Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Words that grate

Nigerians are world leaders when it comes to mutilating the English langauge. Yesterday, I watched a Nollywood film (under duress), and it was littered with the misuse of too many words.

I cannot, I repeat cannot stand "waterproof". Waterproof what? Waterproof basket? Waterproof shirt? Waterproof is an adjective, not a noun. You can't just say waterproof and expect me to know that you mean plastic bag.

Flit. This is slightly more forgivable, because it's an example of how Nigeria has adapted the language to its own needs. Flit, which used to be a brand of insecticide, is now the catch-all noun for any kind of insecticide, and is also the verb for spraying the insecticide in a room e.g. "I've just finished flitting the room" or, "Go and buy flit." Except that "Flit" isn't even sold in Nigeria anymore. I have never seen a can of Flit in my life. What is sold instead is Raid, Mobil, and sundry other stuff. The English also do it - with hoover. No, hoover is not a verb, it was the make of the original vacuum cleaner.

The one which made me pull out my hair, leaving clumps across my scalp, is "ice block." You want ice block? Oh really? Well, excuse me while I go to the north pole and carve out a block of ice for you so that you can have a cool glass of coke. Sorry? Oh, no need to go through all that trouble? But you want a block of ice, don't you? Or did you mean ice cubes? There's a difference you know?

"Ghana must go". To where? In fact, I think it's more Nigerians who are going to Ghana than Ghanaians going to Ghana. What was a Ghana-must-go bag called before 1983, when more than a million Ghanaians were evicted from Nigeria for doing what immigrants do best - working hard? They had a name then, and since Ghanaians are not going anymore, we should revert to that name. I understand that the names of the bags are an intriguing piece of Nigeria's (and Ghana's) history, but is there no better term to use? "Ghana must go" is just tacky. I believe they are called laundry bags. So we should call them that.

32 comments:

Aaron Rowe said...

Thanks Nkem for a great post,

I didn't know that about 'Flit' before, and I had always wondered about it's origin.

Nigerians are allowed to have their own dialect of the English language, it's how it works all over the world after all. Have you ever been to Glasgow or Yorkshire? It can be very hard to understand the dialect there until you get used to it.

But I have to admit, the expressions you noted grate on me too!

culturalmiscellany said...

Deep breathes.......it'll be OK Nkem, not everyone can be as proficient as yourself. I make a hash of the English language and I'm English for goodness sake. I've lost count of the number of things you've had to tell me about. Try cotton wool in the ears when you're in the company of plebs like me who are prone to slipping up :)

Remi said...

I never knew thats how "Ghana must go" phrase came about! Thanks for that.

Morountodun said...

How about the 'Apollo' being for Conjuctivitis?

Imnakoya said...

The use of local parlances and slangs in english (especially spoken english) is not a phenomenon perculiar to Nigerians or english language. Nigerian english is similiar to American english in so many ways...it is a cultural trait. Remember it is the language of the English and far from being indigenous!

I wonder how many Nigerians can speak their local dialects without injecting some 'foreign' words borrowed from english and other languages? Isn't this as grave as mutilating the much-hyped english language?

Anonymous said...

Nkem, if I may, I have a degree in Linguistics. One of the things that intrigued me during my studies, were the effects space and time, had on language. I have been privileged to live in India, Indonesia, and England and for a while in the United States although I was born and grew up in Nigeria. I could write a book about the 'English' spoken and unique to these places. Yes, sometimes it grates one's ears if one listens through a prism of 'proper English' but one does get used to it. Coupled with this is the beauty that shines through as people express themselves in a manner laced with their indigenous languages and expressions local to them in their usage. I can imagine Shakespearean England would have a fit if resurrected into the present day and hear what passes as Queen's English!

Onya Baquebeich said...

omo, wetin vex u?

Chxta said...

Nkem open d window let d klimate kome in...

Everchange said...

LMAO...breathe in breathe out.

Dilch said...

YOU SNOB, that's all I have to say to you. Mchewwwwwww, IT IS ICE BLOCK, which kind nonsense ice cube. Language is for communicating, I for one have no problem understanding when a person says they want to flit their room!! Leave our language for us jo. Mr African shirts

Akin said...

Anyone who sentences themselves to watching a Nollywood film just has to accept what is heard and live with the consequences.

Do I sympathise? Hardly, you had it coming the moment you sat down to watch it.

I once missed a whole year in a course at YabaTech because I could not stand the lecturer's use of English.

Am I chooking (poking) you? :-)

I remember the use of avoid for afford.

Jeremy said...

Oh dear. Nkem, I think you're on a hiding to nothing (that in itself is an expression which probably means nothing to a non-UK English person). Every week I delight in the nuances of naija english. Last week I learnt that a hole-punch is called a perforator - how lovely. Plastic bags are most often called 'nylon' here. There are countless other examples of local vernacular. I agree with the other posters - this is something to be celebrated - as is the fantastic poetry of pidgin, especially one of its most creative sources in Wafi-ese. Is it really any different to going to the States and being surrounded by people who say sneakers and malls and simply refuse to speak Lizzy's English?

Where I will agree with you is however on the need for that rare commodity - getting journalists to use clear, grammatically correct English that is rinsed off all vernacular (as surely all good journalism must be, most of the time). Perhaps in your post you're confusing two quite separate things: the poor standard of written English prevalent in Nigeria and the rampant use of local expressions? One's use of local vernacular should be celebrated as much as formal poetry; but this celebration shouldnt mask the ability to write in grammatically correct and more formal styles. Abi?

Luminus said...

Ok, I agree waterproof is just whack as a reference to plastic bags but some of these things have just come to stay.

Try these ones on for size:
Macleans as a catch-all for toothpaste, Dress for me instead of Shift or move a little (bugs me out 110% of the time).

I never did know the name for them Ghana-must-go bags, it's just always been well...Ghana-must-go.

RJ said...

I think as long as you understand what the person is saying, it’s ok. I don’t know why it should be such a big deal...every country has their different ways of saying things.
The average Nigerian would understand when a trader says “do you want waterproof?” or madam! You wan buy flit? Ice block/ice cube….same difference, its all ice and we know what it means. Whether it is Ghana must go or Zimbabwe must come it’s the bag we use to move looted money in Nigeria or provisions to school. In the U.S they are just called bags, laundry bags are a whole different thing (and feel) here. Certain things are here to stay....and it won’t change. It’s like telling Americans to stop referring to weed roll ups as swishers or coke & fanta as pop (in certain states)…it just aint gonna happen son’ so I guess we have to live with it.

@ Jeremy, I have never read a newspaper in naija that used the local vernacular or grammatically incorrect and informal styles of writing, but then again maybe it’s a new thing – but it can’t be because I just recently read a couple newspapers my parents just got from Nigeria (still have it actually, its my little souvenir) and it was A-Ok to me. But then again, we are all accustomed to our different turn of phrases.

ExtrovertedPrude said...

Lol @ waterproof...i have to admit i did not know that. Languages/slangs should be celebrated...the English langusage itself has evolved in its evryday use...Gay and Nice are good examples. What about 'Hoover'? I'm sure that wasn't started in Nigeria/by a Nigerian.

And BTW, Ghanians would have you know that that bag is called 'Agege must go' in Ghana ;).

Anonymous said...

the cooker is in the kishen

put the jear in referse

its a fokswagin beetle

use your traficator

are you sitting on a shair

Monef said...

LMAO @ anoymous no 2!!! I nearly fell off my chair!

I hear what everyone is saying, but most of Nkem's complaints make sense. I have no problem with referring to the eponymous bags as 'Ghana must go'. To me that is equivalent to saying that English people play 'kick and follow' football. I love knowing what 'Agege bread' is and what makes it different from Wonder bread.

However, I really cannot see the value in people going through their lives assuming that the correct term for a plastic head covering is 'waterproof' or that insecticide is known as 'flit'. That the issue is not peculiar to Nigerians does not make it any less annoying. What is the point in English people talking about hoovering the floor while they have a Dyson in their hands?

I guess my point is that it is one thing to understand that you are speaking in slanguage, and use an affectionate term such as 'Ghana must go' being fully aware that it is merely a nickname. It is another thing entirely to go through life thinking that the correct way to order a soft drink is request for 'mineral'

Nkem said...

Thank you, Monef. A woman after my own heart!

TRAE said...

great post, great comments. me too when i heard the word Flit for the first time from my roomie i was like what the f***. that's one Nigerian English term i refuse to use.

Alaye Scoro said...

Nkem, I take it that when you say you watched the movie under duress, what you really mean is that you were made to watch the movie by your girlfriend, and if what she tells me is true that for the most part you enjoyed it. Sell out. Next thing we know you'll be regaling us with the latest gist from the Big Brother house.

As a fellow stickler for the finer points of Mama Charlie’s language, obviously I agreed with your post, but I think there is a far more pressing issue. Have you heard these young upwardly mobile Nigerians speak? Oh my goodness. I mean I appreciate that slang terms enrich a language but at what point does it cease being a proliferation of colloquialisms and instead an entirely different language.

“I'm outtie from this zones. I want to give them that babe’s zones but as per whether or not I'll get any sturves, e no be yam? But her main sturves is bonz. I like the girl, she's too mad so I no fit maintain for here.”

Jeremy said...

translation please Alaye.

RJ - believe me, Nigerian newspapers are littered with errors/colloquialisms of all kinds. So either you bought two miraculous exceptions, or you'd never earn a living as a proof-reader..

The fact is, primary and secondary education is failing 95% of kids in Nigeria in terms of basic literacy and numeracy.

Akin said...

I'll tell you this much, I sometimes cannot keep up with English(NG) apart from the slang.

The education thing is of great concern, in 1976, most secondary schools offered selection by entrance examination, you had a broad mix of ajebótàs (usually English mother-tongue) and ajepakís apart from the big penalty for not speaking English during congregational hours.

In my last year, with UPN's free education thing, all the kids in the local school were just moved into my school.

I only once heard a student complete a in sentence in word perfect English in that entry year recruitment.

Sometimes, my nearly good Yoruba or Hausa is better offered as a butt for jokes than having to triple-translate meanings and context when conversing in English.

Before long, we would have an internationally accepted English(NG), and I already cannot stand the use of English(US) on continental Europe.

Vacation(US) for holidays, sidewalk(US) for pavement, then what does Jand(NG) mean? - where is that British Empire of old?

Alaye Scoro said...

Jeremy, I agree with you the standard of Nigerian journalism is flabawhelming.

Translation:
"I shall be departing my current location soon and intend to head to this particular lady's house. As to whether or not I shall succeed in my attempts to gain sexual favours from her, I cannot possibly be sure, as this things are never easy. That said, she is fun/great to be/sleep with and defintiely worth the effort and I am admittedly paritucarly fond of her. So rather than sit by idly here and do nothing, I am leaving posthaste.

the flying monkeys said...

@ Monef
Am glad it made you laf.

@ Nkem
I like your blog fery mush. But I know you will not gif it to me because of my poor dialet e.g. the rain is falling


btw:

Nkem said...

That's quite true Akin. I've always wondered where "Jand" came from. I reckon it's a corruption of England.

As for America, they don't really speak English. Their first language is Spanish, followed by American (who knew that was a language?), with English a distant third.

Akin said...

@Nkem, In fact that is true, when I was taking German lessons 7 years ago, we got to what languages we speak.

The text-book did list a language Americanisch which was quite different from Englisch.

I suppose it is also called the President's English as spoken by Dubya.

My Talking Beginnings said...

every language has its colloquialisms...you should hear the art of sentence construction i have been exposed to in cardiff.

Dibussi said...

I shudder at the notion that Nigerians should speak English without adapting it to the vibrancy, color and creativity of Nigerian society. Developing our unique national identities involves the appropriation of imported languages such as English, and customizing them to our local reality and history. "Ghana must go", a term which is also used in my native Cameroon, is the result of that creativity and appropriation. It should be celebrated, not condemned.

No, I don't want to watch some "upperty" Nollywood film where people shy away from the term "ice blocks" because is not “good English”. West African English (be it the Cameroon, Nigerian or Ghanaian variety), derives its color and uniqueness from the different Pidgins and indigenous languages in the region. Let's keep it that way.

uknaija said...

Language is dynamic...I second Dilch's comments. The original post and some of the comments reek of snobbery pure and simple.

While Nigerian newspapers fail in many respects, I have yet to see flit, waterproof or nylon used in a serious newspaper article

TaureanMinx said...

I think there should be a nigerian-english dictionary. New words get added to the dictionary every year..bling, bootylicious etc etc. If it is understood by a large number of people, I dont see what the problem is. My problem is with the crazy pronounciations coupled with bad grammer and tenses.

Also Ghana must go will never be called anything else. Its been ingrianed and its only that tartan looking patterned bag that is called Ghana must go. It'll be hard going to the market and asking for a laundary bag...I think you might not find any. We can change it to Burberry :)

the flying monkeys said...

I believe these problems are universal, regardless of nationality.

Also, what about homophones:

can you drive true/threw (rather than through)

lets go for a walk, whether permitting (weather)

Nigerians have never known piece (peace)

Its there (their) problem

I am to hot (too)

I need some dating advise (advice)

Houses were being built on this sight (site)

I can think out allowed (aloud)

etc

etc

Nneka's World said...

If you think that Nigerians brutalize the english language, you should try living in Liverpool.
They murder the language totally!
When friends come to visit, they look at me and ask me if they are speaking english! I say yeah they are, you'l get used to it.