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“I’ll Win Him” for “I’ll Defeat Him”

By Farooq Kperogi Twitter: @farooqkperogi Nigerians now increasingly say “he’ll win him” to mean “he’ll defeat him.” Even prominent politici...

By Farooq Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

Nigerians now increasingly say “he’ll win him” to mean “he’ll defeat him.” Even prominent politicians like Nyesom Wike said it routinely when he was canvassing for votes during the last primaries. 

I used to wonder where that came from until I translated “I’ll defeat him” into my native Baatonu language and realized that the same word semanticizes “win” and “defeat.”

“Na di” literally means “I’ve eaten” but it’s also used to denote “I’ve won” in competitive contexts. “Na wi di” literally means “I’ve eaten him,” but it also can mean “I’ve defeated him” in competitive contexts.

As you can see, “di” functions as a verb to signalize both winning and defeat. I can see how someone who thinks in my language but lexicalizes his or her thoughts in English would say “I’ll win him” to mean “I’ll defeat him.”

Is that the case for other Nigerian languages? I am genuinely curious because my preliminary inquiries show that Hausa and Yoruba don't interchange the word for "win" and "defeat." 

I have a Fulfulde-speaking friend who always said “Atiku will win Wike.” This is leading me to assume that, like Baatonum, Fulfulde also uses the same word for win and defeat. 

Of course, my assumption could be wrong. My friend might just be repeating Nigerian demotic speech. Any help from Fulfulde speakers would be appreciated.

Igbo and Niger Delta languages contribute immensely to the lexis and structure of Nigerian Pidgin English. Could the expression owe debts these languages? Who can help?

Finally, have Nigerians always said “I’ll win him” to mean “I’ll defeat” him? I’d never heard it until this election cycle.

Insightful Responses from Readers on Facebook:

"In my Adamawa dialect [of Fulfulde], if you want to specifically say you'll defeat someone, you say "mi do'an mo" where do'an is the verb. But there is a second verb jaala which could be used for both winning and defeating as in "mi jaalan mo" which could translate to both I'll defeat him or I'll win. There is a third word that means only winning but it's a borrowed word I think - nasaraaku which means the same thing as nasara in Hausa."

Dr. Raji Bello

Your assumption about your Fulfulde-speaking friend is correct. In Adamawa Fulfulde defeat is called "nyaama". Nyaama also literally means eat or win. Therefore, "Atiku nyaaman Wike" is the same thing as "Atiku will defeat/[win against] Wike".

Mohammed Kabir Ibrahim

"In my dialect [of] Ogba (an Igbo dialect spoken in the Northern fringes of Rivers State, though most speaker refuse to acknowledge it as an Igbo dialect), I will defeat him loosely translates as "Emem maeri ah". I will win him also loosely translates as "Emem maeri ah". In fact, defeat and win is only distinguished by the context in which it's used in both mainstream Igbo language and its dialect."

Charles Adiela

In (central) Igbo, "to eat (food)" translates to "iri (nri)".

"To win" translates to "Imeri"

"To defeat (him)" - Imeri (ya).

"I'll eat (food) means" A ga m eri nri".

"I'll win" translates to "a ga m emeri".

"I'll defeat him" means "a ga m emeri ya."

I guess "ri" has the same connotation in "eat", "win" and "defeat" - that is, to consume - in the Igbo lexis.

Kelechi Ihunanya Amadi

Here's the Hausa bit.

Ci (eat).

Cinye (eaten)

Na cinye shi a zabe (I've defeated him at the polls)

Mun cinye su a wasan kwallo (we defeated them in a game of soccer)

Na cinye shikafa (I've eaten the rice)

Na ci shinkafa (I ate rice)

"Ci" is the keyword. It means eat. But it also denotes win or defeating an opponent depending on the context.

Aliyu Ma'aji

In Etsako dialect in Edo state we use the word nwunle to mean defeat and also win. Unwunle can be used for both win and defeat as the case may demand.

Nanaishetu Ekpoki Ekwemalor

Nigerian English is at play here. Using 'win' to mean 'defeat' is a direct translation from some native Nigerian languages into English.

It's same in Igala, where an Igala man may say, "U fu du" to mean 'I defeated him,' and "U f'ijabe mi du", to mean 'I won my election.' "Du" is a verb which can be used to mean both "win" and "defeat".

Daniel Nuhu

In Tiv, "Hemba" can translate to win, to defeat, to overwhelm, excel and to surpass.

Tim Nyor

It looks like it is the same for most Niger-Congo languages. In Swahili, "I shall defeat him" uses the verb "shinda" which is win. Nitamshinda = I shall win him

Emmanuel Ukaegbu

1 comment

  1. Still in Hausa, especially in the lexicography, "nasara" means winning; "galaba" also means the same thing. I hardly hear BBC hausa or careful Hausa speaker use "ci" and "nasara" interchangeably even though it is getting into the language's mainstream.


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