazis. After the defeat of the Nazis, Quisling was tried, found guilty of treason, and executed by firing squad.
Vidkun Abraham Lauritz Quisling
Vidkun Abraham Lauritz Quisling

Quisling as a synonym for “traitor” entered English vocabulary in 1940 while Vidkun Quisling was still alive. It was first used by The Times, the conservative British newspaper famous for inventing the popular Times New Roman typeface. In an April 19, 1940 editorial titled “Quislings Everywhere,” The Times wrote: “To writers, the word Quisling is a gift from the gods. If they had been ordered to invent a new word for traitor... they could hardly have hit upon a more brilliant combination of letters. Aurally it contrives to suggest something at once slippery and tortuous.”

A verb form of quisling, “quisle,” emerged but it was short-lived; it didn’t catch on. But other derivatives of the word have survived. A good example is quislingism, which a dictionary defines as the “act of cooperating traitorously with an enemy that is occupying your country.”

24. Quixotic. This word that means “foolishly idealistic” or unrealistic is traceable to Don Quixote, “the hero of novel Don Quixote de la Mancha by Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616).” Since Quixote is only the name of a fictional character, it doesn’t fit well with the rest of the eponyms in this list, but I thought I would include it nonetheless.

25. Rachmanism.  I admit that this is not a common word. It is a Briticism, that is, it is a uniquely British English expression that is absent in all other varieties of English.  Nonetheless, it has an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary, and I think Nigerians really need it to give expression to what they suffer in the hands of ruthless landlords. The word means the “unscrupulous mistreatment of tenants.”  It is derived from Peter Rachman (1920-1962), a scandalously dishonest Polish Jew who immigrated to London and became a landlord in the 1950s. He was notorious for arbitrarily increasing rent, kicking out sitting tenants who had legal protection against sharp, sudden increases in rent, and replacing them with new tenants who had no legal protection against rent increases. Most of the people he exploited were black immigrants from the Caribbean Islands.
Peter Rachman
Peter Rachman

26. Ritzy. This word means fashionable, elegant, or posh. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as “impressively or ostentatiously fancy or stylish.” The word originates from the Ritz hotels, which were founded by Swish hotel proprietor César Ritz who lived from 1850 to 1918. Over the years, ritzy has also come to mean snobbish.
César Ritz
César Ritz 

27. Sadism. We all know this word to mean deriving pleasure from causing pain to others. A person who derives pleasure from other people’s pain is called a sadist. The adjectival form of sadism is sadistic. The word is derived from Donatien Alphonse Francois Marquis de Sade who lived from 1740 to 1814. Sade was a French revolutionary, philosopher, soldier, and sexual deviant who wrote books gleefully detailing how he derived sexual pleasure from inflicting pain on little girls in his village. He spent most of his life in French prisons from where he wrote many more books about sex and violence.
Donatien Alphonse Francois Marquis de Sade
Donatien Alphonse Francois Marquis de Sade

The opposite of sadism is masochism, which means the act of deriving pleasure from inflicting pain on oneself. One who practices masochism is a masochist. The word is derived from Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, an Austrian journalist and writer.
Leopold von Sacher-Masoch
Leopold von Sacher-Masoch

 In his little book titled The Trouble with Nigeria, the late Chinua Achebe artfully deployed this word. He wrote: “Only a masochist with an exuberant taste for self-violence will pick Nigeria for a holiday.” Ouch!

28. Silhouette. Dictionaries define this word as the outline of an object as cast by its shadow. It is derived from Étienne de Silhouette who lived from 1709 to 1767. Silhouette was the equivalent of the minister of finance in France, and he was infamous for his anti-people economic policies that reduced people to a shadow of themselves, much like all Nigerian finance ministers have done. At first, "silhouette" became associated with belt-tightening, that is, a reduction of spending. It later came to be associated with portraiture because French people who couldn’t afford expensive paintings or sculpture, thanks to Silhouette’s harsh economic policies, simply drew a profile of their shadows on black papers and called it “silhouette.”

29. Spoonerism. This is a type of slip of the tongue or speech impediment “in which the first letters of two adjacent or close words are switched, as 'I hissed your mystery class'” instead of “I missed your history class.” It is traced to Reverend William Archibald Spooner (1844-1930) identified as an Anglican clergyman and educator, dean who suffered from a speech defect that caused him to unintentionally mix up his consonants. In modern usage, spoonerisms are intentional and seek to achieve comical effects.
Reverend William Archibald Spooner
Reverend William Archibald Spooner

30. Teddy.  This is what Alphadictionary wrote about this word: “Short for teddy bear, a soft, stuffed toy in the shape of a bear. Named for Teddy, the nickname of President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), once depicted in a famous cartoon sparing the life of a bear cub.”


What current names do you predict will become common English words in dictionaries in the next 50 to 100 years? I'd like to read your thoughts. My top pick is “Bushism,” “Bushist,” etc. after former President George W. Bush. These words are also in circulation in informal speech.

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Saturday, May 18, 2013

As the Green Card Lottery Gets the Red Card

A few weeks ago, an African-American woman told me she’s always suspicious of the motives of African men who profess love to her. She says given the unpleasant experiences of many African-American women in the hands of African men in the United States, it is often difficult to tell if protestations of love from African men are real or Green Card-inspired.

She said many black American women got married to African—mostly Nigerian—men only to discover down the line that the men married them not out of love but because they wanted to get marriage-based permanent resident permits (also informally called Green Card).

After she narrated the emotional horrors of “Green Card marriages” for black American women, I said: “So, basically, two years after marriage, Black American women get African men the Green Card and they get the red card in return!” She found my quip so hilarious she laughed out loud for minutes on end.

Marriage-based Green Card is just one of several types of Green Cards that provide paths to American citizenship. The other is employment-based Green Card. Yet another is the Green Card Lottery. Unfortunately, from next year, the Green Card Lottery, through which many Africans come to the United States, will be discontinued.

So, in essence, the Green card (the lottery type, that is,) will be given the red card soon. This has a lot of implications for African immigration to the United States, which experienced an uptick from the 1990s to now thanks to the lottery. The article below by AFP, the French news wire service, provides an excellent background on this issue. It was written by AFP’s Ivan Couronne and first published on April 30, 2013 with the title “Africans stand to lose as US axes visa lottery.” Enjoy.

Green Card

WASHINGTON — Africans could be the big losers as the United States reforms its immigration laws and eliminates the green card lottery, of which Africans are the main beneficiaries.

Half of the 50,000 residence permits handed out at random each year are earmarked for Africans. It is a hugely popular program that has allowed hundreds of thousands of Africans to settle in America since the mid 1990s.

But the ambitious reform project under debate now in Washington, which would provide papers for million undocumented immigrants, contains a clause that would do away with the lottery.

In its place would be a more selective immigration system based on skills, career an
d family ties.

For years the lottery has been in the crosshairs of Republicans, who control the House of Representatives and say it adds no value to the American economy.

"It's clear that there are better ways to allocate visas than to randomly give them out through a lottery system," said Bob Goodlatte, the Republican who leads the House Judiciary Committee. "Our immigration laws shouldn't be based on the luck of the draw; rather, they should be designed strategically to benefit our country."

The 'diversity visa,' as it is known formally, is set aside for people from countries that do not experience a lot of emigration. So Mexicans, Chinese and Filipinos, for instance, are not eligible. Africans quickly became the main ones to cash in.

All applicants need is a high school diploma or two years of work experience.

Between 2010 and 2012, one in five Africans who came to the United States to stay did so through the lottery. That made it the third most common method, at 21 percent of the total, after family reunification (43%) and refugee status or asylum seekers (23%).

By comparison, in the same period only 10 percent of Europeans who became permanent residents and 3% of Asians did so through the lottery.

"It has proven to be a way of helping those who come from the continent of Africa, those who come from a number of other areas where it is very difficult to get a visa," said Sheila Jackson Lee, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, whose members are all Democrats.

But in an effort to preserve the comprehensive reform being negotiated for months by the two parties, the Democrats and President Barack Obama agreed to ditch the lottery.

Representative Charles Schumer, who authored the program in 1990, said it was impossible to keep it.
Schumer said the system that will replace it in 2017 is merit-based and will also give Africans a chance. On average they are more educated than people from other continents. And English-speaking Africans would get a boost because of that language skill.

But Michael Fix of the Migration Policy Institute said, "It really probably won't admit enough people to offset the effects of the loss of the diversity visa for some years after that. It's a long time away. It won't be immediately offset by any means."

The diversity visas would vanish starting next year under the reform being negotiated.
Only four percent of African immigrants -- compared to 21 percent of Asians and 22 percent of Europeans -- received a green card for employment reasons in 2012.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People says the number of African immigrants will go down even with the merit-based system.

"In essence, we're concerned," said Hilary Shelton, the NAACP Washington bureau director.
Dame Babou, who hosts a radio show that caters to Senegalese people in New York, said the scrapping of the lottery is disheartening for Africans.

"Every year many people thought this was going to be their year," Babou said. "Again, what is being eliminated is hope."

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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Top 30 Common English Words That Are Derived from Names of People (III)

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Top 30 Common English Words That Are Derived from Names of People (I)
Top 30 Common English Words That Are Derived from Names of People (II)

15. Lynch/lynching.  Most people know “lynch” to mean the extra-judicial murder, often by hanging, carried out by a gang of people. Over the years, hanging has ceased to be an intrinsic element in the conception of lynching. Any mob justice, even if it does not involve hanging, is now regarded as lynching, as in: the mob lynched the alleged witch in the market square.

In fact, in popular usage, lynching has now been figuratively extended to mean unfair public attacks on a person’s character. That was the sense of the term Black American Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas had in mind when he accused the American media of engaging in “high-tech lynching” for having a feeding frenzy on his past sexual misconduct during the confirmation hearings of his Supreme Court nomination in the US Senate in 1991. A person who takes part in lynching is a lyncher, and a group of people intent on lynching somebody is called a lynch mob.

The etymology of this terrible word is shrouded in controversy, but no one doubts that it is an eponymous word derived from the name of a person whose last or middle name was Lynch.

The first person from whose name the word is thought to be derived is an Irish man by the name of James Lynch Fitzstephen, who was the mayor of the city of Galway in the 1490s. History records that in 1493, he extra-judicially hanged his own son whom he found guilty of killing a Spanish visitor to Galway. I am dubious that the current usage of the word “lynch” owes any debt to James Lynch Fitzstephen’s murder of his son.

Other sources say the word owes its origins to one Capt. William Lynch who wrote “Lynch’s Law,” defined by Alphadictionary.com as “an agreement with the Virginia General Assembly in 1782 that allowed Lynch to capture and punish criminals in Pittsylvania County [in the United States] without trial due to the lack of courts in that county.” But this etymology, though popular, is disputed.
Capt. William Lynch
Capt. William Lynch

There are at least two other contenders. Many American historians say the term Lynch law—from which “lynch” or “lynching” are derived—is traceable to one Charles Lynch who lived in the US state of Virginia from 1736 to 1796, that is, three decades before Capt. William Lynch was born. Charles Lynch was said to have appointed himself head of an extra-legal gang of people who summarily executed people that were loyal to British forces during the American Revolutionary War.
Charles Lynch
Charles Lynch

Some people trace the origin of “lynch” to an apocryphal letter, wildly popular in African-American circles, supposedly written by a William (or Willie) Lynch, which gave slave owners advice on how to control their slaves by keeping them divided among themselves. The letter has been found to be a hoax.

Whatever it is, lynch, lynching—and the word’s many collocations—didn’t become standard entries in English dictionaries until the 1850s.

16. Macadamize/macadamization. This is the word that inspired this series. Macadamize, as I wrote in the first installment of this series, is a grander, less familiar word for tar, as in: The government has budgeted billions to grade and macadamize hundreds of roads this year. The noun form of the word is macadam, which is the bigger word for “coal tar” or “tarmac.” The word owes its existence to John Loudon McAdam, a Scottish engineer and road-builder who lived from 1756 to 1836. According to Alphadictionary, MacAdam was the first to propose “compacted crushed stone as a road covering.” In other words, he is the father of modern road construction. The word “tarmac” is also partly derived from his name; it is a blend of “tar” and “MacAdam.”
John Loudon McAdam
John Loudon McAdam

17. Maverick. I’ve noticed an interesting difference in the way this word is used in Nigerian and American English. In Nigeria, the word usually means a rebel, a renegade, or an unorthodox person, which is a legitimate meaning of the word. For instance, the Nigerian media habitually called former Biafran leader Chukwuemeka Ojukwu a maverick, and there is often a mild tone of disapproval in the description. In America, however, “maverick” has no negative associations. It’s often used to denote an independent-minded person; a person who is not held in check by group think or by a predetermined ideology.

 During the 2008 American presidential election,  Republican candidate John McCain and his running mate Sarah Palin never missed a chance to tell the American people that they were “mavericks.” Their excessive use of “maverick” to describe themselves caused the media to invent a jocular adjectival form of the word:  mavericky. I love that invention.

Well, “maverick” is derived from a Texas cattleman and lawyer by the name of Samuel Augustus Maverick who was born in 1803 and died in 1870. In Maverick’s time, cattle owners often burned their cows with a branding iron to indicate ownership of their cows. But Maverick thought branding was cruel and refused to brand his cows. So when cows strayed and mixed up, people who branded their cows easily recognized theirs. Since Maverick didn’t brand his own cows, other cattlemen automatically knew that the unbranded cattle were his. They called the unbranded cows “Maverick’s” and handed them over to him.
Samuel Augustus Maverick
Samuel Augustus Maverick

 The meaning of the word evolved from unbranded cows in Texas to stubborn independence, independence here referring to Maverick’s decision to buck a common practice by his peers.

18. Mesmerize/Mesmerism. To mesmerize is to, as Alphadictionary.com says, “fascinate someone to the point that they seem to be in a trance; to hypnotize.” This popular English verb came to the language from the last name of a German medical doctor by the name of Franz Anton Mesmer who lived from 1734 to 1815. He invented the science “animal magnetism,” through which he induced his patients into a sleep-like state, which made them susceptible to do anything he instructed them to do. That practice came to be known as mesmerism. A person who induces mesmerism is called a mesmerizer or a mesmerist. A Scottish medical doctor by the name of James Braid (1795-1860) who studied Mesmer’s methods later renamed mesmerism “hypnotism.”
Franz Anton Mesmer
Franz Anton Mesmer

19. Nicotine. This name for the “poisonous addictive chemical in tobacco smoke” is derived from Jean Nicot (1530-1600), a French diplomat, scholar, and lexicographer who introduced tobacco to France from Portugal where he served as French ambassador in the mid-16th century. Nicot believed tobacco had medical properties and actively advocated its use in the French society, particularly among the French elite. He became wildly popular in France in his time as a result of the acceptance of tobacco by the French nobility. The tobacco plant nicotiana is also named after him.
Jean Nicot
Jean Nicot

Apart from being a tobacco enthusiast, Nicot also had the distinction of compiling one of the earliest dictionaries in the French language.

20. Nosey parker (also spelled nosy parker). This chiefly British English work for a busybody, that is, a person who intrudes into other people’s business, is derived from  “Matthew Parker (1504-1575), Archbishop of Canterbury from 1559-1575, who developed a reputation for sticking his nose in other people's business,” according to Alphadictionary.
Matthew Parker
Matthew Parker

To be concluded next week

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Friday, May 10, 2013

Tribute to Teachers Who Made Me Who I’m

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Americans observe the first week of May as “Teacher Appreciation Week” to honor their primary and secondary school teachers. In the spirit of this week, I want to reflect on and appreciate some of the teachers who influenced the course of my life; teachers whose teaching and mentorship made me who I am today.

My first real teacher is my father, Malam Adamu S. Kperogi, an 88-year-old retired Arabic and Islamic Studies teacher. He taught me to read and write first in Arabic at age 4—perhaps earlier—and later in my native Baatonu language in the Roman alphabet. So when I started primary school at age 5 at Baptist Primary School in Okuta (where my dad was also a teacher), in the Borgu area of Kwara State, I was ahead of many of my peers. I understood the basic principles of Arabic and Roman orthography and could sound out letters and read Arabic and English passages fairly well. That head start stood me in good stead throughout my educational career. 
Teacher Appreciation Week

But he didn’t just give me a head start; he also let me know that he had invested enormous hopes and expectations in me. He told me several times as a child that he wanted me to have what he deeply desired but couldn’t have: get a bachelor’s degree, a master’s, a Ph.D., and shine a light on the world. I had no clue what that meant. I just understood him as telling me to take my studies seriously. And I did. I always made him proud by being among the top three students in my class. (The top three students of every class were often honored with prizes and a public applause every end of semester.)

One semester, in my fourth year of elementary school, I didn’t make it to the top three. I was petrified. I thought my dad would be so disappointed he would skin me alive. So I ran away after the prize-giving ceremony. My dad looked everywhere for me. He finally found me crying under a tree. That was the first time I saw him visibly emotional. “Son, I’m neither sad nor disappointed that you didn’t make it to the top three,” I recall him telling me. “Don’t ever think you always have to be the best to impress me. You tried your best. It’s just that other people tried harder than you did. Don’t always expect to be the best. That’s not the way the world works.”

I can’t tell you how much these words changed my life. They liberated me from the mental bondage of always wanting to be the best in order to impress him. They also taught me the virtue of humility and modest expectations. Knowing that I just needed to do my best and not expect to be the best was one of the greatest existential lessons my dad taught me. 

Without consciously working toward it—and certainly not expecting it—I have received the top student prizes at every level of my educational career after this encounter. I owe that to my dad, my first teacher, who also taught generations of people from my part of Nigeria for over four decades. Unfortunately, as I write this, he still hasn’t been paid his gratuity by the Kwara State government years after he retired.

Three other teachers left permanent marks in my life during my elementary school years. The first is my Primary One teacher, whom I remember simply as Miss Bose. She strengthened the reading skills my dad first taught me, and laid the groundwork for everything I later learned in life. Of the many things she taught us, the one thing that stands out for me is that she made us memorize the names of all the major rivers in the world. To this day, anytime I come across the name of any river in the world, I remember Miss Bose. My Primary 5 teacher, Mr. Kazeem Umar, and my Primary 6 teacher, Mr. John Bello, also influenced me in many significant ways.

My secondary school education at Baptist Grammar School in Okuta, Kwara State, was one of the most defining moments of my educational career. The school gave me some of the best teachers any student could ever hope to have. My passion for English grammar was born and nurtured there. I particularly remember my first English teacher in Form One, who was a Ghanaian. I only remember him as Mr. Okon. His other name escapes me now. He was one of the most passionate and committed teachers I’ve ever known. On a weekly basis, he wrote and posted “Common Mistakes in English” on the school notice board, which I soaked up like a sponge. He was deported from Nigeria during the infamous “Ghana-Must-Go” madness.

In my third and fourth years, I had another English teacher by the name of Mr. Sule Umar who continued with Mr. Okon’s tradition of correcting common grammatical errors and posting them on the school’s bulletin board.  Mr. Umar was an incredibly brilliant yet humble and self-effacing teacher who taught me the foundations of formal grammar.

I also remember a diminutive but enormously brainy teacher by the name of Mr. Shuaibu Aliyu whom we called "Mr. Jolly" because of his infectiously vivacious and radiant personality. He taught me social studies in my lower classes, and government and economics in my senior years. He was the master of bombast and is, in some ways, responsible for my love for highfalutin and intellectually fashionable phraseology.

It was through his mentorship that I got my first taste of journalism in my third year. He selected five students to form the “broadcast crew” of the school. We scouted for news about the school every day, wrote it, submitted it to him for editing, and read it in a mock broadcast setting during student assemblies on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

But the man who had the most definitive influence in my choice of journalism as a career is an Abiodun Salawu, who is now a well-accomplished professor of mass communication at a South African university. He came to my secondary school as a youth corps member and was assigned to teach us English.  He revived our school’s press club and took over the mentorship of the literary and debating society, both of which I was the student leader of. Professor Salawu, a University of Ife English graduate who later studied for a master’s degree in mass communication at the University of Lagos and a Ph.D. in communication at the University of Ibadan, encouraged me to submit articles to the Nigerian Herald newspaper in Ilorin for publication, all of which were published with minimal editing. He pasted my articles on the school notice board and made me a “star.”

He awarded me the “Dele Giwa Prize for the Best Pressman of the Year” and for being the winner of the open creative writing competition he organized. He also set up the school magazine and made me its student editor. Above all, he encouraged me to study mass communication and assured me that I had a great future in writing. Incidentally, he is the only former teacher I am still in regular contact with.

Without these teachers—and many others too numerous to mention—I would never be who I am today. I salute them today and forever.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Top 30 Common English Words That Are Derived from Names of People (II)

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

9. Dunce.  This alternative word for a stupid person owes its origins to John Duns Scotus, a previously well-regarded, beatified (i.e., declared as holy and worthy of reverence by the Catholic Church), Oxford-educated Catholic theologian who lived from about 1265 to 1308. European historians acknowledge him as one of the three most influential thinkers of his time, that is, the 12th and 13 centuries. People who subscribed to his philosophy were called “duns” or “dunsmen.” At the time the terms emerged, they weren’t derogatory; they were merely descriptive. However, when many of Scotus’ ideas were disproved by the emergent philosophers of the English Reformation and his adherents still stubbornly clung to his discredited ideas, “duns” came to be associated with stupidity, especially obstinate stupidity. The spelling of “duns” evolved over time to the modern spelling. Other derivatives of the word are duncical or duncish (as in: “he is such a duncical/duncish bigot”), duncishness, and duncishly.
John Duns Scotus
John Duns Scotus

In American (and some English-speaking European) elementary schools, students are often made to wear “dunce caps” (pointed hats made of paper) and confined to the corner of the class as punishment for bad behavior and stupidity.

Just like the example of chauvinism, the semantic evolution of “dunce” from a term to describe an adherent of the philosophy of Duns Scotus to a term that means an irredeemably stupid person illustrates how ideas that once commanded awe in one era can become the object of profound derision in later times.

10. Galvanize. Scientists use this word in association with electricity. In scientific usage, to galvanize is “to charge with electric current” or “to coat iron or steel with zinc by charging it with electricity.” In popular usage, however, the word usually means to rouse or stimulate a group of people to action (as in: he galvanized popular support for his policy). In other words, it means to inspire.

The word is traced to Luigi Galvani (1739-1798), an Italian medical scientist and philosopher well-known for his discovery that “the muscles of dead frogs legs twitched when struck by a spark.” Most of us non-scientists relate only to the word’s metaphoric extension, that is, the notion of galvanize as stimulation to act. Other derivatives of the word are galvanization, galvanism, galvanizer (i.e., one who inspires people to action), galvanic (i.e., thrilling, as in: the union leader’s galvanic speech boosted workers’ resolve to embark on a strike), galvanist, galvanically.
Luigi Galvani

11. Grangerize. To grangerize is defined in modern dictionaries as “illustrate a book with pictures, diagrams, etc. taken from other published sources.” The noun form of the word is grangerization, and it’s derived from James Granger (1723-76), “a British writer and clergyman, who published in 1769 a Biographical History of England with blank leaves for illustrations,” according to Alphadictionary. “The filling up of a 'Granger' became so popular that other books were published similarly.”
James Granger
James Granger

12. Guillotine. This instrument for cutting off people’s heads as punishment for wrongdoing is named after a popular French physician, medical reformist, and politician by the name of Joseph Ignace Guillotin who lived from 1738 to 1814. Alphadictionary says the instrument is named after Dr. Guillotin because he invented it. But that’s inaccurate. The instrument was actually invented by a certain Dr. Antoine Louis. Guillotin became associated with it because he forcefully advocated its use as an alternative to the more cruel method of decapitation in France at the time, which was by hanging (for poor people) or by an axe or a sword (for the rich). He called the guillotine “a machine that beheads painlessly.”

But it was not until he unwittingly claimed ownership of the machine during a speech that French people—and the rest of the world—named it after him, initially in jest. During a speech during which he made a case for the use of the decapitation machine (then called a “louisette” or “louison” in honor of its inventor, Dr. Antoine Louis) as a prelude to the total abolition of the death penalty, he said, “Now, with my machine, I cut off your head in the twinkling of an eye, and you never feel it!” The French press pilloried him for the seemingly blithe unconcern with which he spoke about decapitation, and the public jocularly called the machine his.
Joseph Ignace Guillotin
Joseph Ignace Guillotin

 In time, the machine came to be known as guillotine (note the addition of “e”) even in formal circles. When that semantic transition occurred, Guillotin’s family beseeched the French government to change the machine’s name to save the family from the infamy of being associated with the name of a decapitation machine. The government didn’t oblige them, but gave them the option to change their last names to something else, which they did. Interestingly, according to French historians, a Dr. Guillotin, who is no relation of Dr. Joseph Ignace Guillotin, was once beheaded by the guillotine. Many people at the time thought it was the famous Dr. Guillotin who had been beheaded by the machine that was named after him.

According to the fourth edition of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language published in 2000, the first recorded use of “guillotine” in the English language occurred in the Annual Register of 1793, and it went thus: “At half past 12 the guillotine severed her head from her body.”  

Today, guillotine has assumed other semantic and metaphorical extensions. For instance, it is used in parliamentary jargon to mean “closure imposed on the debate of specific sections of a bill.” The word is also used as a verb. Another popular derivative of guillotine is guillotiner, which is the name for a person who operates the guillotine.

13. Hooligan/Hooliganism. This common word for an uncultured, rough, ill-bred, rude, and aggressive person is derived, according to some accounts, from the last name of an Irish family that was notorious for its rowdiness in 1890s Ireland. But an 1899 book titled Hooligan Nights by a Clarence Rook casts doubt on this etymology. The book is quoted to have averred that “hooligan” is derived from a certain Patrick Hooligan (also sometimes spelled Hoolihan), a notoriously boorish Irish man who made a living by stealing and throwing troublemakers out of bars for pay in London. That is probably why “Hooligan” (with a capital “H”) originally meant a gang of young people who fought in bars and destroyed property.

 I am inclined to believe Rook’s etymology both because of the date of the publication of his book (which came out at precisely the same time that the word emerged, meaning his account is likely to be fresh and faithful to the facts) and because the author associates the word with England rather than Ireland. The English association of the word is substantiated by ample corroboratory evidence.  For instance, the influential but now discontinued Daily Graphic newspaper, in an August 22, 1898 article, was quoted to have written the following: “The avalanche of brutality which, under the name of 'Hooliganism' ... has cast such a dire slur on the social records of South London.”

Superior evidence might well disprove Rook’s etymology, but what is not in dispute is that Hooligan (or Hoolihan) was/is a popular Irish last name and that someone or some people with that last name was/were notorious for noisy, disruptive, and disreputable behavior.

14. Luddite. We know this word in modern English as a person who is opposed to progress, especially technological progress; someone who is stuck in the past and dreads change. It is derived from “Ned Ludd, an English laborer who was supposed to have destroyed weaving machinery around 1779 after being replaced by it.” After Ludd destroyed the machines that took his job (instead of learning to use them), groups of English workmen who were inspired by his example took on the destruction of machines as an organized activity. They thought machines were harbingers of unemployment.
Graphic representation of Ned Ludd destroying machines
To be continued

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