Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Hopeless Budget and Capture of Sambisa Forest

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

Outgoing American Vice President Joe Biden once said, “Don't tell me what you value; show me your budget, and I'll tell you what you value.” What would you say the Buhari government values based on its 2017 budget? Narcissistic self-absorption, profligacy, and corruption are some of the things that jumped out at me.

It’s now clear to me why the government didn’t punish last year’s budget “padders.” On what moral pedestal would the architects of the 2017 budget stand to chastise or punish the “padders” of the 2016 budget? None. In spite of assurances to the contrary, this year’s budget is even more brazen in its waste, elite insensitivity, egoism, and downright venality than last year’s. All the grand pretenses to “change” have been thrown out the window.

I had intended for this week’s column to be a critical review of the budget, but Daily Trust’s reporting on the budget is already so admirably outstanding in its depth and insight that reviewing the budget here would be reinventing the wheel. But few absurdities stuck out like a sore thumb in the budget, and I can’t help calling attention to them.

People in Aso Rock obviously love food. When I added up all of the food-related budget allocations in the Aso Rock budget, I came up with N512,457,432. That’s more than half a billion naira just for food for a few people in one year when millions of Nigerians are starving.

With that much food, of course, they need a huge outlet for the waste their gluttony would generate, so a whopping N52,827,800 (which is equivalent to N147,733 a day!) has been budgeted for “sewage charges.” You know what “sewage” means, right? Note that in last year’s budget, only N6,121.643 was allocated for “sewage charges.” That's a 763% increase!

An Abuja-based industry expert reached out to me after seeing my Facebook status update on the budget and said the "sewage charges" for Aso Rock in the budget were unjustified.

"Central Abuja i.e., Asokoro (vicinity of the State House), Maitama, Wuse, Garki, has a modern world-class sewage system where effluent [water mixed with waste matter] is evacuated to 'treatment' facilities, thus ALL properties in this area by law cannot have soak-aways that need to be evacuated every few years," he said.

In other words, buildings in Aso Rock don't have external septic tanks/ holes in the ground because the pipes of the central sewage system take the sewage away immediately, as is the case in most/all modern cities.

Maybe if the president, the vice president, and other Aso Rock occupants actually pay for their own food from their salaries, like it’s done in the White House and elsewhere, there won’t be need for this much money for “sewage.”

Other puzzling items in the Aso Rock budget are “honoraria and sitting allowances” for the president, the vice president, the chief of staff and sundry Aso Rock workers running into hundreds of millions of naira. There are unspecified multi-million-naira “welfare packages” for people in Aso Rock.

And, apparently, Aso Rock residents pay an annual “residential rent,” which went up from nearly N28 million last year to nearly N78 million this year. However, even though Aso Rock residents are renters, they have budgeted more than N5 billion for the “rehabilitation and repairs of residential buildings” in the Villa. No one who can spend N5 billion to repair a residence should pay N78 million to rent it!

But that’s not all. Although, the EFCC has been allocated more than N17 billion in the budget, Aso Rock budgeted more than N8 million for “anti-corruption.”

Lai Mohammed, the chief priest of "ChangeBeginswithMe," will spend N409 million for "grassroots enlightenment" next year, N270 million for "town hall meetings," N100 million for "interaction with bloggers," etc., N100 million for "foreign media PR/lobby consultancy" (another word for bribes), and so on. Clearly, "change" hasn't begun yet with the patron saint of "change begins with me." Maybe that's why we haven't heard of the campaign lately.
Lai Mohammed's Budget
All this extravagance is being proposed in a time of recession, at a time when subsidies have been removed from everyday people, and when poor people are told to "change" and "sacrifice." It's true what they say: government is "legal," organized robbery. 

Sambisa’s Capture
People have been asking why I have not “celebrated” the “capture of Sambisa” by our soldiers. First, our soldiers ALWAYS deserve to be celebrated, not just when they capture Sambisa forest. They are our heroes. I have military friends and relatives currently stationed in the Northeast who, along with their brave colleagues, toil day and night under dreadfully difficult conditions to fight a barbarous, bloodthirsty, and nihilistic terrorist group. 

Some of my mother’s distant maternal ancestors are descended from Maiduguri. When I sent my mother to Mecca on Hajj in 2012, she went through the Maiduguri international airport (in spite of the risks) partly for emotional reasons. Going to Maiduguri was a domestic, emotional pilgrimage for her. But she couldn’t get out of the hotel to enjoy the sights and sounds of a city whose memory she nourishes through the folk songs handed down to her by her grandmother.

So the insecurity in Borno—and in the northeast in general—is emotional for me. But I’m frankly puzzled by all the giddy excitement over the capture of Sambisa. I know that we all have a psychic need for some good news, especially in these unprecedentedly difficult times, but the capture of Sambisa isn’t the same as the capture of Boko Haram’s fighters and ringleaders. Nor is it a substitute for rescuing the hundreds of people (just not Chibok girls) in Boko Haram captivity. Or, for that matter, the same as demobilizing Boko Haram since we are not told that their arsenal have been seized.

Government is, in fact, now saying that people should be vigilant because Boko Haram fighters are on the loose after their dislodgement. That, for me, is deeply troubling. Chasing a criminal away from the snug hideout from where he used to commit his crimes doesn’t stop the crime; it merely shifts the theatre of the crime. That theater is now wider and more indeterminate. Plus, there are two Boko Haram groups: Shekau’s and al-Barnawi’s. Which one has been dislocated from Sambisa?

The publicity around the capture of Sambisa is at best premature and at worst intentional propaganda designed to deflect attention from the unwelcome publicity of the viral videos that trended on social media about the terrible condition of our soldiers on the front lines.

In any case, this is the same military establishment that claimed to have killed Shekau at least 5 times, that denied the deaths of soldiers but publicized paying compensation to the families of the soldiers whose deaths they denied, etc. Propaganda and mind management are legitimate in war. I get that. But telling easily falsifiable lies in the service of war propaganda is counterproductive in the long run.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

My Word of the Year? Dalung’s “Spended.” Here’s Why

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

It is traditional for dictionaries and grammar mavens to choose their words of the year at the close of the year. Mine is “spended.” It is the nonstandard past tense of “spend,” which is popular with non-native English speakers particularly in Asia. But it was popularized in Nigeria by Minister of Youths and Sports Solomon Dalung.

In response to a charge by a member of Nigeria’s National Assembly that he was guilty of spending funds that were not appropriated by the National Assembly, Dalung said, “The funds spended were properly spended.” This provoked cacophonous digital guffaws all over cyber Nigeria. Of course, anybody with at least a secondary school education in an English-speaking country should know that the past tense of “spend” is “spent,” not “spended.” Nevertheless, “spended” is my word of the year. I will explain why shortly.

But, first, I think it is fair to admit that Solomon Dalung isn’t ignorant of the past tense of “spend.” He knows it is “spent.” What’s my evidence? Well, during the same National Assembly hearing where he said “spended,” he actually said the following: “450 million was appropriated for Olympics and we spent far, far beyond that.” Note that he didn’t say “we spended far, far beyond that.”

I have taught public speaking for many years here in the US and know for a fact that stage fright can cause people to say the most inane and incomprehensible things. For instance, in 2007, an American teenage contender for the Miss Teen USA title by the name of Lauren Caitlin Upton shocked the world with an outrageously incoherent babble in response to a question.

She was asked, "Recent polls have shown a fifth of Americans can't locate the U.S. on a world map. Why do you think this is?" Her response was:

“I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some, uh, people out there in our nation don't have maps and, uh, I believe that our education like such as in South Africa and, uh, the Iraq, everywhere like such as, and, I believe that they should, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., uh, or, uh, should help South Africa and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries, so we will be able to build up our future. For our children.”

If you can make sense of that, please let me know. I can’t. No American can. But Upton was not dumb. She was a smart, articulate young lady who was just flustered by all the pressure and attention on her. She later made appearances on TV stations to redeem herself.

Given all the negative publicity he causes by his impolitic utterances and spectacular cluelessness, it is reasonable to assume that Dalung was all hot and bothered by the piercing, adversarial interrogation of the National Assembly member—amid cameras and hostile journalists. Anyone in his situation would be liable to mix up their tenses and numbers.

This in no way suggests that, at the best of times, Dalung speaks proper English. He doesn’t. But I chalk that up to the fact that although he has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in law (and language is one of the tools of the trade for lawyers, as it is for journalists) and taught law at the University of Jos, he actually went to university as an adult after working in the Nigerian prison service for years. We should cut the poor man some slack.

Why “Spended” is My Word of the Year
So why do I still think a word that is transparently nonstandard and that was uttered in error should be a word of the year? Two reasons. One, no word has excited and captured the imagination of Nigerians this year as much as “spended” has. It has inspired frenetic online conversations and countless humorous, creative memes and cartoons. That alone qualifies the word as a candidate for word of the year.

Second, as I have pointed out in many of my past columns (see, for instance, my February 3, 2013 article titled “How Political Elite Influence English Grammar and Vocabulary” from where many examples in this column are drawn), political and cultural elites are often great drivers of language change in the world. Their grammatical and lexical transgressions often end up being normalized and becoming new standards. A few examples will suffice.

A few days ago, American President-Elect Donald Trump, in a tweet, wrote “Unpresidented” when he meant to write “Unprecedented.” He later deleted the tweet after he was mocked, but the (London) Guardian nominated “Unpresidented” as its word of the year.

The four definitions the paper gave of the word are priceless. The first was, “An instance of someone being ‘prepared to say what most of us are thinking’, but actually saying things most of us are not thinking.” The second definition was, “An irrecoverable act of folly committed by a president.” The third definition was, “Feeling of loss when a president who has neither the temperament nor the knowledge to actually be president is elected president, causing one to wonder who will actually be running the country and triggering feelings of malaise and dread.” The fourth definition was succinct and ominous: “The state of an impeached president.”

Similarly, during the controversy over the building of a mosque near the World Trade Center in New York in 2010, former Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin tweeted the following: “Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn’t it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate.”

She meant to write “repudiate,” but probably also thought of “refute” and then got confused, so she blended “repudiate” and “refute” to form “refudiate.” Of course, critics and grammar purists pounced on her immediately. But Oxford Dictionaries made “refudiate” its word of the year in 2010. The word now appears in many online dictionaries., for instance, defines refudiate as, “to reject as untrue or refuse to acknowledge,” but adds that the word is nonstandard.

Former US president George W. Bush also once meant to say “underestimate” but ended up saying “misunderestimate” in error. Cambridge-educated British journalist Philip Hensher called “misunderestimate” one of Bush’s "most memorable additions to the language, and an incidentally expressive one: it may be that we rather needed a word for 'to underestimate by mistake'." Now, the word has entries in most online dictionaries, although it’s still classified as nonstandard.

Even Hillary Clinton’s description of Donald Trump supporters as “deplorables” was initially done in error. “Deplorable” isn’t a noun in any dictionary; it’s an adjective. Adjectives aren’t pluralized; only nouns are. So, by current standards, the proper, grammatically acceptable way to say what she said should have been “deplorable people.”

But she has helped to push the boundaries of the language, and her social and cultural capital might cause “deplorable” to be recognized as a noun—the same way initially exclusively adjectival words like “catholic,” “alcoholic,” “protestant,” “great” are now nominalized and pluralized as “Catholics,” “protestants,” “alcoholics,” “greats,” etc. “Illegals” (short for illegal immigrants) is also becoming mainstream in American English, although American journalism professors still penalize students who write the word in news stories because the Associated Press Stylebook frowns upon it.

Finally, America’s 29th president, Warren Gamaliel Harding, popularized the previously non-existent word “normalcy” (instead of “normality”) during his presidential campaign in 1920. His first mention of “normalcy” occurred during a political speech when he said, “America's present need is not heroics but healing; not nostrums but normalcy; not revolution but restoration.” He was ridiculed for not saying “normality.”

But “normalcy” is now an acceptable word in American English, although it is still resisted in British English. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage notes that “normalcy” has, in the course of the years, become “recognized as standard by all major dictionaries,” pointing out that “there is no need to avoid its use.”

So if the unintentional lexical transgressions of the political elites of native English speakers get celebrated and even normalized, why can’t Solomon Dalung’s nonstandard “spended” be my—in fact Nigerian English’s—word of the year?

But how do you suggest we define the word? If I get enough thoughtful, witty responses, I might publish them in my next column.

I have been told by many people—and I have confirmed—that “spended” has an entry in the Urban Dictionary. I have also been made aware that some people have argued that the word’s presence in the online dictionary legitimizes it. That’s not true. The Urban Dictionary is a user-generated dictionary that anyone can edit. All the words and definitions in the dictionary are entered by users. The most “upvoted” definitions (by other users) rise to the top and the most “downvoted” get bumped.

Related Articles:
Politics of Grammar Column

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Tragicomedy of a Corrupt “Anti-Corruption” Government

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

This column has lately become more passionate about goings-on in Nigeria’s political and economic spheres than is usual. I can’t help it. The country is perilously adrift. Hopes are sinking. And time is running out. I simply can’t afford the luxury of indifference and blithe unconcern.

In spite of the awful performance of the Buhari government on the economic front so far, it was usual for people to say that the one thing that was still going for the government was the president’s integrity and intolerance of corruption. No more.

The past few weeks have shown that the president isn’t the anti-corruption crusader Nigerians thought he was. Both the optics and the substance of his “anti-corruption” fight would go down in the annals, at least so far, as the most brazenly compromised and selective since the restoration of democratic rule in 1999.

As corrupt as the Jonathan administration was, it was once railroaded by the force of public opinion to “accept the resignation” of former Aviation Minister Mrs. Stella Odua over her controversial purchase of MW armored cars worth $1.6 million. Even Obasanjo, not exactly an apotheosis of integrity, fired a number of his ministers accused of corruption.

But a man who rode to power on the strength of his credentials as a dogged anti-corruption fighter is looking the other way when his close aides are accused of corruption. The president, it’s now obvious, is only interested in fighting corruption if his political opponents are the accused.  So we have graduated from "stealing is not corruption" under Jonathan to corruption is not corruption when the people accused of it are the president's "anointed."

 Firm, undeniable evidentiary proofs of Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai's alleged corruption have been published. So have Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazzau's, and now Babachir David Lawal's. Rotimi Amaechi has been accused of bribing judges, and Abba Kyari has been accused of accepting a N500 million naira bribe from MTN, among others.

The president’s first public reaction to allegations of ethical impropriety against his associates was to defend them, a privilege he doesn’t extend to others. “Terrible and unfounded comments about other people’s integrity are not good,” he said through his media adviser. “We are not going to spare anybody who soils his hands, but people should please wait till such individuals are indicted.”

But he appears to be “sparing” some sacred cows.  SGF Babachir David Lawal of the multimillion naira “grass-cutting” infamy is the latest sacred cow enjoying privileged presidential protection. The evidence against him is so demonstrably damning that a serious anti-corruption government would fire him forthwith and prosecute him later.

People who are intimate with President Buhari told me several months ago in the heat of my unrestrained enthusiasm over his emergence as president that he was morally and temperamentally unsuited to fight corruption. They said the undue premium the president places on “personal loyalty” causes him to ignore, excuse, and even defend the corruption of his close associates.

 I was regaled with troubling tales of the mind-boggling corruption against close, loyal aides that he swept under the carpet at the PTF, The Buhari Organization (TBO), and at the defunct CPC. Babachir Lawal was a dominant figure in CPC; he knows President Buhari well enough to know that nothing will happen to him for all his villainous rape of vulnerable IDPs in Borno and Yobe as long as he can impress the president that he is irrevocably "loyal" to him.

I had hoped that the president would learn lessons from his past and change— at least for the sake of his personal legacy, given that he is old and has the privilege of a second chance to rule Nigeria. Apparently, I was naive.  Now "anti-corruption fight" has become the sauciest joke in Buhari's Nigeria.

If Buhari wants to reclaim whatever is left of his fast depleting moral capital, he should not only fire and prosecute Babachir David Lawal, he should also do the same to other high-level kitchen cabinet members arrogantly luxuriating in obscene corruption.

The presidential directive to “investigate” government officials accused of corruption isn’t good enough. It was intentionally vague and deceitful—like most things by this government. It looks like something that was written on a whim, and appears calculated to just deflect attention from the piercing, sustained, public searchlight on the corruption taking place right under the president's nose.

Notice that it deliberately lacks specifics such as timelines for investigation, names of people to be investigated, terms of reference of the investigation, etc. Plus, given the government's notoriety for invidious selectivity and double standard, I have no confidence that this government has the moral courage to find any of its key officials culpable of any infraction.

Unless the president really and truly wants the truth, the “investigation” will either be endless or will come out with a predetermined verdict of exoneration—well, unless enough people of conscience rise up and hold the government's feet to the fire.

In any case, it has turned out that the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice doesn't even have the constitutional power to "investigate," which lends weight to the suspicion that the directive was nothing more than a flippant, hurriedly-put-together distraction.

Mr. President and Saraki
President Buhari’s laudatory birthday message to Senator Saraki was strange, but unsurprising. You can't superintend over a government swimming in an ocean of corruption and not one day praise the very man your administration (rightly) painted as the byword for corruption. Now, Saraki's alleged corruption and Buhari’s toleration of corruption have merged. What else is left?

After calling Saraki "one of the most influential politicians of our time who has made tremendous impact on the country,’” Buhari said "Saraki has successfully kept the memory of his late father alive by identifying with the grassroots in his home state.”

Nope, Mr. President. Saraki does NOT identify with the grass roots in Kwara State; he exploits them. I am from Kwara, and know that Saraki is the worst evil to ever befall the state.

As I wrote in my October 24, 2015 column titled, "WhoWill Save Kwara COE Lecturers from Saraki’s Deadly Grip?" “Senate President Bukola Saraki is called Kwara State’s ‘Governor- General’ for a reason: He is, for all practical purposes, the state’s de facto governor, and Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed is merely his impotent, obsequious caretaker. Ahmed must dutifully take orders from Saraki or risk losing his cushy surrogate governorship. This isn’t a flippant, ill-natured putdown of Governor Ahmed, who seems like a nice person; it’s an uncomfortable truth that many Kwarans know only too well.”

Under Saraki's vicious grip, some Kwara workers were owed salaries for upwards of 14 months. Pensioners are owed several months' arears and are dying. And now, Saraki, through his caretaker governor, is copying Buhari's reverse Robin Hoodist governance template and has imposed steep taxes on poor people's meagre incomes, houses, lands, domestic animals, etc. And this is the man the president says identifies with the “grassroots” in his home state”?

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Fascinating History Behind Common English Expressions

The article you will read below was first written sometime in 2015 by a Phil Mutz and published on a website called It was initially titled “The Unbelievable Origin Of ‘Piss Poor’ And Other Sayings From A Simpler Time” and has been republished on several sides with different titles. I found the article’s etymologies of certain common English expressions incredibly insightful, and thought my readers would love it, too. 

These histories could very well be apocryphal, but they are interesting nonetheless. In any case, I haven’t read any linguist call the accuracy of the claims in the article to question. So there is a reasonable chance that they are reliable. Enjoy:

We can learn a lot about ourselves by looking to the past. History not only provides us with a nostalgic glimpse at how things used to be — like with these classic childhood toys — but its lessons can still teach us things today. Many of us fondly refer to “the good old days” when times were purer and life was simpler.

1. “Piss Poor.” They used to use urine to tan animal skins, so families used to all pee in a pot. Once a day it was taken and sold to the tannery. If you had to do this to survive, you were “piss poor.”

2. “Not have a pot to piss in.” But worse than that were the really poor folks who couldn’t even afford to buy a pot. They “didn’t have a pot to piss in” and were considered the lowest of the low.

3. “Bouquet of flowers during weddings.” Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and they still smelled pretty good by June.

However, since they were starting to smell, brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

4. “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.” Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women, and finally the children. Last of all the babies.

By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!”

5. “It’s raining cats and dogs.” Houses had thatched roofs with thick straw-piled high and no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof.

When it rained, it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying, “It’s raining cats and dogs.”

6. “Canopy beds.” There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed.
Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That’s how canopy beds came into existence.

7. “Dirt poor.” The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the term, “dirt poor.”

8. “Thresh hold.” The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on the floor to help keep their footing.

As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way. Hence, “a thresh hold.”

9. “Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old.” In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day, they lit the fire and added things to the pot.

They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day.

Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme, “Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old.”

10. “Bring home the bacon” and “chew the fat.” Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off.

It was a sign of wealth that a man could “bring home the bacon.” They would cut off a little to share with guests, and would all sit around and “chew the fat.”

Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning death.

This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

11. “The upper crust.” Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the “upper crust.”

12. “Holding a wake” [what Nigerian English speakers call “wake keeping.”] Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days.

Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial.

They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a “wake.”

13. “Saved by the bell.” In old, small villages, local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave.
When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside, and they realized they had been burying people alive.

So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell.

Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (“the graveyard shift”) to listen for the bell. Thus, someone could be “saved by the bell,” or was considered a “dead ringer.”

Now, whoever said history was boring?

Related Articles:

Saturday, December 17, 2016

12 Conditions for “Praising” Buhari

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

Buhari apologists say I have never praised Buhari since he came to power. Well, that’s not my job. I am a scholar. But I have defended Buhari many times in the past when I thought he was unfairly attacked.

 For instance, in 2012 when pundits—and Jonathan’s media team—tore him to shreds for saying “kare jini, biri jini” [Hausa for “the dog and the baboon will be soaked in blood”], I vigorously defended him. Read my May 27, 2012 article titled, “Idioms, Mistranslation, and Abati’s Double Standards.”
Buhari and Babachir
In 2015, when he was ridiculed for saying “President Michelle of West Germany,” I also defended him with all the resources of logic and erudition I had. I explained to Nigerians that Buhari wasn’t “clueless” but was suffering from age-induced memory lapses colloquially called “senior moments” in America. Read my June 20, 2015 titled, “Criticizing Buhari Over ‘President Michelle of West Germany’ Gaffe is Ignorant.” (Also read my June 27, 2015 sequel titled, “Obama and Buhari: Comparing their ‘Senior Moments’.”)

Even when he visited the US in July 2015 and made his infamously unwise comment that he didn’t give a hang about people from the deep south who didn’t vote for him, I defended him because I thought he realized his error and retracted what he said in the same speech. Read my July 25, 2015 article titled, “President Buhari’s Grand Moments in America.”  As recently as November 19, 2016, I defended him against false charges that he contributed millions of dollars to Hillary Clinton's campaign (see "Buhari's Phantom $500M Donation to Clinton's Campaign"). I can go on, but that’s irrelevant now.

Here is the deal. If Buhari apologists want my “praises”—and the “praises” of other disinterested, conscientious, and politically unaffiliated people who criticize this administration— let their idol do the following and they won’t be able to contain rapturous applause he’d get not just from me but from millions of Nigerians:

1. Assemble a sound economic advisory team to help him tackle our economic malaise. You can’t have 6 media aides and have only one diplomat (yes a diplomat!) as an economic adviser (who, by the way, is assigned to the VP’s office) in a time of recession and think people won’t call you clueless and unprepared.

2. Truthfully declare his assets and not the insincere, half-hearted job his media team did. No one forced Buhari to promise that he would publicly declare his assets. On February 20, 2015, he said, “I pledge to PUBLICLY declare my assets and liabilities, encourage all my appointees to publicity declare their assets and liabilities as a pre-condition for appointment.”

Well, from his partial declaration, we at least know that Buhari has a house in Abuja even though he had always told Nigerians that he had houses only in Daura, Kaduna and Kano. Only multimillionaires and billionaires own homes in Abuja.  Perceptive people know why Buhari is scared of publicly declaring his assets: it would give the lie to the image of modesty and frugality he studiously cultivated and promoted over the years. But he can prove us wrong by doing what he promised to do during the campaigns.

3. Sincerely investigate and prosecute the corrupt people in his administration. Secretary to the Government of the Federation David Lawal Babachir has become a byword for unspeakably high-profile corruption. He has been accused of all kinds of shady deals, including callously shortchanging IDPs, prompting the equally sleazy Senate to call for his prosecution.

Abba Kyari has been accused of all manner of corruption. Irrefutable documentary proofs of Buratai’s corruption have been published on Sahara Reporters. Amaechi has been accused of bribing judges. The list goes on. Not a word has been heard from the presidency in response to any of these accusations. But (corrupt) political opponents are hounded, even without firm evidence, in the name of “anti-corruption” fight.

People who know Buhari intimately say nothing will happen to corrupt people in his government as long as he is convinced that the corrupt people are "loyal" to him. Personal loyalty, not national interest, is all that matters to Buhari. That, in my dictionary, is also corruption. An invidiously selective anti-corruption fight is itself corruption.

4. Punish people who “padded” the 2016 budget and not merely transfer them, like Buhari did, to another ministry.

5. Stop the social apartheid that allocates billions of naira to Aso Rock Clinic while public hospitals that serve millions of everyday people are underfunded.

6. Obey his own directive to stop foreign medical treatment for government officials. On April 27, 2016, Buhari said, “While this administration will not deny anyone of his or her fundamental human rights, we will certainly not encourage expending Nigerian hard earned resources on any government official seeking medical care abroad, when such can be handled in Nigeria.”

 About a month later, he went to London to treat an ear infection. On December 2, Abba Kyari, Buhari’s ethically challenged Chief of Staff, was flown to London because he had “breathing difficulties.” Even with more than 3 billion naira a year budget, Aso Rock Clinic couldn’t treat “breathing difficulties.”

7. Investigate and overturn the unlawful, clandestine appointment of the children of politically connected people in various agencies of government.

8. Bring down the price of petrol AND make it available by repairing existing refineries and building new ones from the money saved from the last petrol price increase. Alternatively, he should encourage private sector investment in petrol refining— beyond Dangote.

Nigeria’s economy— and Nigerian life itself—is petrol-dependent in ways I have never seen anywhere. When you increase petrol price, the price of every other thing goes up and never comes down. I warned that the last petrol price hike would “ignite a hyperinflationary conflagration.” I was right. The “hyperinflationary conflagration” is the immediate trigger of the current recession. When incomes remain stagnant or non-existent and prices of everything go through the roof, consumption slows or halts, and the economy shrinks. That’s the textbook definition of recession.

9. Increase the national minimum wage so workers can cope with the mounting hardship they are contending with.

10. At least bring back the millions of jobs that have been lost since he came to power. The Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, which is a federal government agency, said, as of August this year, 4.58 million Nigerians lost their jobs since Buhari became president.

11. Show some compassion. Most policies of Buhari appear calculated to torment the weak, the vulnerable, and the helpless—the very people who brought him to power. Since its coming into being nearly two years ago, the Buhari government has increased petrol price by a larger margin than any government in Nigerian history; removed subsidies on fertilizer and other critical products; banned the importation of essential goods without developing local alternatives thereby creating scarcity, hunger, inflation, and shadowy, underground networks that exploit the poor; raised tariffs on most things; taxed everything that moves; is unashamedly stealing from people's bank deposits in the name of "stamp duty"; is helping private companies to engage in price gouging; and is generally deepening the misery of everyday people.

12. Visit Maiduguri to sympathize with the people of the northeast—and to prove that Boko Haram has truly been “defeated.”

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Q and A on American English, Nigerian English, and Kenyan English

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

When I watch American soaps, they seem to care less about tenses. Or maybe it’s something beyond me, I don’t know. For instance, a typical dialogue goes like this: “Daughter: 'dad, do you snore ‘cause I do. Dad: 'yeah you GET that from me'.” Should not the “get” be GOT? Could you clarify this for me please?

Well, it's not true that Americans don't care about tenses. They do. The example of the use of present tense in the dialogue you cited is called the “historical present” in grammar. It's perfectly legitimate even in British English. It's used to make a past event more vivid, or to signal continuity between the past and the present.

 In conversational English, the historical present is particularly used with such “verbs of communication” as “get” (as in, “OK, I get it: you’re a genius!”), “forget” (as in, “I forget his name”), “tell” (as in, “your dad tells me you want to talk to me”). Other verbs of communication that are expressed in the historical present in speech are “write” and “say.”

 I agree with you, though, that Americans tend to use the historical present more often than the British. Of course, the historical present is rarely used in Nigerian English, except by our creative writers who deploy it in their fictional narratives.

In the hypothetical dialogue you cited, however, it would be perfectly legitimate to replace “get” with “got.” In fact, in formal contexts, “got” would be especially appropriate.

What’s the difference between “customer” and “client”? Or are the words interchangeable?

 At one level, “customer and “client” can mean the same thing. But careful writers and people who show sensitivity to grammatical propriety often observe the finer semantic nuances that exist between the words, as I will show shortly.

The American Heritage Dictionary, one of the English-speaking world’s most respected dictionaries, says both “customer” and “client” can denote “one that buys goods or services.” But the dictionary nonetheless goes further and identifies five other definitions for “client” that it does not associate with “customer.”

For instance, it says a client is: “the party for which professional services are rendered, as by an attorney.” (Attorney is the preferred word for “lawyer” in American English).  It also says a client is “one that depends on the protection of another.”

So, to put it crudely, a client is a “customer” with whom you have a protective, continuing, often service-oriented, business association.  You may never know your customers because they are usually transitory, informal, and professionally unaffiliated with you, but your clients have a more or less permanent professional relationship with you and, therefore, their trust and comfort must be constantly won and re-won. They are consciously courted and sustained.

 In general, customers purchase goods and services and disperse—and may never come back. Clients, on the other hand, do more than that; they often seek professional advice and knowledge from businesses.

So lawyers, medical doctors, designers, etc. tend to have clients rather than customers. Newspaper vendors, market women, etc., on the hand, tend to have customers rather than clients.

 Interestingly, in Nigerian English a “customer” simultaneously refers to one who buys and one who sells. That’s why both buyers and sellers call each other “customers” in Nigerian markets!

Which is the correct phrase: “at the weekend” or “on the weekend”?
It depends on what variety of English you are speaking. American English speakers say “on the weekend” while British English speakers say “at the weekend.” New Zealanders say “in the weekend.”

I am sure there are regional differences even within these varieties that conflate these distinctions, by which I mean it’s entirely possible to find people, say in the American south or the Appalachian, say “at the weekend” even though that’s not mainstream in America, etc. But I was only pointing out the differences in the standard, mainstream usages.

I’m a frequent reader of your articles. Although I’m not a Nigerian I enjoy reading different point of views wherever I can. I came across some of your write-ups and I was inspired. Anyhow, I’m Kenyan by nationality. Our media, politicians etc., have coined words that have left me confused. A particularly common one is, “Kenyans have made up [their] mind.” For example, during political rallies, depending on which political party is addressing contentious issues, a politician standing in front of a mammoth crowd will declare "Kenyans have made up [their] minds."

Of course, our news media will repeat the same. So, I’m left thinking/wondering what happens to the rest of Kenyans that don't buy into any political party’s agenda? Do they become less Kenyans? Hopefully you get my drift.

You raise interesting questions about the deceitful use of language for political purposes. This is not, however, limited to Kenya. It happens in Nigeria, too. In fact, it happens everywhere in the world and, for that matter, in every generation. George Orwell was the first notable person to call attention to this type of language usage.

 In his famous 1946 essay titled “Politics and the English language,” Orwell said, “political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.”  This is done, he pointed out, through staleness of imagery and lack of precision. The expression “Kenyans have made up their minds” is certainly not only stale but also fraudulently imprecise. No one, not least the politicians, have conducted any scientific opinion poll to determine whether or not Kenyans have made up their minds on any issue.

The expression is intended only to anesthetize the Kenyan population into a false sense of consensus with the points of views of the politicians making the claims. But more than this, it’s also convenient and ready-made; it doesn’t require any thinking to say it. Orwell identified three features of the political language of his time: dying metaphors, verbal false limbs, and pretentious diction. This is true of our time, too. The evidence can be found in the example you cited.

Many of the examples you give English usage errors are also found in other African countries. One common English expression in Kenya that always drives me crazy is: "he resulted to" instead of "he resorted to." What do you think of the expression "he painted him to a corner?" This expression drives me crazy, too. It is quite common in Kenyan English.

I have been thinking of doing an exploratory comparative analysis of “African Englishes.” But the thought of the sheer labyrinthine complexity such an undertaking would entail frightens me into impotence. You are now giving me the inspiration to summon the pluck to do it.

But these are my preliminary thoughts on your comments: It seems to me that we can isolate and map African Englishes and show their similarities, differences, and continuities. The varieties of English spoken in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania seem to share enough similarities to warrant being grouped as "East African English."

The English spoken in Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, and the Gambia has traditionally been labeled "West African English" in the scholarly literature.  For historical reasons, Nigerian English and Ghanaian English are particularly sufficiently proximate in lexis and structure to deserve being called close linguistic cousins.

Many, perhaps most, of Ghana's high school English teachers in the 1960s were Nigerians, and most of Nigeria's high school English teachers in the 1970s and the 1980s were Ghanaians. (For instance, most of my English teachers in the first two years of my high school education in Nigeria were Ghanaians).

So it's easy to see why the varieties of English spoken in the two countries are robustly similar. Liberian English, because of its American heritage, is a West African outlier, although it has had a lot of Nigerian influence lately.  Now Nigerian home movies appear to be spreading Nigerian English across West Africa, perhaps across all of Anglophone Africa.

I know very little about Southern African English, i.e., the English spoken in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Namibia, etc. But I expect them to share many similarities.

I find your examples of Kenyan English usage interesting. Some of my British grammarian friends tell me that the "result to/resort to" error is also present in British English. I have also encountered it a number of times in Nigerian newspapers. So it's not uniquely Kenyan. But it is completely absent in American English, as far as I know, because Americans roll their r's [“resort” is pronounced “resoRt”] and so don't have a reason to confuse "resort" with "result."

To "paint oneself or somebody into a corner," that is, to put oneself or somebody in a difficult situation, is a time-honored American English idiom. So the expression "he painted him into a corner" is legitimate. Kenyan English only missed the preposition "in" in their version of the idiom.

Related Articles:
Politics of Grammar Column

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Dangerous Fine Print in Emir Sanusi’s Prescriptions for Buhari

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

Emir Muhammad Sanusi II’s well-publicized December 2, 2016 public lecture on the Nigerian economy has divided Nigerians into two broad camps. In one camp you have the unreasoning, knee-jerk Buhari apologists who can’t brook the slightest criticism of their idol. This camp lashed out—and are still lashing out— at the emir for saying what all sensible people who are unencumbered by political and primordial loyalties already know: that Nigeria is collapsing under Buhari’s watch.

In the other camp you have a motley crowd of Sanusi groupies who are mesmerized by his brilliance and Buhari critics who either didn’t like Buhari from the get-go or who used to like him but have become inconsolably disillusioned by his uninspiring performance so far. This group vigorously defended the emir.

But this is a false, unhelpful binary that ignores the danger the emir poses to all of us.  While the emir’s diagnosis of Nigeria’s economic malaise was unquestionably sound, some of his prescriptions were sadly familiar neoliberal, IMF/World Bank deathly pills. You only need to read the PowerPoint slides of his lecture to know this.

For instance, the emir suggested that the government “firmly and unequivocally eliminate fuel subsidies.” But hasn’t the president already done that? How much more must Nigerians pay for fuel before the government can be deemed to have “firmly and unequivocally eliminated fuel subsidies”? Perhaps 500 naira per liter?

In other words, the emir’s grouse with Buhari is that the president isn’t going far enough with his anti-poor, IMF/World Bank-inspired neoliberal policies that have impoverished and continue to impoverish vast swathes of Nigerians. If you take the time to wade through the maze of pseudo-scientific economic gobbledygook in his presentation, you will actually discover that the emir isn’t the hero he is being made out to be by his cheerleaders. His economic template isn’t different from Buhari’s; it’s only more treacherous.

Those of us who are familiar with the emir’s immediate past antecedents aren’t the least bit surprised. He is a thoroughgoing neoliberal theologist who was one the most vociferous enablers and defenders of Goodluck Jonathan’s fuel price increase in 2012. In defending the increase, he protested that it was diesel, not petrol, that powered generators and that Nigerians should stop whining about how the increase in the pump price of petrol would deprive them of electricity.

When his attention was drawn to the fact that only “subsidized” and privileged “big men” like him use diesel-powered generators, he backed down and apologized. As I wrote in 2012, I found it remarkably telling that until 2012, Sanusi had not the vaguest idea that the majority of Nigerians use petrol-powered generators to get electricity for themselves. “Yet it is people like this who make policies that affect the lives of the vast majority of our people who are desperately poor. Why won’t there be a vast disconnect between policies and people when the people who make the policies live in a vastly different world from the rest of us?” I wrote.

In a September 1, 2012 article titled, “Sanusi Lamido Sanusi’s Unwanted 5000 Naira Notes” I described him as “one of the most insensitive, out-of-touch bureaucrats to ever walk Nigeria's corridors of power.”

If you are a poor or economically insecure middle-class person who is writhing in pain amid this economic downturn, don’t be deceived into thinking that Emir Sanusi is on your side. He is not. His disagreements with Buhari have nothing to do with you or your plight. If he has his way, you would be dead by now because the IMF/World Bank neoliberal theology he evangelizes has no care for poor, vulnerable people. So disband those “camps.”

What we should tell the emir and whoever in the world is Buhari’s economic adviser is that no country on earth has ever made economic progress on the basis of World Bank/IMF prescriptions. None whatsoever. As David Held and Anthony McGrew pointed in their book, Globalization/Anti-Globalization: Beyond the Great Divide, “Developing countries that have benefited most from globalization are those that have not played by the rules of the standard [neo]liberal market approach, including China, India and Vietnam” (p. 226).

Yet the emir wants government to basically return to IBB’s SAP era, which entailed rolling back the state (without, of course, rolling back the lavish, unearned privileges of the buccaneers of the state), privatization of public enterprises, retrenchment of workers, devaluation of the national currency, increase in taxes for the poor and middle classes, withdrawal of subsidies, and other obnoxious, suffocating economic policies.

But when the United States went into a recession between 2007 and 2009, it didn’t follow any of these neoliberal prescriptions. The dollar wasn’t devalued. Subsidies weren’t removed. The state wasn’t rolled back. Government didn’t retrench workers. Taxes weren’t raised. On the contrary, government increased expenditure. The financial burden on the populace was eased with lower taxes.  Government, in fact, sent lots of money, called tax rebate checks, to lower- and middle-income families so they could have money to spend, since recession is essentially the consequence of people not having enough money to spend. I was a beneficiary of the tax rebate, so I know what I am talking about. Financially distraught private companies (particularly car manufacturers and banks) were bailed out by the government.

These policies fly in the face of the neoliberal canard spouted by the emir and his ilk: that government should step back and leave market forces to regulate society unaided.

Buhari, please just do nothing!
I used to say that it was impossible for any Nigerian president to be worse than Jonathan. That was how much I despised him. So in May 2015, I started out investing enormous hopes in Buhari to transform Nigeria and to build enduring institutions. After waiting 6 months to appoint a predictable, lackluster cabinet, it became clear to me that my hopes were misplaced, that Buhari wasn’t prepared to be president, so I scaled backed my expectations and hoped that Buhari would at least be minimally better than Jonathan.

But when Buhari hiked fuel prices, reversed the few miserly subsidies that sustained the poor, and became prisoner of the “Washington Consensus,” I scaled back my expectations again and hoped that Buhari would be just as bad as Jonathan was.

When his government’s incredibly inept husbandry of the economy continued to deepen the recession it instigated in the first place with its wrongheaded policies, I hoped that Buhari would just be slightly worse than Jonathan for the sake of Nigeria’s survival.

Now with the unceasing rash of counter-intuitive, mutually contradictory, insanely irrational, and thoughtless policy prescriptions from this government every day, the very foundation of the country is tanking before our very eyes, and I just hope Buhari never does anything again till 2019 when his tenure will expire—and with it the torment he is inflicting on Nigeria. A stagnant, do-nothing Buhari is now better for the country than this madness we’re witnessing! Nigeria is fast sinking to the nadir of despair and ruination.

Related Articles:
Sanusi Lamido Sanusi's Unwanted N5000 Notes
Issues in Sanusi Lamido Sanusi's Plagiarism Allegations
CBN Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi's Fake Facebook Account
Emir Muhammadu Sanusi II and Vanguard's Internet-Age Junk Journalism
Still on Emir Sanusi II's Fake Twitter Handle and AFP's Editorial Recklessness

Sunday, December 4, 2016

“Titled” or “Entitled,” “On a Platter of Gold,” “Wide off the Mark”: Grammar Q and A

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

Kindly expound on your consistent use of “title” as a verb (e.g. “my book is titled…”).

Apparently, many Nigerian English grammarians think “title” can’t be used as verb to mean “give title to a book”; they think only “entitle” can “correctly” give expression to that meaning. I don’t know the source of that misconception. A Nigerian English professor also once pointed out to me that my use of the verb form of “title” to mean “give title to a book” was wrong.

He wrote: “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’.”

Since you also teach English at a Nigerian university, I have decided to republish the response I gave to your colleague on this issue.

“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.’

“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 the 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 a misusage. 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.

I know there are many people in Nigeria who like gold, but could this be the reason why most of our people - educated and otherwise - (in)correctly use the phrase ''on a platter of gold?'' I've trawled my hard-copy dictionaries and even online platforms and couldn't find the phrase; but I was able to find ''on a silver platter.''  What do you say, Prof?

The usual idiom in Standard English is “on a platter” and sometimes “on a silver platter.” It is perhaps the latter rendering of the idiom that inspired Nigerian English speakers to replace “silver” with “gold” since gold is more valuable than silver.

The Nigerian English idiom “on a platter of gold” was most certainly popularized by a popular question in high school government and history exam that read something like: “Nigeria got its independence on a platter of gold. Discuss.” I don’t know if the question still appears in secondary school exams. It most definitely is the source of the Nigerian English rendering of the idiom as “on a platter of gold.”

To give or hand something to somebody on a platter or on a silver platter is to give it to him or her almost effortlessly. It is the same sense the Nigerian English idiom “on a platter of gold” conveys.

My sense is that native English speakers would understand that you mean “on a silver platter” if you say “on a platter of gold,” but it would immediately be apparent that you have limited proficiency in the language. The lexical and grammatical properties of idioms are usually fixed and can’t be changed arbitrarily. Replacing “silver” with “gold” and changing the structure of the idiom may be a good example of linguistic domestication, but it does mark you out as a non-native speaker.

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 British English users also say “write an exam”—like Nigerians do.

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 appears to be 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 it “wide off the mark” or “wide of the mark”?

It’s “wide of the mark,” not “wide off the mark.” “Wide of the mark” is 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.”

Related Articles: