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Nigerian Corruption is Embedded in this Mangled Expression

By Farooq A. Kperogi

By Farooq A. Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

Native English speakers say, “Cut your coat according to your cloth.”

But Nigerian English speakers say, “Cut your coat according to your size.”

Interpretation: The native English expression exhorts people to not live above their means, but Nigerian English speakers (unintentionally) mangled the original English expression to prod people to live according to their desires even if they don’t have the means to fund the desires.

If, for example, you are large and want to cut a coat according to your size but don’t have sufficient cloth to cut it to your size, what do you do? Maybe steal? Or ask someone with access to the public till to steal and share with you? Little wonder that corruption is endemic in our culture.

“Cut your coat according to your size” is, as I pointed out, obviously an incompetent mimicry of the more traditional “cut your coat according to your cloth,” but it’s amazing, nonetheless, how an expression that was distorted in ignorance somehow unwittingly encapsulates a culture’s sociolinguistic toleration and enablement of systemic corruption.

"Cut your coat according to your cloth" is actually the elliptical version of "cut your coat according to your cloth, not according to your size." Your "cloth" is your means and your "size" is your desire. In other words, if your means and your desire don't match, scale back your desire and stick to what your means can afford.

A vast swath of Nigerians with little or no cloth-- and large sizes-- want big coats—or are ridiculed for not having big coats. That’s a big motive force for corruption."

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