Rewriting idioms diminishes their real value

To a non-Muslim, the difference between Mohamed and Mohammed might not be readily apparent. Perhaps it doesn’t go beyond the spellings, but there must be some significance.

Journalists who occasionally get such name spellings wrong receive a lot of flak, which stresses the need to always pay attention to the smallest details in names. If you think this doesn’t matter much, try writing your name with that extra letter at the start, middle or end. For example Chaagema, Chagemma or Chaggema.

That said, I am yet to know which, between Mohammed and Mohamed, is the correct name adopted by the political analysts most television talk show lovers know, or knew as Herman Manyora. The long and short of it is that Manyora reverted, and dropped the Christian name Herman.

A number of phrases and expressions are gaining notoriety following repeated use by a few journalists. Those that inform our discussion today include ‘revert back to’, ‘keep tabs to’, ‘I am feeling fantastic’, ‘I am feeling amazing’ and ‘seeking for’. In some cases, revert and divert are interchangeably used, yet this is wrong.

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‘Revert back’ is tautological. Tautology is defined as the saying of the same thing twice in different words. The dictionary definition of revert is to ‘return to the original state, practice or topic’. Whenever there is breaking news on radio or television, news readers and anchors give listeners and watchers outline, partial information that needs verification. Hence, the promise; ‘we shall revert back as soon as more details come in’. To avoid tautology, ‘Revert’ and ‘back’ should be divorced. Thus, to say ‘we will revert soon’ or ‘ we will be back with more details soon’ are appropriate.

Ongoing demolition

Other meanings of revert include converting from the Christian faith to Islamic faith. When property is legally returned to its original owner following a dispute, it is said to have reverted. The ongoing demolition of buildings irregularly erected on riparian and public land; the intention being to return stolen land to the public, serve as a good example.

To utter words like ‘he is seeking for answers to his predicament’ is also tautological. It is not necessary to put the word ‘for’ after ‘seek’. Good form demands that one simply says ‘he is seeking answers to his predicament’. To seek is the action of attempting to find, look for or search for something.

Idiomatic expressions have largely remained unchanged over a long period of time. They are used to convey meanings quite different from what the words used would ordinarily convey.

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For example, ‘hold your tongue’ is not an order to physically reach into your mouth to hold your tongue. It is an admonition not to talk.  To “hold ones horses’ cannot also be taken literally; it simply urges patience. We should therefore not try to change idiomatic expressions.

Its source

If one makes reference to the act of closely monitoring someone or something, observing keenly or keeping track of something, the proper idiomatic expression is ‘to keep tabs on’. As such, to substitute ‘on’ with ‘to’ in the idiom ‘keeping tabs’ is to mislead. Besides the ungrammatical ‘keeping tabs to’, to say ‘keep tabs with’ is also ungrammatical.

While in some cases there are those who say ‘revert back’, others say ‘divert back’. Because to divert is primarily to cause something or someone to change course or change from one direction to another, ‘divert back’ may not seem ungrammatical. One can divert, say, a stream, back to its source. This introduces the aspect of specificity.

To be understood, it is advisable to use specific words that do not introduce elements of doubt. The word ‘good’ has a number of synonyms, among them; excellent, pleasing, incredible, dazzling, first rate and satisfying. However, to use such words interchangeably just because they are synonyms is wrong. Such words may converge in some contexts, yet markedly differ in others.

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What do individuals who respond to the greeting ‘how are you today’ with responses like ‘fantastic’ and ‘amazing’ mean? The dictionary definition of fantastic is ‘extraordinarily good or attractive’ while that of amazing is ‘causing great surprise, astonishing’.

To use both expressions in the first person is wrong. What one does is what can cause great surprise or astonishment, not ones feeling. In the second and third person, while describing another person as ‘good and attractive’, to use the word fantastic is acceptable.

Mr Chagema is a correspondent at The [email protected]     

IdiomsAlex ChagemaLanguage Use