"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: February 2015

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Why Nigerian Politicians Now Prefer American Public Relations Firms

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi 

Last week I shared an article originally published in Politico, an American political newspaper, about American public relations firms’ forays into Nigeria’s electioneering in this election season. The article showed that both the opposition APC and the ruling PDP have deployed, or continue to deploy, the services of well-known American political public relations firms to sway voters in Nigeria.

APC has used (perhaps still uses) the services of AKPD Message and Media, a political consulting firm owned by former Obama campaign manager David Axelrod. PDP has also used (perhaps still uses) the Potomac Square Group, another well-known consulting firm headed by Joseph Trippi, who managed Howard Dean’s failed presidential bid in 2004.

Many public relations practitioners in Nigeria have been quick to dismiss Nigerian politicians’ newfound fascination with American political consulting firms in this year’s election as the product of an inferiority complex. I think that is simplistic.

Nigeria’s political public relations is crude, vulgar, and intellectually impoverished. No one who desires to change hearts and minds of people should rely on it. Nigeria’s brand of political public relations, for the most part, does no more than attract enemies, scare away potential converts, and ossify negative opinions about candidates. It consists in barbarous, impulsive, sophomoric insults against real and imagined political opponents—and cloying, hagiographic defense of principals. It lacks nuance, is childish, and seems unconcerned with logic and persuasion.

The performance of Reuben Abati and Doyin Okupe (who in fact describes himself as an “attack lion”)—and several others before them—in the defense of their boss and the demonization of their boss’ real and imagined political enemies is a classic example of the kind of primitive political public relations that holds sway in Nigeria. In this kind of political public relations, not only “political enemies” come under heavy fire; facts, truth, and logic also become casualties.

I was a victim of this primitive public relations a few weeks ago. In response to my article on Vice President Namadi Sambo’s unprecedentedly bigoted claim on national television that the PDP is Nigeria’s Muslim party, even when he can’t recite the most recited verse in his putative religion’s holy book, his media aides chose to launch laughably childish personal attacks on me under a false name. In doing so, they betrayed ignorance about who I am and what I do.

For instance, they said I am Nupe, which I am not. I am Baatonu. I have made countless references to my Baatonu ethnic identity in several of my articles. They said I’m a “grammar journalist” (whatever the heck that means) who veered into political commentary because I wanted to be noticed by APC and rewarded with a political appointment if APC wins the presidential election. Well, I have been writing political commentaries for more than a decade and at least six years before I started my grammar column.

Many people who read the attacks on me by the VP’s media aides told me they laughed out loud at the downright incompetence the write-up betrays. I also did. I didn’t read it beyond the first few paragraphs.  An opportunity to persuade me—and several others— that the VP didn’t mean what I interpreted him to mean was wasted in puerile, uninformed abuse that ended up betraying the writer’s ignorance and hardening people’s opinion about the VP’s bigotry and ineptitude.

The object of public relations, especially political public relations, is to arm supporters with the ideational resources to defend you, to win over people who sit on the fence, to persuade opponents to see you as a reasonable person worthy of their respect, etc. This has been the core preoccupation of political public relations since 64 BC when Quintus Tullius Cicero wrote Commentariolum Petitionis, regarded by many scholars as the “first publication on electioneering and political public relations.”

In the pamphlet, Cicero said the goal of what we call political public relations today is “securing the support of your friends and winning over the general public” in addition to “impressing the voters at large.” He advised people seeking elective office to “take stock of the many advantages you possess,”  “cultivate relationships,” ensure “your family and those closely connected with you” are “all behind you and want you to succeed,” “secure supporters from a wide variety of backgrounds,” “seek out men everywhere who will represent you as if they themselves were running for office,” be aware that there “are three things that will guarantee votes in an election: favors, hope, and personal attachment. You must work to give these incentives to the right people,” and, finally, that the “most important part of your campaign is to bring hope to people and a feeling of goodwill toward you.”

Persuasion scholars also tell us that human attitudes toward persuasive messages often fall under one of three latitudes: latitude of acceptance, latitude of rejection, and latitude of noncommitment. Research has shown that when people judge a new message to be within their latitude of rejection (such as telling a Buhari enthusiast that his candidate can’t be president because he is old or has no school certificate), they are impossible to persuade. Attempts to persuade them often leads to what social judgment theorists call the boomerang effect, where individuals are driven away from, rather than drawn to, the positions their persuaders want them to occupy.

Persuasion is often a gradual process consisting of small changes at a time. Crude insults don’t persuade; they only lead to a boomerang effect. American public relations experts know this and have applied it in their management of Buhari. The phenomenal widening of the support base of General Buhari this year is proof of this.

 If Nigerian political public relations practitioners want to remain relevant in today’s Nigeria, especially in light of the forays of American PR practitioners into Nigeria, they have to learn that public relations isn’t about bribing Op Ed editors of newspapers and planting coarse, vulgar abuses against perceived political opponents.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Q and A on Sundry Grammar and Usage Concerns

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D. 
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

This week’s Q and A centers on usage and grammar such as the differences between “wide off the mark” and “wide of the mark,” between “write an exam” and “take an exam,” between “how do you mean?” and “what do you mean?” and which between “titled” and “entitled” is appropriate when talking about giving title to a book or article. Enjoy.

I have read and found your analysis on "Febuhari" (Sunday Trust, Feb 1, 2015; p. 42) as interesting as your other previous grammatical analyses. However, your last three paragraphs bear one serious misuse by you, and often by many other "educated" Nigerians. The word you used wrongly is "titled". The word "title”, in standard English English, can be used only as a NOUN. When used as a VERB in the past participle form "titled", it means "to give a NOBLE TITLE" to someone or something. It also means "to give someone or something the RIGHT for/to something". If you want to convey the meaning of giving just a name or "title" to a book, article, etc, the past participle VERB you should use appropriately is "entitled", which has the base form of "entitle". I wonder whether this "entitled", repeated three times by you, too falls under your "Errata/accidental typographical errors.

Well you're wrong in thinking that "titled" can only be used to mean "'to give a NOBLE TITLE' to someone or something' and 'to give someone or something the RIGHT for/to something'." That’s a limited, prescriptivist understanding of the meaning and usage of "titled."

Here is what I wrote on the difference between "titled" and "entitled" in an April 14, 2013 Q and A article titled (yes, “titled”!) “Q and A on Miscellaneous Nigerian English Grammar Issues”: “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.”

So you’re on the opposite side of the AP Stylebook’s usage dogma. But what does the available linguistic evidence say about your and AP Stylebook’s prescriptivist dogmas? Here is what we know.

Etymologists (people who study the history, development, and sources of words) say the use of "title" as a verb to mean "give title to a book" has been attested since the early 14th century (See, for instance, the Online Etymology Dictionary ). The use of “entitled” to mean “give title to a book” came about 50 years later. So, etymologically, “titled” is older than “entitled.”

How about usage? Well, a search through the British National Corpus, the most definitive record of English usage in the UK, shows that “titled” and “entitled” are used interchangeably by British English speakers. It appears, though, that “titled” is preferred to “entitled” when reference is made to the title of books. Usage evidence from the Corpus of Contemporary American English also shows that “titled” and “entitled” are used interchangeably by American English speakers, with “titled” having a clear edge over “entitled.”

In all the dictionaries I consulted, “give title to a book, article, movie, etc.” is the first, and in some cases the only, meaning of the verb form of “title.” On the other hand, “give title to a book” isn’t the first meaning of “entitle” in all the dictionaries I consulted. The first meaning is often “to give someone the right to do or have something,” as in “He’s entitled to his opinion even if you don’t agree with him.” Or “Being over 65 entitles you to a discount at the movies.”

So the use of “titled” to mean “give title to a book, article, movie, etc.” is not, to use your words, “one serious misuse by you, and often by many other ‘educated’ Nigerians.” As I’ve shown, in American journalistic writing, it’s actually the only acceptable usage. And in Britain it competes with “entitled.” Plus, etymologically, that usage has been around since the early 14th century when English hadn’t come to the shores of Nigeria.

Someone corrected me that "He wrote an exam..." is not correct English. He said it should be "He sat or did exam..." Is this true? He quoted the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary to back up his claim.

One of the first things I noticed when I relocated to the United States over a decade ago was that no one “wrote” an exam or test; they all “took” exams or tests. I wrote about this in one of my early writings. In my desire to blend with my new linguistic environment, I stopped saying “write” an exam. I didn’t realize that Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary disapproves of the expression.

But the pragmatics of “write an exam” is way different from OALD's prescriptive commandment. First, in the British National Corpus, I found matches for "write an exam."  That means some well-regarded British English users also say “write an exam”—like Nigerians do. Similarly, several US and Canadian university websites interchange "take/sit an exam" with "write an exam." See examples from university websites here: http://calendar.athabascau.ca/under.../current/page07_02.php; http://sivelab.wi.mit.edu/.../Thoughts%20on%20Exam...; http://umanitoba.ca/student/records/finals/683.html; http://www.smith.edu/registrar/.

Upon digging deeper, I found that “write an exam” occurs more frequently in Canadian English than it does in any other native English variety. In fact, it’s the default expression there—as it is in Nigerian English. So, although I’ve involuntarily stopped saying “write an exam,” Nigerians who say that are in good company.

Is there any difference between the words “most” and “many” as used in these sentences: “Most people like me”; “Many people like me.”

Yes, there is a difference, and there are two ways to explain the difference. From the perspective of everyday speech “many” can be understood to mean “a large number” while “most” can be understood to mean “the majority.” If, for instance, out of 100 people 20 or 30 people said they like something, we might say “many people like it.” But we can only say “most people like it” if at least 51 out of 100 people like it.

Grammatically, “most” is the superlative of “many” (for countable nouns) and “much” for uncountable nouns.

Is it “wide off the mark” or “wide of the mark”?

It’s “wide of the mark.” It’s a fixed idiomatic expression that means “A long way from an intended target,” as in “most of his shots went wide of the mark. But “off the mark” is another idiom. It means incorrect or inaccurate, as in “the minister’s projections are way off the mark.”

Is the expression “how do you mean?” correct English?

Yes it is. When people say “how do you mean?” they usually mean they want you to clarify or add greater details to what you have said. The Cambridge Dictionary gives the following example: "I think we need to reconsider our position." "How do you mean?" It is different from “what do you mean?” which Cambridge Dictionary says is “used to show that you are annoyed or that you disagree: What do you mean, it was my fault?”

But “what do you mean by…?” can also be used to ask for the meaning of something said by a speaker, and it needn’t be in a context of exasperation.

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