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Grammar Q and A on Errors in Nigerian Media English Usage

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D. In what follows, you will find my answers to readers’ questions about the use of the phrases “man of the y...

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

In what follows, you will find my answers to readers’ questions about the use of the phrases “man of the year,” “gentlemen of the press,” and “President Jonathan’s vice” (when talking about Vice President Sambo) in the Nigerian media. I’ve also answered questions about the difference between “beside” and “besides,” and reproduced an insightful response to the column I wrote twoweeks ago.

Is it proper for someone to use "MAN OF THE YEAR" for a woman? I am asking this because the Champion newspaper in Nigeria once conferred a MAN OF THE YEAR award on the Nigerian Minister of Aviation, Mrs. Stella Oduah.

Not, it’s not only improper to give a woman a “man of the year” award; it is also sexist and archaic. The expression “man of the year” is virtually dead in contemporary native-speaker media English. It has been replaced with the gender-neutral “person of the year.” TIME magazine, which started the “man of the year” tradition in 1927, has been using “person of the year” since 1999.

Nigerian journalism is unfortunately plagued by outmoded patriarchal arrogance as reflected in the popular notion in Nigerian journalistic circles that “gentlemen of the press” is the only acceptable way to address journalists. It’s customary for Nigerian journalists to say something like: “there are no ladies in the press; only gentlemen.” Well, that’s some male chauvinistic bunkum that has no place in logic, reality, or current English grammar.

 I also see that public officials in Nigeria, including the president, habitually address journalists as “gentlemen of the press” during news conferences. That’s so wrong and so unforgivably antiquated. The phrase “gentlemen of the press” was popular in America and, I think, in England in the 1920s when men dominated journalistic practice. There is even a 1929 movie by that name.

But in modern times, at least in environments where English is a native language, no one addresses journalists as “gentlemen of the press.” Journalists are properly called “members of the press” or simply “the press.” If you want to be quaint and stilted, you might say “ladies and gentlemen of the press.” From my inquiries and observations, Americans generally ignore the protocol of calling out members of the news media during news conferences.

Can you say “President Jonathan’s vice” when referring to the Vice President of Nigeria? Many senior journalists in Nigeria refer to Vice President Namadi Sambo as “Jonathan’s vice.” Is that correct?

It’s certainly an odd choice of words to refer to one human being as another person’s “vice.” This isn’t just bad grammar; it’s also muddled thinking. When “vice” is used as a noun, especially in reference to a human being, it usually means a moral weakness, a frailty, or a form of evil or depravity. So you can’t call a human being a “vice.” You can only say a human being has a vice. If you were to come to America and say “President Jonathan’s vice,” the only logical and grammatically legitimate meaning that can be drawn from the phrase would be that you’re talking about President Jonathan’s moral failings. Americans are unlikely to understand you as talking about Namadi Sambo.

In the British press, it is usual to refer to Vice President Joe Biden as “Obama’s deputy.” That’s infinitely more grammatical than saying, as Nigerian journalists are wont to, “Obama’s vice.” In other words, “President Jonathan’s deputy” is a better, more acceptable way to refer to Vice President Namadi Sambo than “President Jonathan’s vice.”

Of course, Americans don’t use the term “deputy” in reference to their vice president. They say “Obama’s Vice President,” not Obama’s deputy—and certainly not “Obama’s vice”—when they talk about Joe Biden.

What is the difference between “beside” and “besides”? Or do they mean one and the same thing?

No, they are different. Beside means “next to” or “at the side of” as in: he sat beside me in the bus. Beside can also be used to make comparisons as in: while my brothers think I’m a genius, I look like an idiot beside you.

Besides (notice the “s” at the end), on the other hand, can function as an adverb to mean “in addition,” as in “Most people won’t vote for PDP in 2015; besides, it’s a dying party.” Besides can also function as a preposition to mean “in addition to” or “as well as,” as in “besides her intelligence, she is also beautiful.” Or “Besides the PDP, which other party is disintegrating?”

So “beside” and “besides” can’t be used interchangeably.

Which is the correct phrase: “on alert” or “at alert”?

It should be on alert.

Thanks for your piece on the aforementioned topic. However, you need to have a second look at your rendition of the Hausa word 'tukuici'. Although it could mean 'gratuity' as you inferred, it does not include token given to taxi driver or for services revered in a restaurant outside the normal fee for the dish served. [I never said it does; I was only drawing parallels with the meaning of “gratuity” or “tip” in American English].

In Hausa land where I come from, 'tukuci' simply means a token given to someone who has been sent by another person to deliver something valuable to someone. It has nothing to do with age or status of the person who delivers the message. In other words, 'tukuici' is a token appreciation for the receipt of a worthy gift. The gift could be a piece of land, textile material, animal, cash, traditional title, appointment into public office, or even good news. In particular, it is the tradition of our traditional rulers to give out 10% as 'tukuici' of whatever cash value or farm produce given to them by one of their subjects.

I can vividly remember as a child that I didn’t feel excited delivering gifts to people who did not give commensurate 'tukuici' for the gifts I delivered to them. Indeed, a number of gift recipients lost their gift for habitual failures to give out adequate 'tukuici'. It is not uncommon for someone to even negotiate 'tukuici,' especially when it involves good news. For instance, it is acceptable in Hausa tradition for a chief or a political leader to deliver news of someone’s appointment into high office through a third party. The bearer of the good news could easily demand a specific 'tukuici' before he/she delivers the message. The method of delivering this kind of message normally starts with 'albishirika/ki' and the answer to this is usually 'goro' (kola nut). 'Goro' in the sense it is used here is metaphorical; it does not refer to your normal kola nut. It means cash or other valuables.

An inquisitive child of a good friend once asked my friend the English equivalent of 'tukuici' and he responded by saying it means gift, but the child justifiably rejected the meaning. When the father turned to me for affirmation of what he had told his son, I simply told him there is no English equivalent for 'tukuici' for the simple reason that it is not in the culture of the English people to give out 'tukuici'. Indeed, I am yet to come across any Nigerian or African language that has the exact equivalent of the Hausa word 'tukuici'.

Alhaji Abubakar Udu Idris, mni

Politics of Grammar Column

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