"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: 08/10/14

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Q and A on Titles, Genericization, and Sundry Grammar Usage Rules

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Want to know what “Prof. Dr.,” used by Western European and some Asian academics, mean, or why it is wrong to call Nigerian traditional rulers “His Royal Highness”? How about the rules about interchanging “Oh” with “Zero” in calling out telephone numbers? For these and many other grammar usage questions, read the Q and A that follows:

I often see the title “Prof. Dr.” before the names of university teachers in European countries. What does it mean? It sounds rather strange to me.

It’s a practice that is exclusive to some Western European and Asian countries. It’s called stacking of multiple academic titles, which strikes many people in the US and the UK as comical and overly self-important. When “Prof. Dr.” is attached to someone’s name in such countries as Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Malaysia, etc. it means the person is both a Ph.D. and a (full) professor. This differentiates him from someone who reached the pinnacle of his academic career without a Ph.D. and someone who has a Ph.D. but is still climbing the titular ladder in academe.

But it can get even more pompous.  I know people who have been addressed as “Prof. Dr. Dr. Dr. Brown.” It means this man has four doctoral degrees in addition to being a (full) professor.  A person who has four doctorate degrees in addition to being a professor usually prefixes the following titles to his names: “Prof. Dr. mult.” The “mult.” in the titles indicates multiple doctorates. “Prof. M.D.” indicates that someone has a medical doctorate and is also a professor. If “Prof. Dr. Ir.” is prefixed to someone’s name, especially in Belgium and, I think, Germany, it means the person is a (full) professor, has a doctorate, and also has a master’s degree in engineering. And you thought only Nigerians are obsessed with stacking titles!

 “Prof. Dr.” is never used in UK and US universities. In the UK “Prof.” (or Professor) is prefixed to the name of any academic who has attained the highest rank in academia. It’s a lifetime title. In the US, the preferred title for academics who hold a doctorate is “Dr.,” even if they’ve reached the highest attainable professorial rank, as in Dr. Smith is a professor of virology. “Prof.” or “Professor” is often prefixed to the names of people who teach in a US university but don’t have a doctorate, although it’s usual for Americans to use “professor” as a generic term for “university teacher,” which means “Prof.” can be used for just about anybody who teaches in a university, including graduate assistants.

The terms His Highness (HH) and His Royal Highness (HRH) are often used interchangeably in Nigeria. Is this correct? Otherwise kindly explain the difference.

His/Her Highness and His/Her Royal Highness are legitimately interchangeable, although some people say “His/Her Royal Highness” ranks higher than “His/Her Highness.” However, in the United Kingdom, these honorifics are used only for princes and princess, not the sovereign monarch. The King or the Queen of England is addressed as “His Majesty” or “Her Majesty,” not “His Royal Highness” or “Her Royal Highness.”

British people are often confused when Nigerians address their kings as “His Royal Highness” since that form of address is reserved only for for princes and princesses. A British person unfamiliar with the forms of address in Nigerian English would, for instance, think the Emir of Kano is a mere prince if you addressed him as “His Royal Highness, Muhammadu Sanusi II.”

I don’t know why Nigerians call their monarchs “His Royal Highness” instead of “His Majesty” or some other more befitting honorific, but given how the British colonial government discouraged monarchs in their colonies from being called “kings” (see my August 3, 2014 article titled “5 Words Native English Speakers Never Ever Use for Themselves”) it is conceivable that this, too, has roots in colonial politics of racial and cultural differentiation.

We had a short grammar argument on the use of zero while calling out phone numbers on radio. Most people (me included) favour O as an alphabet. But I believe that it will not be wrong when someone prefers to use, for example, “zero eight zero” and not “OH eight OH.” Which is correct? Please I need your help.

Several people have asked this same question and I answered them privately. I think it’s a good idea to make my response public. It is perfectly legitimate in informal, spoken English to interchange "oh" and "zero" when reading telephone numbers even though “O” is a letter and “0” is a number. The Oxford Dictionary of English says “Oh” is an acceptable stand-in for “zero” “in a sequence of numerals, especially when spoken.” Note, though, that the use of "oh" in place of “zero” is mostly American. British speakers tend to prefer “nought,” as in, “nought eight nought.” "Zero" is the more formal alternative to "oh" and “nought” in both Britain and the United States.

In Nigeria, we have a habit of using popular trade names as the preferred names to represent all similar products. For example, all detergents are called Omo, all soft drinks are called Coke, all toothpaste is Macleans, all diapers are called Pampers, etc. Is this practice exclusive to Nigeria? Do such naming habits exist in America and Britain, too?

What you described is called genericization, and it exists everywhere. Genericization occurs when a distinctive brand name becomes so popular that it’s used by the general population as the default name for all brands of the product or service. It’s also called “loss of secondary meaning.” In the United States and the United Kingdom when a product or service achieves a generic status, it often loses its intellectual property rights over its name. That means other products or services can use that name without any legal consequence. That’s why companies fight to prevent the erosion of their trade names. A recent notable example of this is Google, whose name is becoming the generic term for “Internet search engine” and whose name is now being verbified. Google is discouraging dictionaries from giving lexicographic imprimatur to the verb forms “to google,” or “googling,” which are becoming the preferred terms for “searching the Internet” among the general population.

Examples of popular trade names that have been genericized are aspirin, biro, jeep, kerosene, Photoshop, sellotape, Vaseline, Walkman, etc. So, in short, genericization isn’t exclusive to Nigerian English speakers. It’s a worldwide linguistic phenomenon.

Please I have the following questions for you. 1. Will 'legislature' take a plural or singular verb? Personally, I think it's plural. 2. What is the difference between 'less' and 'lesser'? Do they have the same meaning but different usages? 3. Which of these expressions is correct: 'groups of three' and 'groups of threes'?

1. Legislature is a singular noun. Its plural is legislatures.

2. "Less" is the comparative form of "little." The superlative form is "least," as in "little, less, least." it is the opposite of "more," and tends to be used mostly for uncountable nouns, although this norm is increasingly being violated even among native English speakers. "Lesser" started life as an error, as the double comparative of "lesser" (like "worser"), prompting famous English lexicographer Samuel Johnson to call it "a barbarous corruption of less, formed by the vulgar from the habit of terminating comparatives in -er." The Oxford English Dictionary says "lesser" is "now generally poetic or obsolete except in the expression lesser-known." However, I see many native many native speakers use "lesser" to make statements about comparisons that involve size, value, importance, and amount, especially when these are quantifiable.

3. It should be "groups of three."

In the titles of books, which is more appropriate: “guide to” or “guide for”?

Both are correct depending on what you mean. “Guide to” is usually followed by a subject-matter, such as “guide to correct English usage,” “guide to accounting for beginners, etc. "Guide for" is preferred when you mention the potential beneficiaries of the guide, such as "guide for beginners," “a practical guide for doctors,” etc.

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Re: Female Suicide Bombers in Nigeria: How Did We Get Here?

We are all confounded by the emergent phenomenon of female suicide bombers. My last week’s article merely sought to explore the possible triggers for this truly scary development. I didn’t pretend to know the answers. 

A reader who hasn’t given me permission to reveal her name emailed comments to me that said she was “struck by [my] naiveté regarding the challenges faced by Muslim Hausa girls,” adding: “I thought that your idea that it is the boys who are ‘thrown out’ betrays a certain lack of consciousness of gendered nature of disparities. I saw this report in Sahara Reporters (“14-Year-Old Girl Set To Undergo Murder Trial Over Forced Marriage”) which reminds me of the big wahala of forced marriage, sexual exploitation of children and its impact on their health. Please don't forget that Boko Hram talks about selling children into marriage.”

I frankly don’t know how forced marriage and sexual exploitation, which are age-old problems, have contributed to the rise of female suicide bombers in Nigeria. Well, read below the thoughts some other readers shared with me.

You are right that we have reached a creepy new phase in Nigeria. But it may get even creepier. I suspect that the next thing Boko Haram will do is to use children as suicide bombers. That would just be the end of Nigeria as we know it. If even children can’t be trusted to be innocent, harmless little creatures, we are finished! Everybody and everything will be suspected. Our lives have been turned upside down now. But it can only get worse, sadly. People used to run for dear lives when they saw bearded person heading their way. Then they started running when they saw people on motor cycles because Boko Haram initially bombed through motor cycles. Then we became afraid of cars. Now, we are made to be afraid of women in hijab. What next will we be made afraid of? It’s just so tiring.
Musa Isa

Your suspicion that the suspect arrested in connection with the assassination attempt on General Muhammadu Buhari was a “made-up suspect” may be right. His mother has said that the “suspect” is well-known in the neighborhood as a mentally disturbed person who cross-dresses. Nigerian security forces can turn anybody into a “suspect” or even a “convict” just to give the public the impression that they are working.
Stephen Yakubu

I really cherish your informative insight about this wanton and brutal heartlessness. But your theories haven't covered other freshly manufactured speculations that are being peddled in Kano! And, although it is just a hunch, it is growing beyond the borders of gossip. Politicians and the sage elders in Kano are formulating some political undertones about these incidents! I wonder if Professor could look into this aspect critically and feed us afterwards with his findings!
Mubarak Ibrahim

My mind is already wrenched and bleeding over the ongoing massacre in Gaza by the Israeli forces, and, unfortunately the disturbing news of these female suicide bombers adds insult to injury. What could have motivated a female to carry out such dastardly attacks is indeed a puzzle. You are not being naïve, Prof. and, yes, your theories are possibilities. However, no doubt they are, or at least one of them, is a female. Her picture has been viral on cyberspace. She typically looks female. Again, I believe no degree of despair could have motivated that; it’s simply a polluted indoctrination injected into their brains by Boko Haram members. For instance, in the Kano Polytechnic incident, the bomber was brought in an expensive car, according to eyewitness accounts. She was again looking posh. I think their deluders simply concoct more hadiths and misinterpret more Qur’anic verses, as they always do, to justify the deadly act. And, chauvinistically speaking, women are said to have a moderate thinking faculty; thus, they easily buy the ideology and carry it out.
Muhammad Muhsin Ibrahim

'Feelings of deep hurt and hopelessness'' are the major drivers to suicide bombing in addition to a sense of loss and brain washing.
Abubakar Umar

Another possibility is that they may have been forced by Boko Haram to carry out the bombings, possibly afraid that noncompliance may result in their families being massacred. Thanks for the link to [the US Army’s] “Female Suicide Bombers.” It is quite interesting as well.
Njong Suka

These suicide bombers are girls, not men dressed in women's clothing. I subscribe to the argument that they are probably forced (as opposed to being brainwashed given how long it takes to indoctrinate people towards a nihilist ideology) with threats to their families perhaps to engage in these acts.
Zainab Usman

 I think women may also resort to suicide bombings if their husbands died in the same course. They may be seduced into believing that they will meet their husbands in heaven if they blow themselves up instead of continuously remaining stranded widows. This is very probable!
Aliyu Bashir Almusawi
You say we should dismiss conspiracy theories as ridiculous. But sometimes we see elements of truth in it. Now remember the abduction of the Chibok school girls. Most people now suspect that they are bewitched to the suicides we see today. Back to conspiracy theory, it suggests that a person can be hypnotised through drugging and psychological manipulations. Such person when hypnotised can go and commit what he will otherwise not do in his normal senses.
Ibrahim Muhammad Kurfi 

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