Sometime back, I came across the newspaper headline ‘94 killed dead in Triple Baghdad car bombings’. What first came to mind was the question; is it possible to get killed and stay alive? Isn’t dying the finality of killing?
Another headline ‘over 153,000 refugees study in Ethiopia, says UN’ was ambiguous in as much as it made a generalisation of refugees, giving the impression a collection of them, probably from Dadaab in Kenya and some camps in Congo and Afghanistan, commute to Ethiopia to study.
Ability to rationalise
Though a mistake it was, hence unacceptable, from the placement of words, there is a plausible explanation for the first headline on the Baghdad bombings. One of the beauties of education is the ability to rationalise. Thus, with a modicum of education, one would not immediately condemn, but try to find a possible explanation.
Even though journalists make quite a number of mistakes on any given day, I refuse to believe a true journalist; much less a reputable media house, would deliberately make such a glaring error. In the process of polishing raw copy, a sub-editor or editor could substitute a word for another but a temporary distraction or failure to hit the ‘delete’ or ‘enter’ buttons on a computer keyboard hard enough to register the command would result in an error.
I recall an incident where I once sat before my computer, cursing it silently for refusing to return the results of a search I was making only to realise five minutes later I had not hit the ‘enter’ key.
I can’t recall whether I read or simply heard someone complain English is a bankrupt language. Often, one encounters words that are completely different in spelling and meaning yet sound the same in pronunciation. These words are known as homophones.
Take for instance; con, corn and cone which mean different things yet sound almost the same when uttered. Shark-shirk, shot-short, farther-further, lose-loss, sea-see, bow-bough, there-there, to-two-too, sole-soul are also homophones.
It gets a little bit more confusing when a single word carries different meanings. These words, including common ones like; ‘tone’ (either skin colour or the pitch of sound) ‘fair’ ( meaning reasonable or an event like an agricultural show), ‘lie’ (to imply cheating or lying flat on any surface) are called homographs. The correct usage of these words would depend on the context in which they are being applied.
Homophones and homographs are the most misused anywhere. More so on Facebook than anywhere else because social media is a no holds barred forum. Unless someone masters the patience and finds the time to be an honest ‘own’ editor, the rules of grammar do not necessarily apply, and often the vilest contributors found here are the most atrocious in that regard.
There is no denying that the youth, at the prime of learning and experimenting, spend a good amount of time on social media. What they see and read has a way of rubbing off on them to their own good or detriment. Unfortunately, emphasis is on the latter.
It is irritating to constantly hear people (mostly ladies), use the words “as in” or “I was like, oh my God” in every sentence they utter. To what are you drawing comparison when you are simply giving a straightforward narration of something that happened?
In raw copy presented for publication that I once saw, the opening line of a story was ‘Police are investigating the murder of a girl in Nairobi. It was not clear why she was killed...’ The second paragraph is redundant. Isn’t it because the police did not know the cause of murder that they were carrying out investigations? Surely, we can all do better than this.
The urge to reach a word count in cases where it is specified after a writer cannot convincingly expand on what they are writing contributes to the bad grammar and sentence construction we at times encounter in our daily readings.
I have come across sentences like ‘it does not make any sense’ or ‘any kind of sense’ when simply writing ‘ does not make sense’ serves the purpose. Instead of writing ‘although the victim had had an identity card’, which is monotonous, writing ‘although the victim had an identity card ‘, without the double ‘had’ suffices.
It is good to avoid the use of words which, rather than add value or meaning to your writing, end up complicating it. Unfortunately though, this type of writing seems to be gaining currency.
Mr Chagema is a correspondent at The [email protected]