Sunday, November 30, 2014

New Words in Oxford Dictionaries You Should Know

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

New words enter the English language perhaps more frequently than they do any language in the world. That’s why English has the most words of any language in the world. Oxford Dictionaries, the online version of the Oxford English Dictionary, recently added a slew of new words to the English language, and I thought my readers would like to know some of these words. 

 Note, though, that Oxford Dictionaries ( is different from the Oxford English Dictionary (, although they belong to the same family. Words in Oxford Dictionaries may not appear in the Oxford English Dictionary, which is more linguistically conservative and intellectually snobbish than Oxford Dictionaries.

In what follows, I list some of the words I find noteworthy. 
1. Adorbs: It’s an adjective used informally to mean “Inspiring great delight; cute or adorable.” Examples the dictionary gives are: “all the pets are totally adorbs”; “check out the adorbs photo”; “newborn babies are so adorb.” The dictionary etymologizes the word as an early 21st century modification of “adorable.” I have never come across this word before, and I’m unlikely to ever use it. 
2. Cord cutting. This expression is defined as “The practice of canceling or forgoing a cable television subscription or landline telephone connection in favor of an alternative Internet-based or wireless service.” A usage example is, “The cable industry has seen a decline in television subscribers as customers engage in cord cutting.”
 Many people outside the West may not be able to relate to this expression for many obvious reasons. For one, canceling cable subscription isn’t an option for most people in the developing world because broadband Internet connection is still a luxury. Second, landline telephone connection never quite took off in many developing countries to start with, so canceling it isn’t part of people’s experiential repertoire there.
3. Cray or Cray Cray. The dictionary defines this word as the short form of “crazy” and says it’s chiefly American. Usage examples include: “I have a feeling this is gonna get cray”; “She’s cray cray.” I’ve actually first heard this word from my 10-year-old daughter. I didn’t think it would get lexicographical imprimatur.
4. Dox (also doxx). This word is spawned by online interactions. It’s defined as “Search for and publish private or identifying information about (a particular individual) on the Internet, typically with malicious intent.” Examples are: “Hackers and online vigilantes routinely dox both public and private figures”;Perhaps the greatest threat is their contacts with other hackers who are more than willing to dox them.”
Perhaps the best example of a doxing in Nigerian cyberspace was the unmasking of presidential aide Reno Omokri by Nigerian cyber sleuthhounds. Omokri sent out a libelous news release against former Central Bank of Nigeria Governor Sanusis Lamido Sanusi (who is now the emir of Kano) with the false name Wendell Simlin, but wasn’t careful enough to cover his cyber tracks, so he was doxed. 
Dox, according to the Oxford Dictionaries, is the “alteration of docs, plural of doc (short for document).”
5. Hate-watch (noun is hate-watching). It means to “Watch (a television program) for the sake of the enjoyment one derives from mocking or criticizing it.” Some usage examples the dictionary gives are “I hate-watched every single episode”; “It was the year that hate-watching became our national pastime.”
I think this word actually fills a real lexical void in the language and is likely to endure. On a personal note, it perfectly captures my relationship with Nigerian movies. (Read my January 1, 2009 article titled “When Art Imitates Dreams: A Commentary on Nigerian Movies”)
A related word is “binge-watch,” which is defined as “watch[ing] multiple episodes of a television program in rapid succession.”
 6. Hench. This British informal adjective is used of a man to mean “strong, fit, and having well-developed muscles.” Some usage examples the dictionary gives are: “There’s nothing funnier than seeing a really hench guy walking a tiny dog”; “he’s looking pretty hench.”
The word is probably derived from henchman, the dictionary says. Henchman basically means a collaborator, a partner in crime, or a bodyguard. Maybe it’s the notion of muscularity that defines bodyguards that informed the formation of the word.
7. Hot mess. This is a chiefly American English term that I’ve been familiar with for the past decade. I am surprised it’s only just now being recognized. Well, Oxford Dictionaries defines it as “A person or thing that is spectacularly unsuccessful or disordered.” Usage examples are: “This outfit is definitely a hot mess”; “She is out of control and a total hot mess.”
A controversial TV series on BET (i.e. Black Entertainment Television) titled “A Hot Ghetto Mess” is perhaps the most popular usage of the expression. The show has been renamed “We Got to Do Better” because of the outrage the name sparked in the black American community.
8. Hyperconnected. This word means “Characterized by the widespread or habitual use of devices that have Internet connectivity.” Examples: “In our hyperconnected world, employees expect to work from anywhere”; “How instantly reachable we all are, how hyperconnected, with our smartphones, laptops, and tablets.”
9. Listicle. This word is formed from a blend of “list” and “article,” thus it is “an article on the Internet presented in the form of a numbered or bullet-pointed list.” Example: “A recent BuzzFeed listicle called ‘21 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity’ has attracted more than 13 million views.”
This column is also an example of a listicle.
10. Live-tweet. Anybody who is active on social media knows and uses this word. Oxford Dictionaries has now conferred prestige on it by recognizing it as a legitimate word. It’s defined as, “Post comments about (an event) on Twitter while the event is taking place.” Example: “I live-tweet every game post.”
 11. Mansplain (noun is manplaining). It’s a portmanteau word made by combining “man” and “explain.” It’s defined as follows: “(Of a man) explain (something) to someone, typically a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.” Examples: “I’m listening to a guy mansplain economics to his wife”; “Your response is classic mansplaining,”
A man who habitually “mansplains” is called a “mansplainer,” as in: “Hopefully not sounding like a know-it-all mansplainer, what you're suffering sounds a lot like the initial days/weeks after my injury.”
Can we also have “womansplain,” Oxford Dictionaries? Thank you!
12. Second screen. It means “A mobile device used while watching television, especially to access supplementary content or applications,” as in: “viewers use social media on second screens when watching TV.” It can also be used as a modifier (as in: “an interactive second-screen experience”) and as a verb (as in: “many people are now second-screening to look at information about the show”).
13. Side boob. This is defined as “the side part of a woman’s breast, as exposed by a revealing item of clothing.” Example: “The figure-hugging creation showed off plenty of side boob.”
14. Side-eye. It means “a sidelong glance expressing disapproval or contempt.” Examples: “After we complained of being ignored she kept giving me the side-eye”; “She casts a side-eye and nods dubiously.” I really like this word.
 15. Spit-take. It is defined as “an act of suddenly spitting out liquid one is drinking in response to something funny or surprising. Examples: “The goofy script and flat characters would never fly without all the spit takes”; “If I’d been drinking something when she said that, I’d have done a spit take.”
16. Vape. This is the Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year. It means “Inhale and exhale the vapor produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device.” Examples: “I’d rather people vaped indoors than smoked outside”; “Many smokers have started vaping e-cigarettes to help them cut down”; “There’s concern that young people may take up vaping as a less harmful alternative to smoking.”
Vape is also used as noun to mean an electronic cigarette. It’s a short form of “vapor” or “vaporize,” according to the dictionary.

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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Suleiman Abba: Inspector General for the President (IGP)

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Let’s stop the pretense. We have no Inspector General of Police in Nigeria. What we have is an Inspector General for the President. It’s still IGP, but we know what the “P” in the initialism actually stands for.

IGP Suleiman Abba will certainly gown down in the annals as the most openly politically partisan police chief Nigeria has ever had. In the ongoing political tension between President Goodluck Jonathan and Speaker of the House of Representatives Aminu Tambuwal, Abba has carried on as if he is no more than an appendage of the president’s office.  But it isn’t his overzealously undisguised partisanship in and of itself that is unusual; it’s the bewilderingly tasteless showiness with which he is doing it.

From instructing his men and women to forcibly deny members of the House of Representatives entry into their chambers, to initially spurning the invitation of the House before grudgingly accepting it, to refusing to recognize the legitimacy of the Speaker when he appeared before the House, Abba has stepped outside the bounds of decency and conventional policing. He has redefined his role as not the chief law enforcement officer of the nation but as a protector of the president and a tormentor of his opponents.

These days it’s hard to tell the IGP apart from the People’s Democratic Party’s hacks and spin doctors. In fact, he seems to be doing a better job at defending the PDP and the President than the people who are paid to do so. Any Inspector General of Police who outdoes hacks and spin doctors in political propaganda is beneath contempt.

IGP Abba’s reason for refusing to recognize the Speaker is particularly disingenuous. He said since the legality of the Speaker’s position is the subject of legal disputation consequent upon his defection to the All Progressives’ Congress, it would be “sub judice” to address him as the Speaker. How convenient! Well, actually, Mr. Abba, the opposite holds true: by refusing to recognize the legality of the Speaker’s position, you’re prejudging the outcome of the court thereby interfering with due process.  

A careful, non-partisan Inspector General of Police who is concerned with not being seen as doing or saying anything that would be misunderstood as biasing ongoing court processes would steer clear of the partisan bickering between the Speaker and the President by recognizing the Speaker until the courts declare that he is no longer Speaker by virtue of his defection to another political party—that is, if the courts have the power to do that.

Having said this, let me be clear that I do not want to be understood as defending Speaker Aminu Tambuwal. The Nigerian constitution is clear that when members of the National Assembly defect to a political party other than that on whose platform they were elected they should “vacate their seat.”

Section 68 of the Nigerian Constitution says, “A member of the Senate or of the House of Representatives shall vacate his seat in the House of which he is a member if,” among other things, “being a person whose election to the House was sponsored by a political party, he becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of the period for which that House was elected: Provided that his membership of the latter political party is not as a result of a division in the political party of which he was previously a member or of a merger of two or more political parties or factions by one of which he was previously sponsored.”

It seems to me that based on the provisions of the constitution, and given a previous court ruling that said there are no factions in the PDP, Tambuwal should lose his right to be a member of the House of Representatives and thus his position as Speaker of the House. If I were him, I would vacate my seat and resign my position as Speaker as soon as I defect to a different political party. That, I think, is the honorable thing to do.

But it is also clear from the constitution that there are procedural protocols that must precede loss of membership of the House for members who defect to a different political party. Members don’t vacate their seats by default when they change their political party affiliations. Either the Speaker or any member of the National Assembly has to first raise a motion and present evidence that a member has defected to another political party and should therefore lose his or her seat on this account.

This is what the constitution says: “The Speaker of the House of Assembly shall give effect to subsection (1) of this section, so however that the Speaker or a member shall first present evidence satisfactory to the House that any of the provisions of that subsection has become applicable in respect of the member.”

So for Speaker Tambuwal to validly vacate his seat and cease to be the Speaker, a member of the House has to first present evidence that the Speaker has changed his political party and then request that he give up his seat and his position. Given how chummy Tambuwal seems to be with members of the House irrespective of their party affiliations, I don’t imagine that any member would go out of his way to gather “satisfactory evidence” of the Speaker’s membership of the APC and ask that he vacate his seat.

In other words, however much we might question the moral propriety of Tambuwal’s choice to retain his seat and position in spite of his defection to another political, we can’t, at least for now, question the legality of his position as Speaker. 

It doesn’t take a lawyer to know that IGP Abba is unmistakably on the wrong side of the law for refusing to recognize Aminu Tambuwal as the Speaker of the House of Representatives. But even a self-appointed Inspector General for the President has an obligation to obey the law.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Q and A on Word Usage and Confusing Expressions

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Should it be “iron clothes” or “press clothes”? What is the difference between “uninterested” and “disinterested” and between “climatic” and “climactic”? Is there a difference between “relatives” and “relations” and between “slippers” and flip-flops”? Why is “clap for him/her” wrong and “clap him/her” right? Find answers to these and other questions in this week’s column.

Between “iron clothes” and “press clothes” which is more correct? We use these terms interchangeably in Nigeria, but “press clothes” seems to be preferred by not-too-educated people. Any thoughts?

Both terms are synonymous. That’s what all the dictionaries I consulted said. The use of either expression is more an indication of preference than of level of education. My own preference is “iron clothes.” That also seems to be the preference of Americans among whom I live. I don’t recall ever hearing an American say they’d “press their clothes.” They tend to prefer “iron” to “press.”

 Out of curiosity, I searched the Web to see if I’ve been missing something. I found a website called “Daily Writing Tips” where an Indian asked to know the difference between “pressing” and “ironing.” There was no consensus among native English speakers about what differences, if any, exist between the two terms. They were all over the place. But two things stood out boldly in their responses. One, “iron clothes” is the choice of most young people. Two, the older generation uses “iron clothes” and “press clothes” interchangeably.

Is there a difference between uninterested and disinterested? I had always thought they were synonyms but someone I respect said they are different words. I believed him until I read why a native speaker used the words interchangeably in the same write-up. I’ll appreciate your take on these words.

Uninterested and disinterested are not synonyms. Uninterested means “not interested” (as in “the students were uninterested in mathematics”) while “disinterested” means impartial, unbiased, not affected by self-interest, etc. (as in “he is a disinterested judge”). Many people, including native English speakers, confuse these two words. Every year, about 90 percent of my students, who are native English speakers, fail my question that tests their knowledge of the difference between these two words.

 I have also read well-regarded writers mix up these words. But no dictionary I know of treats “uninterested” and “disinterested” as synonyms. This could very well happen in the near future since most users of the language, including native speakers, can’t tell the words apart. But, for now, it’s safe to stick to the distinction between the words.

Someone just shocked me by saying it’s wrong to say “clap for him.” What’s wrong with that expression?

Several other people called my attention to a Nigerian lady on Twitter (I can’t recall her handle) who said “clap for him” as a synonym for “applaud” is wrong, and that the correct expression is “clap him.” This isn’t the first time this discussion has come up in Nigerian English grammar circles. Many other people have pointed out that “clap” doesn’t admit of the preposition “of.” They are partly right. All major English dictionaries support them. For instance, Oxford Dictionary defines “clap” as follows: “Strike the palms of (one’s hands) together repeatedly, typically in order to applaud.” It gives the following usage examples to illustrate the definition:

“Then strolled out of the airport with my cousin who was clapping me on my performance.”
“Cars hooted approval, crowds cheered and clapped the heroes.”

“His father Gordon, a former York City star, asked the congregation to stand for a minute to applaud and clap Thomas, and ‘say thank you for knowing him’.”

However, the pragmatics (i.e., actual use) of the expression is different from its dictionary definitions. American English speakers certainly say “clap for.” This is attested to by the Corpus of Contemporary American English, the definitive record of English usage in the United States. I will give a few examples from the Corpus of instances where “clap for” appeared in prestigious publications.

The first example is from a 2012 New York Times article titled “Assad Accepts Cease-Fire; Opponents Are Skeptical.” In the article, this sentence appears: “They bring people on buses to clap for him and say that he killed all the Free Syrian Army…”

Another 1996 New York Times article titled “Name a New Musical Star” contains the following sentence: “And, in the theater, they clap for Ms. Channing, Ms. Andrews and Ms. Burnett as if they'd never seen a star before.

A 1994 San Francisco Chronicle article also contains the following: “The fans began to clap for an Astros rally.”

I found numerous other examples in popular media and well-regarded academic journals where “clap for him/her,” not “clap him/her,” is used in place of applaud. In fact, not only have I never heard any American say “clap him/her,” the Americans I spoke with before writing this column told me “clap him/her” sounds “weird” to them—as it does to most Nigerian English speakers.

Now, does this mean the Twitter grammar lady is wrong? Absolutely no. My checks at the British National Corpus shows that British English speakers prefer “clap him/her” to “clap for him/her.” The corpus bought up only one match for the expression “clap for,” and it appeared during a TV  chat where a host, on March 12, 1992, said: “ah let's all clap for Neil, er, er what's he gon na do go off and have a boxing match?”

So this looks like a dialectal variation.

What is the difference between relative and relation? It seems to me that native English speakers prefer “relative” to relation. Is “relation” Nigerian English?

Both terms are interchangeable. But I realize that when I say “my relations,” my American friends have a hard time understanding me. Americans, especially in the South, almost always say “my relatives.” I guess it’s because “relations” has several other competing meanings, such as sexual intercourse, dealings, act of narration, etc. “Relatives” has no such semantic burden, so it’s easily associated with one’s flesh and blood.

But “relations” is not a uniquely Nigerian English word. Nor is it wrong.

What is the difference between climatic and climactic?

Like “uninterested” and “disinterested,” “climatic” and “climactic” are often confused with each other. But, although they kind of sound alike, they have different meanings. “Climatic” is the adjective related to “climate” (as in “climatic changes will affect the eco system) while “climactic” (notice the “c” after “a”) is the adjective related to “climax,” that is, the highest point of anything, or the decisive moment in a work of fiction, or orgasm.

What’s the difference between slippers and flip-flops?

The simplest way to answer this question for a Nigerian is to say American English speakers use “flip-flops” where Nigerian and British English speakers would say “slippers.” What Americans call “slippers” is completely different from what Nigerians know as slippers. In American English slippers don’t have a string between the big toe and the second toe. See pictures below:
These are called flip-flogs in American English; Nigerian (and British) English speakers know these as slippers

What you see above is what Americans call slippers
I just recently learned that Hawaiians (Hawaii is a state in America that is located outside the contiguous United States) use “slippers” the way Nigerian and British English speakers use the word.

I was conversing with a friend and I said “if to say." He said I was wrong, that I should have said "had it been." Is he correct and why?

Yes, your friend is right. "If to say" is Nigerian Pidgin English expression for “if I had” or “had I.” Interestingly, “if to say” has made its way to mainstream Nigerian English. That’s probably why you didn’t recognize it as odd.

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