"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: 10/07/18

Sunday, October 7, 2018

"Barbing Salon,” “On a Platter of Gold” Not Standard English: Q and A on Nigerian English Usage


By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Question:
Is it “barbing saloon” or “barbing salon”? Which one is correct and why?

Answer:
Neither of the two is correct. The conventional expression among native English speakers is “barbershop,” or “barber shop,” or simply “barber’s,” as in, “I went to the barber’s to get a haircut.”  “Barbing salon” or “barbing saloon” are peculiarly Nigerian English expressions that no one outside Nigeria understands. Well, Ghanaians also use the expression, so it’s probably accurate to call it a West African English expression.


Some years back, a recently arrived Nigerian immigrant in America by the name of Deji asked on a website where he could get a “good barbing salon.” “Does anyone know where i can get a good barbing salon?” he wrote. “I am a black guy and would like the best place around.” The responses were hilarious. “What the hell is a barbing salon?” someone asked. To which the Nigerian responded: “Well, you know what a Salon is if you haven't had [sic] about barbing right? It's Simple!!” Well, it’s not that simple, as another poster pointed out: “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

Yes, “barbing salon” doesn’t mean a place where you get a haircut. In fact, as I will show shortly, it really doesn’t mean anything in Standard English. So when you are outside Nigeria don’t ever tell anyone you are looking for a “barbing salon” or, worse, “barbing saloon.” You won’t be understood, and here is why.

In Standard English, the verb “barbing” is never used in relation to the act of cutting the hair. “Barbing” means to provide with barbed wires, as the gates and fences of many homes in Nigerian urban areas usually are. In other words, “barb” doesn’t mean to have a haircut; it means to fit with barbed wires, as in, “I barbed my house to prevent thieves from climbing over my fence.”

The verb used for cutting hair is “barber,” as in, “he barbers for a living.”

You are probably more concerned about the difference between a “saloon” and a “salon.” Well, a saloon is a place where alcoholic drinks are sold and served, what Nigerians call a “beer parlour.” Saloon is also the name of a kind of car. As you can see, combining “barbing” and “saloon” in the same sentence is one of the most meaningless expressions anyone can ever make in the English language.

A salon, on the other hand, is a place where women make their hair, do their nails, wax their bodies, etc. It’s also called a beauty shop, a beauty salon, or a beauty parlor. Of course, “salon” has other meanings, such as a place where works of art are displayed, a large sitting room for guests, etc., but it is most commonly used to refer to a place where hairdressers and beauticians work.

If you say “barbing salon” in any country where English is a native language, you might be understood to mean “a barbed salon,” that is, a salon that is fitted with barbed wires. That would be hard to even conceive of because salons are some of the safest places in the West; they don’t need barbed wires to protect them from criminals. So “barbing salon” is also a meaningless expression in Standard English.

Note that although salons cater mostly to women’s beauty needs, some of them also double as places where men can have a haircut. That doesn’t mean, of course, that you can call such places a “barber salon.” That would sound ridiculous.

In sum, it’s OK to say “barbing salon” in Nigeria because that’s what everybody else says, but be careful not to say that outside Nigeria if you want to be understood. Say “barber shop” instead.

Question:
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?

Answer:
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.

Question:
"An ABU graduate is ahead of you naturally." What is wrong with this statement? Someone said the word "naturally" renders it less meaningful.

Answer:
There is nothing wrong with the statement as far as I can tell. I think the person who told you the appearance of “naturally” renders the statement meaningless has a limited understanding of the range of meanings “naturally” encapsulates. “Naturally” can mean “of course” or “as might be expected,” and this meaning fits well with the intent of the quoted statement. “Naturally” doesn’t only mean “according to nature.”

 Nevertheless, as a graduate of Bayero University Kano, I would recast that sentence to, “A BUK graduate is ahead of you naturally”! Seriously, though, it is a creative, punny bumper-sticker slogan that both implies that the car whose sticker you’re reading is ahead of you of course (that is, “naturally,” or “goes without saying” because you have to be behind the car to read the sticker) and that its owner is an ABU or BUK or UI, etc. graduate. “Ahead” here can be understood both literally (that is, his car has sped past you) and figuratively, that is, the quality of his or her education is worth more than yours. It’s just cheeky, good-natured humor.

Question:
I want to know the meaning of these terms: kindergarten, daycare, nursery, and preschool in relation to school. Is it true that lecturers are regarded as professors in America?

Answer:
In America, a daycare is a place where working parents take their children who are between the ages of 1 and 3. At age 4, children attend what is called pre-kindergarten, usually called “Pre-K.” At age 5, they attend kindergarten.

“Nursery school” is a chiefly British English term for what American English speakers recognize as pre-K and kindergarten. Note that the British “nursery school” and the American pre-K and kindergarten are collectively called “preschool” in both British and American English. Children who go to preschool are called preschoolers.

To your second question, yes, it’s true that in American English anybody who teaches at a university is called a professor. “Professor” is used in the same generic sense that “lecturer” is used in British and Nigerian English. For instance, where a British or Nigerian English speaker would say, “I have great lecturers in my university,” an American English speaker would say, “I have great professors in my university.” I have written several articles on this. Search the archives on my blog.

Related Articles:
Politics of Grammar Column