"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: November 2017

Sunday, November 26, 2017

“Economy Grows by 1.4 %”: Grammar Q and A on a Senator’s Tweet

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

Question:
Senator Shehu Sani wrote the following on Twitter: “Good news that our economy grows by 1.4%; only that the masses will ask what does that mean.” Someone called A.S. Aruwa responded thus: “Extinguished senator, I thought it was “grew”? Don’t you think you should also take the Primary 4 competency test?” Many people on Facebook and Twitter are almost evenly divided on whether or not Senator Sani is correct. Can you wade in and settle this grammatical dispute for us?

Answer:
Only a person with insufficient knowledge of English grammar would defend the senator’s tweet as grammatically correct. In English grammar, the present tense expresses habitual action, that is, something that happens all the time. It is grammatically indefensible to say “our economy grows by 1.4%” because the growth the senator describes isn’t habitual. I looked at the statistics of Nigeria’s economic growth in the last few years and found wildly variable rates, and it is entirely conceivable that next year’s growth would be different from this year’s.

Since Nigeria’s economic growth clearly doesn’t follow a predictable, invariable pattern, it’s obvious that the senator meant to write “our economy GREW by 1.4 percent.” I won’t judge him, though, because social media platforms are notorious graveyards of grammatical correctness and completeness. 

As a consequence of the dizzying pace of social media communication, the smallness and inconvenience of the devices on which most social media interactions occur, the informality of social media platforms, and the need for lexical economy, especially on Twitter, even careful writers and grammar mavens commit avoidable errors. I’m not immune from occasional social-media-induced errors of carelessness, too. For instance, on a Facebook status update, I once wrote “jerked up petrol prices” when I meant to write “jacked up petrol prices,” among many silly errors I habitually make when I write in haste.

So I’ve learned to not judge people’s grammar on the basis of what they write on social media. I am writing on this only because scores of people have asked for my intervention and because I think it’s an opportune moment to teach a basic grammar lesson. It is not by any means intended to ridicule Senator Sani.

“Historical present”: Present tense for past events
Note that although I said the present tense only expresses habitual action, there is something called the “historical present” in grammar, which upends this rule. The historical present is the use of the present tense to express actions that happened in the past. It’s mostly used in creative fiction. But it’s also used in informal conversational English, especially in American English.

On April 22, 2010, for instance, a reader asked me the following question: “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?”

And this was my response: “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 intended to make a past event more vivid, or to signal continuity between the past and the present. In conversational English, it's 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 do. 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.”

I want to add that for the historical present to be effective and acceptable, it should be consistent. If I am describing my childhood, for example, using the historical present, that is, using the present tense to narrate past events in order to lend them vividness, I cannot slip in and out of the present and past tenses. I should consistently use the present tense.

In feature writing the historical present is also permissible, even encouraged. That’s why you find attributions like:

 “I love what I do here,” Danjuma says.

In the above quote and attribution, it’s obvious that Danjuma doesn’t always say “I love what I do here.” He probably only said it once to a reporter at some time in the past, but the attribution, that is, “says,” is in the present tense. That’s perfectly acceptable in feature writing. It gives intensity and color to narrative writing. In straight, hard-news writing, however, the attribution would be in the past tense, that is, it would be “Danjuma said.”

I tell my students that I will only penalize their use of the historical present in feature writing if they are not consistent with it. If they write “Smith says” in one place and “Williams said” in another, I would assume that they are either incompetent or careless users of tenses and penalize them for it.

Not historical present, but headlinese
Although the historical present is justified in creative fiction, feature writing, and conversational English, Senator Sani’s use of “grows” in his tweet isn’t an instance of the use of the historical present. His tweet was informed by news stories with headlines that approximate this: “Nigeria's economy grows 1.4 percent in Q3: data.”

So, apparently, the senator’s tweet was only echoing the news headlines of the day. That means it should correctly have been written in the past tense since the senator isn’t a news reporter. Here is what I mean.

You see, every profession has its distinctive style of English usage. For instance, the turgid, tautological language of lawyers is called “legalese.” The stilted, pretentiously formal language of government bureaucrats is called “bureaucratese” or “officialese.” Corporate executives speak and write “corporatese.” Medical doctors write and speak “medicalese.” And so on and so forth.

Well, journalists also write and speak journalese, and there is a branch of journalese called “headlinese” (or headline English), which is the grammatical and expressive style that is unique to news headlines and which would be ungrammatical in non-journalistic contexts.

For instance, headline writers almost always use the present tense to describe past events in order to give them an appearance of recency. That’s why you read headlines like “Boko Haram kills 20 people in Maiduguri” even when the killings took place a day earlier, or why you read headlines like “American economy grows 10 percent in third quarter” even when we are reading the news of the growth in the fourth quarter, which should make it a past event.

If you pay close attention to journalistic writing, you’d notice that although headlines about past events are often written in the present tense, the main story is always written in the past tense. A headline’s job is to call attention to a story, to grab the reader by the jugular, and the psychology of news consumption shows that readers are less likely to read a story if, from the headline, it comes across as a bygone event. In a way, you might call the present tense in news headlines as a reportorial marketing gimmick.

Now, there is no reason why someone who isn’t casting a news headline should use the present tense to describe a past event. In other words, leave headlinese to journalists. Every truly educated journalist knows that the present tense in news headlines is ungrammatical, but we insist on using it because news is a commodity that must be sold in the market, and we know readers gravitate more to news that is fresh and vivid than to news that is stale and dull.

Interestingly, for some reason, Nigerian English speakers have been seduced by headlinese in ways other speakers of the English language aren’t. For example, in headlinese, we dispense with articles (such as “a,” “an,” and “the”) and conjunctions (such as “and” and “but”) in order to save headline space in print journalism. So the idiom “in the soup” became “in soup” in news headlines. Over time, however, Nigerian English speakers stopped saying “he is in the soup”; they now say “he is in soup” as if they are casting newspaper headlines.

Headlinese also has a fondness for monosyllabic alternatives to polysyllabic words and for the abbreviation of long words in order to conserve space. That’s why “slay” is preferred to “murder,” “nab” is preferred to “arrest,” “cop” is preferred to “police,” “biz man” is used instead of “business man,” “gov” instead of “governor” or “governorship” (Nigerian headline writers have invented “guber” as a short form of “gubernatorial”), and so on.

Journalese and headlinese have a long tradition. However, when someone uses them in contexts that are not journalistic it is legitimate to describe them as having committed a grammatical error.

Related Articles:
Politics of Grammar Column

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Remember Enoch Opeyemi Who Claimed to have Solved the Riemann Hypothesis?

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Two years ago, a certain Dr. Enoch Opeyemi who teaches mathematics at the Federal University in Oye-Ekiti suckered the Nigerian and British media into believing that he had solved the 156-year-old Riemann Hypothesis and would earn the $1 million prize for this "feat" from the US-based Clay Mathematics Institute.

In my November 21, 2015 column titled, “'Mathematical' Enoch Opeyemi and the Making of Another Nigerian Intellectual 419er,” I pointed out that Opeyemi’s claims didn’t stand up to scrutiny. “The moment I read about Dr. Enoch Opeyemi's claim to have solved the 156-year-old Riemann Hypothesis in the Vanguard of November 15, 2015, I didn't need to read a second opinion to know it was suspect at best and fraudulent at worst,” I wrote.

Certain credulous Nigerians attacked me for this. The more reasonable ones among them said since the Clay Mathematics Institute said it would reward any claim to have solved the hypothesis only if such a claim is published in a reputable mathematical journal and remains unchallenged in the mathematical scholarly community for two years, I should wait two years before pronouncing Opeyemi a delusional scammer.

Well, I have waited two years. I checked the website of the Clay Mathematics Institute, and the Riemann Hypothesis that Opeyemi claimed to have solved two years ago is still listed as “unsolved.” So, clearly, Opeyemi fooled the Nigerian and British media who in turn fooled the world. Some of us who saw through the chicanery and pointed it out were called cynical, negative, hypercritical, and even accused of being jealous of a high-achieving Nigerian scholar.

When Opeyemi’s claims invited a critical mass of scrutiny from sundry scholars and commentators, he chose to grant a TV interview to a popular Nigerian pastor by the name of Sunday Adelaja. During the interview, Opeyemi made even more ridiculous claims that, frankly, call his very sanity into question.

A Yale University PhD student in mathematics, for instance, was particularly clinical in tearing Opeyemi’s claims to shreds. In his attempt to undermine the Yale University PhD student during the TV interview, Opeyemi said PhD students don't publish in scholarly outlets until they have defended their doctoral dissertations, and that his challenger wasn’t worthy of any attention.

It takes unusual ignorance for a person who supposedly has a PhD to make that kind of outrageously fallacious claim. In many PhD programs in the US students are not allowed to graduate until they have published in well-regarded academic journals. This is especially true of the hard sciences.

It also turned out that Opeyemi plagiarized a paper on the Riemann Hypothesis and uploaded it onto his academia.edu page. (It isn’t clear if it was the plagiarized paper he presented as his “solution” to the Riemann Hypothesis). When Adelaja asked him about this, his defense was that the plagiarized paper on his academia.edu page was uploaded by someone who hacked into his account! But the plagiarized paper had been on his academia.edu page months before he attracted attention to himself through his false, ridiculous claims.

I am dredging up this issue for two related reasons. One, we tend to be amnesic, and because we’re amnesic we continually fall victim to the same cheap scam tactics. To rejig the memories of people who forgot about this issue, here is an abridged version of my November 21, 2015 column:

Now, Opeyemi’s only evidence for claiming to have solved the Riemann Hypothesis was that he presented a paper on the puzzle at the International Conference on Mathematics and Computer Science in Vienna, Austria.

Well, it has turned out that the conference itself may be a borderline scam operation. An August 20, 2011 blog post titled “Fake Paper Accepted by Nina Ringo's Vienna Conference” revealed that a scientist by the name of Mohammad Homayoun who was suspicious of the genuineness of the International Conference on Mathematics and Computer Science (ICMC) decided to test his suspicion by submitting a fake, worthless, nonsensical paper to the conference to see if it would be accepted or rejected.

The researcher’s hunch was accurate: the ICMC in Vienna appears to be an elaborate, money-making scholarly scam. His paper was accepted even though it was intentionally nonsensical. “The conference claims that submissions/papers are reviewed/refereed BUT they are not,” the researcher wrote. “A fake paper was submitted for evaluation to intercomp2011@gmail.com on Sun, Jan 2, 2011. The notification of acceptance was received on Sun, Jan 9, 2011.” That’s just one week of “peer review.”

But even if the conference were genuine, and it could very well be, you can't prove something as momentous as a 156-year-old mathematical problem with a mere conference presentation. In the rituals of knowledge production in academe, for any claim to be taken seriously, it has to be published in a well-regarded, peer-reviewed outlet, such as a journal. This is elementary knowledge…

 My sense is that Dr. Opeyemi genuinely fancies himself as having solved this mathematical puzzle, and his self-construal of his intellectual machismo got a boost when his paper got accepted for presentation at a conference in Vienna, Austria. In the now rampant xenophilic academic culture in Nigeria that uncritically valorizes the foreign, for one's paper to be accepted at an "international" (read: white) academic conference is seen as an endorsement of one's peerless scholarly prowess. 

Never mind that many of these “international” conferences and journals are actually fraudulent.
When naive xenophilia seamlessly commingles with the kind of mortifyingly cringe-worthy credulity that pervades the Nigerian media landscape AND the progressive dearth and death of basic fact-checking in even international media outlets like the BBC, you end up with embarrassing stories like this.

This is not the first time this has happened. In July 2011, another Nigerian academic by the name of Michael Atovigba claimed to have solved the same Riemann Hypothesis. The ever so gullible Nigerian media believed and celebrated him. The reason Atovigba convinced himself that he had solved the mathematical puzzle that Opeyemi now also claims to have solved was that his paper (which has only seven references, four of which are from Wikipedia!) was found “worthy” of publication in an "international" journal, which turned out to be a notoriously worthless, predatory, bait-and-switch Pakistan-based journal that masquerades as a UK journal….

Atovigba told the (Nigerian) Guardian that he would get his $1 million reward from the Clay Mathematics Institute now that he had published his “proof” in a “reputable international journal.” Four years after, another deluded Nigerian “scientist” claims to have proved the same hypothesis for which Atovigba is still expecting his $1 million, and the media’s legendary amnesia ensures that these clowns continue to expose Nigeria and Nigerians to international ridicule. Incredible!

What is even more incredible is that a Nigerian BBC correspondent’s story on Opeyemi, inspired by Vanguard’s initial reporting (which was itself instigated by Opeyemi himself), has caused the British media to perpetrate Opeyemi’s misrepresentation. Now, the British media’s uncritical echoing of Opeyemi’s initial lie is invoked as evidence to lend credibility to his claims to a non-existent feat. It has become one labyrinthine network of tortuous, self-reinforcing falsehoods. Only Philip Emeagwali’s carefully packaged fraud outrivals this.  

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Social Class Prejudice in Nigerian Teacher Competency Tests

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

The results of the teacher competency test in Kaduna State—and in several Nigerian states in previous years—give literal materiality to Oscar Wilde’s satiric epigram about how “everybody who is incapable of learning has taken to teaching.”

The samples Kaduna State governor Nasiru El-Rufai made public on social media may be unrepresentative. They probably merely serve to hyperbolize the egregiousness of the teachers’ incompetence and to win the governor public support.

 But I cannot in good conscience defend the continued employment of teachers I would never allow to teach even my enemies’ kids, much less my own kids. That’s my own irreducibly minimum personal morality test on the issue.

But it’s also true that the sacking of the incompetent teachers merely scratches the surface of a problem that is considerably high and deep. For one, the remuneration for primary school teachers is now among the worst in the country. When my dad was a primary school Arabic and Islamic Studies teacher in the 1970s and 1980s, his salary was sufficient to sustain a fairly comfortable lower middle-class lifestyle for us. He was even able to save enough to start building a 4-bedroom house until Buhari and Idiagbon struck in 1983, and things went downhill from there.

Today, public primary school teachers aren’t just poorly paid; they are usually owed salaries for months on end. As the English saying goes, if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. I’d add that if you pay nothing, you get nothing.  As I pointed out in my August 6, 2016 column titled “Nigeria as a Perverse Anarchist Paradise,” “When I grew up in Nigeria in the 1970s and 1980s, private primary schools were few and far between, and the existing ones at the time had a need to boldly inscribe on their signposts that they were ‘government approved’ to legitimize their existence. Even so, private primary schools were almost completely absent in rural Nigeria.

“During my last visit to Nigeria, the only primary schools that were in session in the whole of Kwara State (and this is true of most other states) were private primary schools. Government primary schools were closed because teachers were on strike to protest months of unpaid salaries. Several people told me even if teachers weren’t on strike people with even a little means have learned to not send their children to government primary schools because government schools have become the graveyards of learning and creativity.”

So if El-Rufai won’t increase teacher pay, his reform would be mere superficial window-dressing because the half-wits he is weeding out now will most definitely be replaced by people who won’t be different from them. He would have my full support if he were to say, “I will triple teacher pay and insist that only the most qualified are recruited.”

Of course, this should be replicated at all levels of education—and even beyond—for it to be meaningful. Limiting it to only primary school teachers would not just be callous grandstanding; it would be exhibitionistic trampling on the weak and the helpless.

For starters, if the governor is sincere, the people who set and graded the competency exams should also be fired. They, too, have no business being judges of anyone’s competence. From inexcusably poor grammar, to inept and fuzzily worded questions, to questionable grading (for example, a teacher lost points for not prefixing “Malam” to El-Rufai’s name!), they are nearly as incompetent as the people they are causing to (justifiably) lose their jobs.

And I can bet my boots that if a governance competency test were conducted for Nigeria’s leaders—from the very top to the bottom—most of them would fail, but their fiercest defenders would be the very people they routinely oppress and dehumanize. It’s the same twisted mentality that explains why poor, petty thieves are burned alive by other poor people but wealthy politicians who feed off the misery of the poor are celebrated and defended by the poor.

As someone whose intellectual and ideological temperaments are irrevocably and unapologetically pro-poor, I hate for people to lose their jobs, but you can’t have uneducated and uneducable adults "educating" poor people’s children and thereby ensuring an invidious intergenerational perpetuation of a vicious cycle of poverty.

Education is the greatest social leveler. There are very few Nigerians who come from moneyed or aristocratic dynasties.  Access to decent basic public education was the propeller for many people’s social rise. That access is now being denied to the children of the poor. They are condemned to be taught by “teachers” who are incapable of learning or who are too poorly paid to bother with teaching, in schools that aren’t even fit for animals, and under the watch of political leaders who don’t spare a thought for decent public education because their own children are either abroad or in the best Nigerian private schools.

 That means the children of the poor can’t escape the poverty trap that many of us children of poor parents escaped through access to decent public education.

In a bizarre way, nonetheless, several (certainly not all) of the people who celebrate the competency tests for primary school teachers and those who condemn them are unified by a common contempt for the poor: several who celebrate the tests do so only because the tests target a weak, poor segment of the society, and those who decry them do so because they’re not personally affected by the poor quality of teachers at public primary schools since their own kids are either abroad or in private primary schools.

But overhauling public primary school education through incentivizing teaching and then recruiting the best is crucial to securing our future. I hope that is Governor El-Rufai’s ultimate goal.

Fake Lai Mohammed Quote on Nigerian Social Media
When fake, satiric quotes attributed to you are indistinguishable from your real, everyday utterances, you know you’re the very proverb for untruthfulness. A quote trending on Nigerian WhatsApp groups— and that is now spilling over to Facebook and Twitter—credits Information Minister Lai Mohammed with having said, "PMB's government has spent almost N2 trillion on infrastructural projects. But you can't see it because of the huge size of these projects."

It would have been insanely rib-tickling if it were true, but Lai Mohammed actually never said that. Search the sentence on Google and you won’t find a record of it anywhere. The meme suspiciously never mentions when and where Lai allegedly made the statement. That was a dead giveaway for me. But I honestly don’t blame people who were suckered into believing its authenticity. I, too, was almost had, and it’s precisely because Lai had told fibs in the past that compete with that quote in incredulity.

A transparently compulsive liar who perpetually says he has never lied in his life (a claim even saints can’t and won’t make), who barefacedly tells the basest, most audacious lies without the slightest pang of compunction, and who has come to embody mendacity at its vilest is capable of telling any kind of lie. I think that’s why people are primed to believe the worst of Lai Mohammed. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

“Moslem,” “Journey Mercies,” “Stay blessed”: Q and A on Nigerian Religious English and More

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

Is it “Moslem” or “Muslim”? Are the expressions “remain blessed” or “stay blessed” uniquely Nigerian? Can “guys” be used to refer to both men and women? Is “majorly” a legitimate word? You will find answers to these and many other questions in this week’s edition of my Q and A series.


Question:
A Muslim friend of mine took offence when I spelled Muslim as “Moslem.” I told him Moslem is the accepted English spelling and that Muslim is the Arabic rendition. Since I am speaking or writing English I thought I should use the accepted English spelling. Can you help me educate my friend?

Answer:
Your friend may be a little too thin-skinned for his own good if he takes offense at the mere (mis)spelling of a word, but his objection to the spelling of “Muslim” as “Moslem” has basis in modern English. Most modern dictionaries and style guides now prefer “Muslim” to “Moslem.”  The Oxford English Dictionary, for instance, says “Muslim is the preferred spelling for a ‘follower of Islam’….The archaic term Muhammadan (or Mohammedan) …should be avoided.”

The 2017 edition of the Associated Press Stylebook, America’s most prestigious journalistic style guide, also writes: “Muslims [is] the preferred term to describe adherents of Islam.” Finally, in their book Longman Guide to English Usage, Professors Sidney Greenbaum and Janet Whitcut, two of Britain’s most celebrated grammarians, wrote: “The adherents of Islam are now usually referred to as Muslims, rather than the older form Moslems.”

So, in essence, many educated native speakers of the English language no longer spell Muslim as “Moslem.” This change is a response to the preference of Muslims. Related spellings that have changed over the years are Qur’an (instead of the now archaic “Koran”) and Muhammad (instead of “Mohammed” or the older, more archaic “Mahomet”). The changes are also a response to the preferences of Muslims, although many Muslims still spell Muhammad as “Mohammed” even in the Middle East, the birthplace of Islam.

Question:
I have a question for your column. "Stay blessed" and "remain blessed," are these Nigerian expressions? What are about "journey mercies"?

Answer:
“Stay blessed” or “remain blessed” (sometimes incorrectly written as “stay bless” or “remain bless”) are not exactly uniquely Nigerian English expressions, but Nigerians use them way more frequently than native English speakers do. These expressions, which are often used to sign off letters and emails, are scarcely used by the general populations in America and Britain. Only very religious, compulsively churchgoing people in America, and perhaps Britain, use them. The general populations in America and Britain end their emails with expressions like “kind regards,” “best,” “best wishes,” “take care,” etc.

The expression “I wish you journey mercies” is also church lingo in America. The general population says “I wish you a safe trip” or just “have a safe trip.” Before writing this response, I asked a number of Americans if they would understand me if I said “journey mercies” to them. Of the 10 or so people I asked, only one had any clue what the expression meant, and that one person is a churchgoer who said she would never use the expression in everyday settings.

But Nigerians are overtly, some would say overly, religious people, and this reflects in their language use.

Question:
I have two questions. First, is there a word like "majorly"? I have been unable to find it in any of the dictionaries available to me. Second, does one move the adoption of the minutes of a meeting or move for the adoption?

Answer:
Yes, “majorly” is a legitimate word. It means extremely, mainly, chiefly, etc. Examples of the word’s usage in my dictionary are: “majorly successful," "I feel majorly better," "he is majorly interested in butterflies." The reason you don’t find the word in basic dictionaries is that it’s a relatively recent word. It was formed first as a slang term in the US and Canada in the 1980s, but it’s now used and accepted across all the major varieties of English. In fact, Oxford English Dictionary, the oldest-surviving and most prestigious dictionary in the English language, has an entry for the word.

 To answer your second question, one moves a motion for the adoption of the minutes of a meeting.

Question:
I’m a student in Nigeria. I often hear my colleagues use “guys” to refer to for both genders. My question is: is the word conventionally accepted for both genders in America?

Answer:
The straightforward answer is yes. The singular form of the word, that is, “guy,” is an informal term reserved only for a man, as in, “He is a really great guy.” But the plural form of the word, that is, “guys,” can be, and is often, used to refer to men alone, women alone, and men and women combined. Women here in America frequently say “let’s get going, guys!” when they address an all-female company. And it is conventional to refer to a mix-gender company as “guys.”

My students and I actually discussed this issue extensively two weeks ago during a class on gendered language in the news media. At least two things came out from the discussion. First, “guys” has not always been used to refer to both men and women; its use as gender-neutral plural is a relatively recent semantic evolution. Second, the use of “guys” to refer to people of either gender first took roots in northern United States before it crossed over to the South. One of my students said her parents told her one of the definitive shibboleths (that is, a manner of speaking that marks people out) of Yankees (as people from the American south call their northern compatriots) was their tendency to use “guys” where southerners would say “you all” (often pronounced “y’all”).

But it’s important to note that in modern informal English, in both America and Britain, it’s now wholly legitimate to use “guys” to refer to either gender. This sense of the word has already been captured even in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Question:
What grammatical rules are responsible for the hyphenation or non-hyphenation of some compound nouns /words/expressions such as: backbone, back-breaking, birthmark, birthplace, blood-red, etc.?

Answer:
Hyphens perform many functions in written English, but for reasons of space and time I will touch on only a few of them.

 First, hyphens are joiners; they help form new words by joining words that are traditionally different into a single word. For example, what used to be “electronic mail” up until the 1980s became “e-mail” in the 1990s, and “email” in most dictionaries in the later part of the 2000s. Similarly, the words “proof” and “read” were hyphenated to form “proof-read.” Now, there is no hyphen in the word: it’s correctly spelled “proofread.”

It helps to note, though, that unlike other punctuation marks, there are no standard, universal rules for hyphenating words. Different style guides have different rules about hyphenation. In general, however, hyphenation is used to avoid ambiguity. For example, the hyphen helps us differentiate between the words “recover” and “re-cover.” While “recover” can mean recoup, recuperate, or get back (as in, “he recovered from his illness”), “re-cover” means to cover again (as in, “he re-covered the table after the wind blew the tablecloth away”).

Second, the hyphen is used to avoid what the Associated Press Stylebook calls “duplicated vowels” such as “anti-intellectual” and “pre-empt,” or tripled consonants such as “shell-like.” However, some words with duplicated vowels, such as “cooperate” and “coordinate” are not hyphenated by many style guides and dictionaries.

Third, in forming what grammarians call compound modifiers, hyphens are indispensable. Compound modifiers are two or more words that act like an adjective and appear before a noun. Examples: the good-for-nothing governor of my state, little-known heroes, etc.

Question:
On the bodies of tankers carrying fuel in Nigeria, we often see the inscriptions “Highly Inflammable” or “Highly flammable.” Which one is correct?

Answer:
I’ve answered this question before. Here is what I wrote: “Both expressions are correct. Flammable and inflammable mean one and the same thing. You can use one in place of the other. Many people mistake inflammable to be the antonym of flammable. They are wrong. The proper antonym of flammable is ‘non-flammable.’ Other alternatives are ‘fireproof’ and ‘incombustible.’”

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Ghost of PDP is Haunting Buhari’s Government

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

Karl Marx famously started the Communist Manifesto with the following ominous words: “A spectre [i.e., a ghost] is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism.” When I think about the Buhari government’s enduringly monomaniacal obsession with PDP, I can’t help recalling Marx and saying, “A spectre is haunting Buhari’s government—the spectre of PDP.” Only that it’s a PDP it defeated in an unprecedented electoral upset in 2015.
Buhari said he would take personal responsibility for the actions and inactions of his government, now his officials blame PDP for everything that is wrong the government
Right from its inception to now, the Buhari government has spent its every waking moment quaking in its boots in debilitating dread of the ghost of PDP. The last few weeks have seen a particularly unexampled uptick in the evocation of PDP to explain away government’s incompetence and dishonesty. Let’s recapture a few of them.

On October 25, 2017, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity Malam Garba Shehu said, in spite of irrefutable evidence to the contrary, that PDP was responsible for reinstating and promoting alleged pension fraudster Abdulrasheed Maina. “[S]ome influential officials loyal to the previous government may have been the invisible hand in the latest scandal that saw the return of Maina to the public service, despite being on the EFCC’s wanted list,” he said in press statement.

Well, now that a leaked memo from the Head of Service of the Federation, which hasn’t been disclaimed, has revealed that President Buhari was aware of, and actually signed off on, Maina’s recall and promotion, who might these “influential officials loyal to the previous government” whose “invisible hand” actuated the Maina scandal be? Perhaps, Malami, Dambazzau, or even Buhari himself?

On October 28, 2017, Colonel Hameed Ali, a Buhari confidant and Comptroller General of Nigerian Customs service, said, “Today, with all sense of responsibility, I want to say that we have 50 per cent of PDP in our government. How can we move forward with this load?...Today, we have members of the PDP calling the shots.”

On October 31, 2017, Personal Assistant to the President on Social Media by the name of Lauretta Onochie said PDP isn’t just 50 percent of the present government; it’s actually omnipresent and omnipotent. “That brings me to those in this government who are here to serve themselves [that] colonel Hameed Ali… called PDP. They said that there is about 50 percent of them in this government, but I say no they are more than 50 percent. They are everywhere; they are in the presidency, they are in the National Assembly, you can find them in the judiciary, they are in the law enforcement agencies…”

On November 2, 2017, Imo State governor Rochas Okorocha, who is the sole APC governor in the southeast, said, “It is not that 50 per cent of PDP are running this government alone, but that PDP members are holding major plum jobs in the country which, if it were PDP government, they won’t have allowed. They are getting fattened as a result and ready to fight us.”

And on November 3, 2017, Femi Adesina, the president’s Senior Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, implied that PDP is the reason Buhari goes to London for medical treatment. “The question is, ‘What did they do with that money? Why didn’t they fix our hospitals in all those years that we had boom?’” he said during an appearance on an AIT news show called “Focus Nigeria.”

It makes you wonder if PDP is also responsible for the Buhari administration’s inability or unwillingness to equip Aso Rock clinic with basic medical equipment more than two years after being in power and after budgeting billions of naira for it.

On October 9, Mrs. Buhari had cause to lament the appalling state of Aso Rock Clinic. “Few weeks ago I was sick as well,” she said. “They advised me to take a first flight to London. I refused to go. I said I must be treated in Nigeria because there is a budget for an assigned clinic to take care of us. If the budget was N100 million, we need to know the way the budget is spent…. There are lots of constructions going on in that clinic but there is no single syringe there.”

Mrs. Buhari’s fulmination came in the wake of her daughter’s Twitter outrage a week earlier. Why didn’t anyone tell them that they were barking up the wrong tree? They should have been told to complain to the ghost of PDP, which is apparently still dictating the direction of the current government.

As the reader can see, the opinions of key players in this government appear to coalesce around the consensus that PDP is still in power and is responsible for all the actions and inactions of the current government.

It is entirely in the realm of plausibility that the Buhari government spokespeople and officials will find a way to spin the latest $1.4 million military contract scam involving, according to TheCable of November 8, “Mansur Dan-Ali,… minister of defence, Danjuma Nanfo, the immediate past permanent secretary in the ministry, and LYM Hassan, a brigadier-general and coordinator of peacekeeping” and link it to the PDP.

At this rate, PDP may even be accused of metaphysically inhabiting in Buhari’s very body since he is, in many cases, directly or indirectly involved in several of the scandals PDP is blamed for!
None of what I’ve written is intended to make light of PDP’s disastrous 16-year rule. PDP was unquestionably a monster of depravity when it held sway, but APC is not any better. Plus, it’s in power now and has all the legal instruments it needs to summarily dislodge, if it so desires, the faintest vestige of PDP wherever it exists.

In fact, even the PDP itself expected to be dislocated, isolated, and contained as soon as it lost power. Senator Silas Zwingina notably said in the run-up to presidential election in 2015 that it was imperative to stop Buhari from winning because he would send crooked PDP politicians like him to jail. “As you know, there is no way you will hold office in Nigeria and go scot free if the authorities want to get you,” he said. “Buhari is determined to send people to jail and even APC governors are not comfortable with him, and that’s why many of them are not following his campaign team.”

More than two years on, Buhari hasn’t only embraced the very people who dreaded him, his officials now say those same people are the engine of his government. What stops the government from removing all the PDP members it says still constitute the bulk of its personnel and are responsible for its underachievement? Of course, everyone knows the answer: “PDP” is merely a bogeyman, a deceptive rhetorical crutch that functions to deflect attention from the government’s failures, incompetence, and unpreparedness to govern.

 An English proverb says a bad workman blames his tools. We can rephrase that to: an incompetent, unprepared government blames the ghosts of the opponents it has vanquished.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Boss Mustapha and Silly, Ungrammatical Titular Vanity among Nigerian Politicians

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

New Secretary to the Government of the Federation Boss Mustapha struck at the core of the titular conceit of Nigerian politicians when he said last Thursday that he didn’t want to be burdened with silly honorific prefixes like “Your Excellency,” “Honorable,” etc., which he said were unconstitutional and unnecessary.

 “I will make a passionate appeal: I don’t know where you people get this ‘Your Excellency’ from,” he said. “Some of the nomenclatures are banana peels. I often hear people say ‘Executive Governor.’ I say look at the constitution; there is nothing like executive governor. It is governor of a state. I want to simply be addressed as SGF, please.”

Former Jigawa State governor Sule Lamido also famously rejected Nigeria’s exhibitionistic titular conventions for governors when he told journalists that he didn’t want to be addressed as “Your Excellency” or described as an “Executive Governor.” He said he wanted to be addressed simply as “Governor Sule Lamido.” I don’t know if this panned out during his governorship, but it’s refreshing that there are what one might call oases of sanity and titular modesty in Nigeria’s desert of inflated, title-crazed, oversized egos.

While it’s entirely defensible to contort, relexicalize, and resemanticize the English language—or any language, for that matter—to express  the unique socio-cultural thoughts and values of a people, Mustapha and Lamido are right to call attention to the abuse of titles in Nigeria. Today’s column lends a linguistic perspective to Mustapha’s and Lamido’s unease with superfluous, flamboyant, often misused and worthless, English titles.

“Your/His Excellency”: In Nigerian English, “Your Excellency” or “His Excellency” or “Her Excellency” is prefixed to the names of just about all self-important, high-ranking bureaucrats and their spouses. That’s why wives of presidents, vice presidents, governors, deputy governors, and even local government chairmen and vice chairmen are “Excellencies.”

 But in most countries, the “Excellency” title is used only for presidents, vice presidents, state governors, ambassadors, viceroys, Roman Catholic bishops and archbishops, English colonial governors, and the Governor General of Canada (who is still symbolically an English colonial governor because he is the representative of the Queen of England in Canada.)

 Although America’s first president used “His Excellency” as part of his titles of honor, the title has now fallen into disuse here. If you pay attention to American politics and culture, you will notice that Americans don’t address their president as “His Excellency” or “Your Excellency.” He is simply “Mr. President” (a female president would be called “Madam President”), and only “President” is prefixed to his name. (President is a lifetime title in the US, which means once you’re a president you will continue to earn the right to prefix “president” to your name.)

Unlike Nigerians, Americans don’t prefix “Her Excellency” to the names of their First Ladies. In fact, “First Lady” isn’t even a formal title of address. The president’s wife is addressed as, “Mrs. (First name) (Last name), First Lady of the United States of America” or “Mrs. (First name) (Last name), Wife of the Governor of (name of state)” or “Mrs. (First name) (Last name), First Lady of (name of state).”  Wives of the vice president and lieutenant governors (as Americans call their deputy governors) have no titles. They are typically addressed as, “Mrs. (First name) (husband’s last name), wife of the Vice President or “Mrs. (First name) (husband’s last name), wife of the Lieutenant Governor of (Name of State).”

Out of America’s 50 states, only about 13 (someone said it’s just 3) officially call their governors “His/Her Excellency” in official communication only. The rest call them “Honorable” in formal address. But only “Governor” is prefixed to their names in everyday conversations and news reports, as in, “Governor (First name) (Last name).” American ambassadors’ names are also prefixed with the title “the honorable,” not “His/Her/Your Excellency.”

Of course, no law of nature says we must mimic Americans, or that we can’t tweak their titles and make them ours, but the Nigerian formal address for governors is frankly exhausting in its titular vainglory: “Your Excellency, the Executive Governor of (name of state) Alhaji Chief Dr. (First name) (Middle name) (Last name).”

“Executive (fill in the blank)”: Presidents, governors, and local government chairmen/chairwomen in Nigeria are invariably “executive.” This is superfluous and needlessly egotistic. “Executive” is prefixed to the name of a position only when it is necessary to differentiate it from a “ceremonial” position. For instance, during Nigeria’s First Republic, there was a “ceremonial president” in the person of Nnamdi Azikiwe who had no substantive powers. Substantive powers resided with the Prime Minister.

So when Nigeria adopted the American presidential system in the Second Republic, it became necessary to prefix “executive” to the name of the president to show that, unlike in the First Republic when the president had no executive powers and when the Prime Minister who was head of government was a member of the legislature, the newly elected president had executive powers. In America, whose presidential system we have adopted, the president is never referred to as an “executive president” because it goes without saying that he is the head of the executive branch of government.

 And, of course, it is totally pointless to prefix “executive” to the names of governors, local government chairmen/chairwomen, etc. since we never had or have ceremonial governors or chairmen/chairwomen in the past or at present. Since governors and chairmen/chairwomen have executive powers in their spheres of influence as a matter of constitutional right, it’s a waste of words to prefix “executive” to their titles. It’s as pointless as saying “legislative senators” or “judicial judges.”

Vice presidents, deputy governors, or local government vice chairmen/chairwomen can’t logically prefix “executive” to their names because they don’t even have constitutional powers to take executive decisions unless their superiors delegate such responsibilities to them.

This also applies, to some extent, to such titles as “executive director,” “executive editor,” etc. The term “executive” is justified only if a company has subordinate directors who are not CEOs or if a newspaper has an honorary editor who exercises no real editorial decision-making powers. In American English “Executive Editor” and “Editor-in-Chief” are synonymous.

“Distinguished Senator”: I have heard people say this title is unique to Nigerian English. That’s not exactly true. American senators routinely refer to their colleagues as “distinguished senator” out of conversational courtesy—just like British lawyers call each other “learned friend” or “learned colleague.” “Distinguished” here denotes “illustrious,” “respectable,” or “gentlemanly.”  I am certain that the Nigerian use of “distinguished senator” owes lexical debt to America since, in any case, our democracy is modelled after theirs.

 However, only Nigerian senators capitalize the first letters in the expression, make it an honorific, and prefix it to their names, such as “Distinguished Senator (First name) (Last name).” In fact, “distinguished” has become a standalone title, as if the word were a noun. This would strike Americans as quaint and comical.

In American English, the phrase typically occurs this way: “I disagree with the distinguished senator from Georgia” or “The distinguished senator from Oregon made a great point,” etc. In other words, “distinguished senator” is just a phrase, not a title. “Distinguished Senator (First name) (Last name)” is a ridiculous as lawyers being addressed as “Learned Colleague (First name) (Last name).” US senators are addressed simply as “Senator (First name) (Last name).”

“Honorable”: Different countries have different conventions for this honorific. In Britain, from where we copied it, “honorable,” often rendered as “the Hon.,” is used with the first name for the children of viscounts, barons, and life peers and peeresses, and for the younger sons of earls. E.g. The Hon. William Adams.

It’s also prefixed to the names of certain high-level political appointees or elected representatives—such as members of parliament, ministers, commissioners, legislators, etc. The only difference is that in both the UK and the US, “the Honorable” is only used in writing—typically in official email or snail mail communication—and not in speech. In speech, government officials entitled to the honor of using the title are addressed simply as “Mr.,” “Mrs.” or “Ms.” Most importantly, the title is never used self-referentially, that is, people who are entitled to use it never refer to themselves by the title, such as is common in Nigeria where members of the House of Representatives, for example, introduce themselves as, “I am Honorable (First name) (Last name.)”

“Right Honorable”: I see that the Speaker of the House of Representatives in Nigeria styles himself “Right Honorable.” Well, in the United States, the Speaker of the House of Representatives does not use that title.  The formal title prefixed to the name of the Speaker is just “Honorable,” and he or she is formally addressed as “Mr. Speaker” or “Madam Speaker.”

“Right Honorable” is a uniquely British title and refers only to members of the Privy Council, a body of eminent serving and retired politicians that advises the British monarch. Members of Parliament who are appointed as cabinet ministers automatically become members of the Privy Council if they weren’t members before.  Members of Parliament who are not appointed to cabinet positions are not addressed as “Right Honorable.”; they are simply “Honorable.”

So in Nigeria we have an American-style Speaker with a British-style title, perhaps because “Right Honorable” sounds grand and intimidating. Technically, you can’t have a “Right Honorable” without a Privy Council, which we can’t have in Nigeria because we operate an American-style presidential system of government, not a British-style parliamentary system of government. To address someone who isn’t a member of any Privy Council a “Right Honorable” is honorific inflation.

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Saturday, November 4, 2017

Unravelling of the Corruption in Buhari’s “Anti-Corruption” Fight

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

The latest thunderbolt from the Head of Service of the Federation that President Buhari was actually aware of, and perhaps even countenanced, the reinstatement and promotion of Abdulrahseed Maina against her counsel is probably the final nail in the coffin of the Buhari administration's rib-tickling pretense to being an "anti-corruption" government.

“I sought audience with His Excellency, Mr. President on Wednesday, 11th October, 2017 after the FEC meeting where I briefed His Excellency verbally on the wide-ranging implications of the reinstatement of Mr. A. A. Maina, especially the damaging impact on the anti-corruption stance of this administration,” the HoS wrote in a memo to the President’s Chief of Staff, which was leaked to the press. The shamefaced silence of the usually flippantly garrulous presidential media team—as of the time of writing this column on Wednesday—says a lot.

 So Buhari did KNOW about this indefensibly scandalous subversion of justice but feigned surprise and outrage ONLY because the matter became public knowledge and was greeted with widespread condemnation. That's a smoking gun right there! It helps to contextualize and explain Buhari's initial reluctance, even resistance, to fire Babachir David Lawal (whom he had actually defended in writing with lies!) and his choice to protect other shady, inept fat cats in his kitchen cabinet.

Sahara Reporters also reported on its Twitter handle that "Buhari's Min of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazau directly told @officialEFCC officer in charge of Maina's case to destroy casefile." Additionally, it’s a well-known "secret” that the country’s attorney-general and minister of justice, Abubakar Malami, gave formal and explicit approval for the reinstatement and promotion of Maina. 

Given the deep involvement of Dambazzau, Malami, and Abba Kyari in the perpetration of this scandal, it’s impossible that the president was not in on it, a fact that some of Maina’s family members hinted at some time ago—and which the HoS has unwittingly confirmed in her official communication to the presidency.

It became obvious to me that Buhari never intended to truly fight corruption the moment he reneged on his promise to publicly and fully declare his assets and compel his appointees to do the same. In my column of June 13, 2015 titled "Mishandling of Asset Declaration May Doom Buhari's President" (that was when I still cautiously nursed the hope that Buhari would work to make good his promise to "change" governance in Nigeria), I wrote: 

"The social and cultural basis of Buhari’s legitimacy and popularity revolve around the notion of his transparency and incorruptibility. But the secretiveness, disingenuousness and overall informational poverty of the handling of the asset declaration issue is eroding Buhari’s very credibility and giving people cause for what psychologists call post-decision cognitive dissonance. If this issue is not handled artfully and transparently, it will set the tone for his entire presidency."

After intense public pressure, the president caved in and instructed his media aide to issue a “public declaration” of his assets that was, to use human rights activist Chido Onumah’s wise words, “long on sophistry and short on details.” It was not a real public declaration. There were no specifics other than unhelpfully broad claims that the president had a house in Abuja (which he earlier said he didn't have during the campaigns), Kano, Kaduna, and Daura; some cattle and livestock; “less than 30 million naira” (how more deceptively vague can you get than that?); and so on. Compare Buhari’s "public asset declaration" with the late President Umar Musa Yar'adua's more transparent, public declaration and the underhandedness of Buhari’s will become nakedly apparent.

 Even the president’s people knew the so-called declaration was a sleight of hand. That was why the president’s media aide said, “As soon as the CCB is through with the process, the documents will be released to the Nigerian public and people can see for themselves.” It’s been more than two years since, and the declaration hasn’t been released to the public—like the late Yara’adua’s was.

This government is an embodiment of multi-layered chicanery, and it is unravelling before the world. There is only so far you can go with unintelligent prevarications and propaganda. Every lie has an expiration date. I think we’re getting to the expiration date of the lies of this government.

On Boss Mustapha's Appointment as SGF
The career profile of Boss Mustapha, the new Secretary to the Government of the Federation, is impressive. On paper at least, he seems well-suited for the job. But I hope he also has the temperament and moral stamina for the job. With his pick, it’s obvious that Buhari still wants to play safe in his comfort zone while avoiding the danger of falling into the religious and ethnic, but mostly religious, chasm of the North.

Like Babachir Lawal, Boss Mustapha is a Christian from the Kilba ethnic group in Adamawa State. That’s commendable sensitivity on Buhari’s part because had Babachir been replaced by a northern Muslim, there would have been (justifiable) grumbling in the northern Christian community, given Nigerians’ hypersensitivity to empty symbolism.

Nonetheless, as I argued in my September 5, 2015 column titled “Buhari is Losing the Symbolic War,” “Neither the southeast nor the deep south has anybody in the top echelon of the executive branch. It's a no-brainer that any leader who is desirous of notional national inclusion would have chosen an SGF from either the southeast or the deep south. Now, you may ask: won't one of the two regions complain if the SGF were chosen from one and not the other since the SGF can't simultaneously come from both regions? Well, that's a better problem to have than to exclude both of them. It's certainly perceptually better than choosing another northerner as SGF. We are talking here of symbolism and perception, not substance.”

Well, it has now come to light that Mustapha is Lawal’s relative and that the appointment may actually be a compensation to mollify Lawal. If this is true, we’re not yet out of the woods.  It’s another reward for personal loyalty that doubles as a symbolic gesture to northern Christians. But, whatever it is, it’s both praiseworthy and gratifying that Babachir is gone for good. That should only be a first step, though; for his sack to have any meaning, he should also be arrested and prosecuted forthwith. And we should keep an eye on Mustapha.

While we’re at it, other corrupt toadies in the government should be shown the way, too. And the president should pledge to henceforth not be a protector of corrupt associates and a tormentor of corrupt opponents; he should be an equal-opportunity tormentor of all corrupt people. That’s the only way he can salvage his fast depleting reputational capital.