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Q and A on Nigerian English Usage and Gendered Language

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D. Twitter: @farooqkperogi In this week’s Q and A, you will find answers to questions on the difference bet...

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

In this week’s Q and A, you will find answers to questions on the difference between the expressions “in conclusion” and “conclusively”; whether “bushman” is Standard English and, if not, what its Standard English equivalents are; when to use “dinner” or “supper” to refer to evening meal; and whether it’s acceptable to refer to female directors as “directresses” and female proprietors as “proprietresses,” as Nigerian TV newscasters do. Enjoy:

What’s the difference between “conclusively” and “in conclusion”? A friend told me I was wrong to end an essay with “conclusively.” I told him “in conclusion” and “conclusively” can be used interchangeably. Am I wrong?

Yes, you are wrong. Although many Nigerians, including Nigerian journalists, use these expressions interchangeably, “in conclusion” and “conclusively” are actually dissimilar. Conclusively means “once and for all,” as in, “we settled the problem conclusively.” It can also mean “convincingly” or “irrefutably,” as in, “the report conclusively proves that he is the most corrupt president in the country.”

That means it isn’t proper to end an essay, as many Nigerians do, by writing “Conclusively…” That should be, “In conclusion.” The appropriate expression to use when introducing the last item in a series or an essay is “in conclusion,” not “conclusively.”

Is it true that the expressions “bush man” or “bush woman” or “bush people” aren’t Standard English expressions? If true, what expressions do native English speakers use in their place to refer to someone who is from the village?

I had answered this question in a March 16 2014 Q and A article, but since several people have also asked this question over the past few weeks, I will reproduce my earlier response, with some additions, for the benefit of people who missed it the first time:

“Bush man,” especially the way it’s used in Nigerian English, isn’t Standard English. It’s a Pidgin English expression that has found its way into the standard varieties of English spoken and written in Anglophone West Africa. Last year, for instance, when Ghanaian president John Dramani Mahama delivered a lecture at Kennesaw State University in the United States where I teach, he used the expression “bushman” in ways his audience didn’t understand. In a passage he read from his recently published autobiography, he jokingly described one of his high school classmates as a “bush man.” Most people in the audience had no clue what he meant. I know this because no American laughed. Only the few Ghanaians and Nigerians in the audience giggled.

Most native English speakers in Britain and America understand “Bushman” (plural: Bushmen; note the uppercase “B”) to mean the hunter-gatherer ethnic group in southern African now known as the “San.” The term emerged in the 18th century from the Afrikaan word “boschjesman,” which literally translates as “man of the bush.” It was the word the white settlers in South Africa used to refer to the San people who number nearly 100,000 and who can be found in Botswana, Namibia, Angola, and South Africa. Western anthropologists and journalists who studied and wrote about the San people adopted the Afrikaan name for the people and helped popularize it beyond the shores of southern Africa.

“Bush man” also appears in Australian and New Zealand English to mean a pioneer or a man who literally lives in the bush. It can also mean a person who travels or lives in the bush and is intimately familiar with the ways of the bush. But the term isn’t derogatory in Australian and New Zealand English. Their equivalent of the West African English “bush person” is “bogan.”

 In West African English, “bushman” or “bush woman”—or any variation of the term, such as “bush people”—is a pejorative term for an unsophisticated person who isn’t versed in the ways of the world. It’s traditionally reserved for farouche, provincial rural dwellers, but it can be used to refer to any unworldly person, especially one who lacks social skills.

In American English, such a person would be called a “hillbilly” or a “hick.” In British English, such a person would be called a “(country) bumpkin” or a “yokel.”

If President Mahama had described his high school classmate as a “hick” or a “hillbilly,” the Americans in the audience would have understood him and laughed.

Other names native English speakers use for what Anglophone West Africans call “bush people” are “rustics,” “peasants,” and “rednecks” (which is exclusively American).

A friend just told me we misuse the word “dinner” in Nigerian English, but he couldn’t articulate how we misuse it. He then referred me to your column in Sunday Trust and said I should send you an email for clarification. Have you written on this before?

I addressed this in my forthcoming book. Nigerians understand “dinner” to invariably mean evening meal. Native English speakers, however, use it to denote the main meal of the day, which can either be in the middle of the day or in the evening. Most Nigerians have their main meals in the afternoon and have light meals in the evening, which means many Nigerians actually have dinners in the afternoons. Native speakers informally refer to any mid-day meal, whether it’s light or heavy, as “lunch,” and call light evening meal “supper,” which is almost absent in Nigerian English. Additionally, “dinner” is a more formal meal than “supper.”

I love all your articles in Sunday Trust and Weekly Trust. I am also one of your followers on Twitter. I have a question to ask you and it goes as follows: Is the use of these words in grammar right: “directress” from “director” and “Proprietress” from “Proprietor.”  I checked them in the dictionary and couldn't find them, but some TV stations make use of them in Nigeria.

Gender differentiation of occupational roles through the addition of the “ess” suffix is now, for the most part, outdated at best and offensive at worst. The new norm is to have genderless occupational titles. So, in modern usage, a proprietor refers to both a male and a female owner of a business. Similarly, a “director” isn’t invariably male; it can also be a woman.

By the same token, it is now customary to refer to airline cabin personnel as simply “flight attendants” rather than as “stewardesses” (for women) and “stewards” (for men). Words like authoress, editress, poetess, and sculptress are also now considered pejorative and should be avoided. Use author, editor, poet, and sculptor instead. If you want to indicate that a woman is an expert at a subject, don’t say she’s a “mistress of” it; say she is a “master of” it. Mistress, especially in American English, now primarily means a woman who has extramarital relationship with a man. Although many people use “actress” to refer to female actors, women actors increasingly object to being called “actresses,” a prominent example being Whoopi Goldberg.

However, there are still a few gendered nouns in modern English that don’t cause offense. The Random House Dictionary says these words can be affixed with the “ess” suffix without inviting the wrath of feminists: adventuress; enchantress; heiress; hostess; millionairess; murderess; seamstress; seductress; sorceress; temptress; and waitress

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