A Dozen Words That Even The Most Educated Nigerians Use Or Interpret Wrongly
I’m no grammar purist but over the years, my avidity for words and lexical profundity had ignited a proclivity for grammar correctness in me. These words/idioms which I will be talking about have been erroneously used even on national media platforms and among the average educated Nigerian who uses/interprets such words wrongly countless times.
Some of these lexical misinterpretation are egregious grammatical blunders, some are a case of solecism and I could call some a case of neologism. But why such neologism can’t be accepted is because “Nigerian English” has yet to be upgraded to ranks of other recognised versions and dialects of English like American, British, Australian or New Zealand English.
I know English language isn’t out mother tongue but for the fact that its the most recognised language in the world and also our lingua franca we ought to speak and interpret it correctly. I remember back then as a fresh graduate done with my compulsory one year national service (NYSC), I went for an interview and unconsciously educated my interviewers about a word. During the interview I kept on pronouncing the word “debt” in its correct pronunciation of /dɛt/ and the “b” being totally silent which sounds like how we Nigerians erroneously pronounce the word “death” directly as “det” rather than /dɛθ/, the Human Resources Manager – Dr. Sylvester stopped me at some point to express his confusion at me and inquired why I was using the word “death” in my speech. I then said- “Oh, sorry sir, I meant D-E-B-T (spelling it out verbally) but the “b” is totally silent in its correct pronunciation, we Nigerians pronounce it wrongly most times voicing out the “b” in that word”.
He felt quite embarrassed and he asked the next interviewer to continue with me and I saw him put his face down looking into his laptop, most definitely trying to confirm my claim by referring to his Encarta Dictionary on his laptop. Well, I still got the job and Dr. Sylvester told me later on that apart from other factors, he approved me for the job because of my ability to educate him on a word which he was totally oblivious to despite his decades of erudition.
In order not to bore you guys with more prolegomenon, I’d dive straight into the matter at hand, find below 12 of these words/idioms we use or interpret wrongly.
1. Yesteryears – This word has no plural form. Its always used as “yesteryear” be it in singular or plural form. I’m sure this error came about because of the word “nowadays” which is antithetical to “yesteryear”. I have an uncle who back then would always castigate us by saying- “All these children of nowadays, if you all were to use our school curriculum of ‘yesteryears’ you all would fail”. He is so lucky I didn’t know what I know now back then, I would have corrected him immediately!
A correct example of its use is; “Songs of ‘yesteryear’ are better lyrically than songs of nowadays”
2. Chanced – Countless times, I hear things like- “I won’t be chanced to see you later on this evening”, and the interlocutor meant he/she will not be free to see me in the evening, meaning he would be busy or occupied. That’s wrong grammar! The word “chance” or chanced” as a verb has two meanings, namely;
1- “to risk”, for example- “I’ll chance the worst happening”,
2- “to happen by chance”, for example- “I chanced to catch sight of her as she passed.
So desist from using “chanced” to refer to being “not busy” or “free”. Instead you can say “I don’t have free time in the evening for us to meet” or “I can’t see you in the evening because I don’t have time to spare” or simply say “I’ll be busy in the evening, so we can’t meet”
3. Lousy – “Jane is such a lousy girl, she talks too much like a running tap!” Have you ever heard a derogatory statement like that before? I’m sure you have. The word “lousy” here is mostly misinterpreted by Nigerians to mean “talkative and noisy” or “loud and arrogant in talking”. We tend to relate the word “lousy” to “loud”.
Lousy simple means “unpleasant, “inferior or bad” or “provided with an excess amount (of)”.
Examples of correct use include: “That’s a lousy thing to do”, “This is a lousy film, its production is too poor”, “He’s lousy with money.”
4. “Sendforth” instead of “Sendoff” – I’m sure you have seen a lot of invitations for “sendforth” parties in the past. Well, there is no word as “sendforth” in the dictionary. The correct word is “sendoff” which is “a demonstration of good wishes to a person about to set off on a journey, career, etc”
5. Severally Nigerians misinterpret and wrongly use this word to mean “several times” or “a lot of times”. You would hear someone say- “Rita has warned her severally but she won’t listen”. That’s very wrong!
The word “severally” is an adverb which means “separately”, ” individually” or “distinctly”.
A correct use can be- “Please after you wash the clothes, spread them severally on the rope”, which implies you want the clothes to be dried individually on the rope.
6. Birds of the same feathers flock together – This is a very popular idiomatic blunder used by Nigerians. The correct idiom is “Birds of A FEATHER flock together” and not “Birds of THE SAME FEATHERS flock together”
7. Opportune(d) – You’d hear someone say something like “I wasn’t opportuned to be born with a silver spoon” to refer to the fact that he didn’t “have the opportunity” or “privilege” to be born into wealth. That’s utterly erroneous! Because, “opportune” means “occurring at a time that is suitable or well-timed”.
A correct example of its use: “she has been waiting for the opportune moment to tell him she wants a break up.” Here is another correct example: “I’m waiting for the opportune moment to propose to my darling Rita”
8. Impeach – In Nigeria, you’d hear statements like this- “The president must be impeached whether he likes it or not!”. And what they mean is that the president should be removed from office.
Politically, “impeach” means “to charge a public official with an offence committed in office” It doesn’t ultimately mean removing the official from office, just as being charge to court for an alleged offence doesn’t guarantee the defendant would be jailed as a result.
For example, if an average Nigerian hears the statement- “President Bill Clinton of the USA was impeached in 1998”, he/she would interpret it that Bill Clinton was removed from office. But that’s not the case, Bill Clinton was impeached but wasn’t removed from office, he served his full presidential term, impeachment here meant he was charged to court for an alleged offence of purgery (which was related to alleged sexual relations with a white house staff) but he was later acquitted and proven innocent, and he went on to complete his full presidential tenure.
So, the word “impeach” doesn’t ultimately mean to remove a politician from office.
9. “Stay clear” instead of “Steer clear” – This idiomatic plunder doesn’t need much explanation. Its an error of using “stay” instead of “steer”, maybe because both words are closely related in pronunciation. Please mind this error in your oral and written English.
So next time you wanna sternly warn that boss at work flirting with your office girlfriend, tell him- “Hey Mr. Managing Director, you better ‘steer’ clear of Rita my girlfriend or else…”. (Please do it at your own risk o! Your sack letter might just be his reply to you)
10. Sentiment – During arguments, its common to hear things like- “Don’t bring in sentiments into this, let’s be truthful and factual” or “Can we just be objective in this country and cast sentiments aside?”
The average Nigeria interprets the word “sentiment” to mean “being bias”, exhibiting prejudice or the opposite of objectivity. Quite wrong!
Below are meanings of the word sentiment:
1- “an opinion or thought”
2- “prone to tender, delicate or romantic emotion”
3- “a feeling, emotion or awareness”
4- “fake or excessive show of emotion”
Below are examples of correct use of the word “sentiment”:
– “My sentiment(my opinion) concerning this issue is that we wait to see what happens first before we take any action.
– “She has too much sentiment to be successful in this industry, it will not favour her. (Meaning she is too soft or fragile emotionally to cope in such an industry)
– “A sentiment of pity” (Meaning a feeling or emotion of pity)
– “She went sentimental and started crying immediately I told her I was breaking up with her when I caught her cheating”
That said, let’s stop using the word “sentiment” to represent “bias” or “prejudice”, instead, you can say- “Please put aside all prejudice or bias so we can analyse this issue thoroughly” or just say- “Do away with your subjective views and try to be objective for once”
10. Instalmentally – We Nigerians invented this word from the word “instalment” to mean something divided for payment at specified intervals over a fixed period. But there is no adverb like this in the dictionary. Instead of saying “I will pay you instalmentally” rather say “I will pay you in instalments”
11. Go-slow – Nigerian use this word to refer to a traffic jam, but the word “Go-slow” or “Slowdown” for US English refers to “an occasion when employees work more slowly and with less effort than usual to try to make an employer to agree to pay them higher wages or give them better working conditions”. So next time say “I’m in a traffic jam” rather than say “I’m in a go-slow”
12. Barb – I’m sure when an average Nigerian man wants to go cut his hair, he would say- “I want to barb my hair” right?
The word “barb” is a multifarious word but NONE of its meanings has anything to do with the act of cutting/trimming hair.
The word “barber” is a noun used to refer to someone whose business is cutting men’s hair and shaving or trimming beads, but also, the word “barber” is a verb as well which means “to cut the hair of” or “to shave or trim the beard of”.
For example, you can say- “Can you barber me now?” (Meaning: “can you cut/trim my hair now?” Another example is- “I want to barber my hair”. Sounds funny right? Yes it does but its correct grammar.
Note – This article is in no way trying to ridicule or pillory Nigerians as a result our lexical inadequacies but to help further enlighten one another’s word base and understanding.
Happy first of September Nigeria! I wish us all a fruitful and safe last quarter of the year!
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