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English Words that Make Nigerians Say the Opposite of What They Mean (III)

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D. Twitter: @farooqkperogi Also see:  English Words that Make Nigerians Say the Opposite of What They Mean (...

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

23. “Who send you message?” This is a Nigerian Pidgin English expression for “who asked you to do it?” or “stop being a busybody!” It’s a direct translation from many Nigerian languages. The expression is now finding mainstream acceptance in informal Nigerian English, and is sometimes rendered as “who sent you message?” by educated Nigerians who are sensitive to Standard English tenses.

The expression would mystify native English speakers. They would understand it as “who sent a message to you?” But the converse is actually true: it literally means “who asked you to send a message to someone on my behalf?” It, of course, figuratively means, “Mind your own business.”

24. “Talk less of.” This is sometimes written as “talkless of.” I used to think only barely educated Nigerians used this expression, but, lately, I have seen it used by PhDs, professors, journalists, and people with an otherwise good grasp of the English language.  A few months ago, a Briton sent me an email asking for my help in deciphering what a Nigerian email correspondent meant by “talkless of.”

As you can guess by now, “talk less of” or “talkless of” is entirely meaningless to native English speakers. It’s a Nigerian English invention that arose out of an incompetent mimicry of the expression “much less,” which is used in negative contexts to mean that something is less likely to happen or be the case. So where Nigerians would say, “He can’t even speak Pidgin English talk less of [or talkless of] Standard English,” native English speakers would say, “He can’t even speak Pidgin English, much less Standard English.” Other phrases native English speakers use in place of “much less” are “let alone,” “not to mention,” “not to talk of,” and “still less.”

“Talk less of” can only mean “don’t talk much of,” as in, “Talk less of him so that he doesn’t think he is that important to you.” If you apply this meaning to the Nigerian English “talk less of,” like the Briton who wrote to me did, there’s definitely bound to be a communication breakdown.

25. “His royal highness.” In British English, this form of address is used for princes, but it’s used for kings in Nigeria. A British person not familiar with Nigerian English would mistake a Nigerian king for a prince if he were introduced as “His Royal Highness.” As I’ve pointed out in several previous columns, the British use “majesty” (His Royal Majesty or Her Royal Majesty) for monarchs.

During colonialism, all traditional rulers in the British sphere of influence were subordinate to the King or Queen of England, so, at best, they were princes, not kings, since there could only be one king in the British Empire. But years after colonialism and the collapse of the British Empire, kings are still addressed as “royal highnesses” in Nigeria and other Commonwealth countries.

26. “Farmer.” Nigerian English speakers understand a farmer exclusively to mean someone who plants, tends to, and harvests crops. For native English speakers, however, a farmer doesn’t only work the land; he can also keep livestock, also called “farm animals.” So the distinction Nigerian English speakers draw between “farmers” and “herders” would strike native English speakers as arbitrary and puzzling.

If you are familiar with the “Old McDonald had a farm” nursery rhyme, you’ve probably heard this:

Old MACDONALD had a farm
And on his farm he had a cow
With a moo moo here
And a moo moo there
Here a moo, there a moo
Everywhere a moo moo
Old MacDonald had a farm

The song mentions a whole host of other animals and the sounds they make, demonstrating that a farm can be filled with animals, not just crops. When my mother visited me here in the United States from the middle of last year to early this year, she requested me to take her to a farm. I obliged her. The first farm we went to had only farm animals—cows, pigs, ducks, chickens, etc. She told me that wasn’t a farm. I, too, would never have called that a farm had I not lived in America for years. But I took her to a cornfield and other crop-based farms, which she recognized as the “real” farms.

In America, people who raise cows are called “cow farmers.” Many Nigerians would find that expression befuddling. I would add, though, that the distinction Nigerians draw between “farmers” and “herders” is justified because herders are itinerant.

27. “In all ramifications.” Nigerian English speakers say “in all ramifications” to mean “in all aspects,” or “in all dimensions.” However, “ramifications” (note that it’s often pluralized) is widely understood among native English speakers to mean an "unwelcome consequence,” as in, “The murder of the soldier is bound to have grave ramifications for the community.”

“Ramification” is a derivative of “ramify,” which literally means to grow branches. So ramification can mean branches, an arrangement of branching parts, units of a complex structure, etc. as in, "he broke off one of the ramifications." I think when Nigerian English speakers say “in all ramifications” to mean “in all aspects,” or “in all dimensions,” they are metaphorically extending the literal meaning of ramification (i.e., the branches of a tree). Although the usage is unidiomatic and nonstandard, I think it is legitimate. Unfortunately, native English speakers are unlikely to understand this peculiarly Nigerian usage of the term.

28. “Severally.” When Nigerian English speakers say “severally,” they mean “several times.” Example: “I have told you severally that I don’t like that!” or “I have been severally arrested by the police.” In Standard English, however, “severally” does not mean “several times”; it only means individually, singly, independently, without others, etc., as in, “the clothes were hung severally.” This means the clothes are apart from each other and don’t touch each other. That’s why lawyers say “jointly and severally,” which means collectively and individually.

29. “Cogs in the wheel.” In Nigerian English, a “cog in the wheel” means an obstacle, a hindrance. In Bukola Saraki’s letter announcing his defection from APC to PDP, he said, “Perhaps, had these divisive forces not thrown the cogs in the wheel at the last minutes, and in a manner that made it impossible to sustain any trust in the process, the story today would have been different." That would be completely meaningless to a native English speaker.

“A cog in the wheel” is a Standard English idiom, which is also rendered as a “cog in the machine,” and it means an insignificant but nonetheless essential person in a large organization, as in: “The lowly civil servant is a cog in the ministry’s wheel.” Secretaries in organizations are cogs in the wheel because although they are insignificant in social status, they are indispensable to the functioning of organizations.

30. “Military industrial complex.” The Nigerian presidency is fond of this expression even when it’s clear that people who use it have no idea what it means. For instance, after the Nigerian Army University was announced a few months ago, the federal government said, “It is our hope that it will be the hub for developing a Nigerian Industrial Military Complex. It will be a very great university.”
In an August 7, 2015 presidential news release, President Buhari was also quoted to have said, “The Ministry of Defence is being tasked to draw up clear and measurable outlines for development of a modest military industrial complex for Nigeria.”

“Military-industrial complex” (note the hyphen between “military” and “industrial”) is a pejorative term that was first used by US president Dwight D. Eisenhower on January 17, 1961 in his exit speech. It refers to the evil, war-mongering, profit-inspired conspiracy between arms manufacturers, certain elements in the US military, and some members of the US Congress. This conspiracy ensures that the US Congress budgets huge sums of money to the military to fight often needless and unjust wars with countries around the world. The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere are the consequence of the influence of the US military-industrial complex. Wars cause arms to be manufactured and sold, which brings money to the pockets of arms manufacturers, the legislators who support war, and the generals who execute it.

President Eisenhower was worried about this triangular conspiracy of warmongers. That was why he said, “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence… by the military–industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.”


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