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Critics misused words in attack on Miguna Miguna

By Alexander Chagema | October 21st 2019

Most Kenyan netizens are a belligerent, yet interesting lot. Rarely do they engage civility in their numerous discourses, preferring, instead, to be caustic. Well, they can afford to do so because distance and fake profile pictures accord them some cover.

Not so with Miguna Miguna, a political firebrand to whom politeness appears to be an alien concept. He derives satisfaction from hitting opponents - real and imagined - below the belt. Those who understand his deportment know it is better to engage a sow in a fight on the muddy ground than engage Miguna in a verbal fight.

Last week, Miguna made some snide comments on the family of Raila Odinga that drew varied reactions. From the comments, however, the general consensus was that he had crossed the red line. To replicate what Miguna wrote about the Odinga family is to validate his wild claims, which would be disrespectful to Odinga. Nevertheless, for the purposes of this column, I picked a few things from the comments that flowed with abandon to help us in understanding some aspects of the English Language.

Some of the comments include; “Leave Miguna be”, “Miguna speaks the truth always”, “He is not different than Mike”, “He prepared well his attack”, “He will never be allowed back to Kenya due to this attack” and “He is the most unique Kenyan today, so fearless”. Whatever each sentence was intended to convey is clear, but all the sentences are ungrammatical, which brings us adverbials.

Adverbials are defined as a group of words that modify verbs, adverbs, and adjectives. They showplace, time and manner. All adverbs function like adverbials but the reverse is not always true. The major difference is that often, adverbs end in ‘ly’. On the other hand, adverbials are normally part of a phrase or clause.

‘’Leave Miguna be’’ should have been written as “Let Miguna be”. The sentence, in the context it was used, urged partakers in the discourse generated by Miguna’s claims to allow him to say what he wanted to say. Because of that, the appropriate word to have been employed is “Let”, often used as an imperative. Grammatically, an imperative is used to make a request, give orders or to advise someone to, or not to do something. ‘Leave’, on the other hand, is defined as “allow or cause to remain”. ‘Let’ is defined as ‘not to prevent or forbid’, which is what those who attacked Miguna were told to do: Give him space and time to articulate his views.

In the sentence ‘Miguna speaks the truth always’, the writer errored because the word ‘always’, just likes the word ‘never’, should precede the principal verb. In this case, therefore, it should have been written; “Miguna always speaks the truth”. The word ‘always’ is representative of the time. As such, when we talk about adverbials of time, remember that they come last in a sentence. For example, ‘Most Kenyans on twitter last week lambasted Miguna”, would be grammatically written as; “Most Kenyans on twitter lambasted Miguna last week”.

Intelligible sentences

Something is said to differ ‘from’ another, hence we say “different from”, not “different than” as used in the example above. There is a tendency by some writers to use the phrase in place of ‘unlike’ or ‘other than’, which is clearly bad form. While some writers find it easy to use the phrase ‘kind of’ in the place of ‘rather’ or ‘something like’, that should not be the case.

The phrase ‘due to’ is sometimes erroneously used in place of ‘because of’ or ‘owing to’. To have therefore written “He will not be allowed back to Kenya due to this attack ‘ is not so much ungrammatical as simply bad form. The dictionary defines ‘due to’ as ‘because of’, which can cause confusion. An understanding of diction - the choice of words, which enables one to write intelligible sentences - and form, help us in making the right choice when certain words seem, or bear the same meaning.

Because the word ‘unique’ means ‘without equal’ it follows that it cannot be used in degrees; very, most, more. “He is the most unique Kenyan today, so fearless” is grammatical without the word ‘most’.

As used above, the word ‘worthwhile’ (one word), differs from ‘worthwhile’ (two words). Worthwhile (adjective), refers to that which is acceptable, of value.  For example, “Years spent in school studying are worthwhile).  Worthwhile is applicable to actions and either expresses approval or disapproval (not worthwhile). For example, “ Miguna’s rantings are not worthwhile’.

Mr Chagema is a correspondent for The Standard. [email protected]


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