Avoid ungrammatical movie language, it is for entertainment

A collage showing Nigerian comedians who have starred on various Naija movies.
I am a Naija movies buff.  All that stuff about ‘tofiakwa’, ‘oga oh’, ‘mmbano’, ‘isigini’ and ‘ewooh!’, cleverly woven into English, mostly Pidgin English, is riveting to those who appreciate the humour.

That stuff, however, is purely for entertainment even as it brings to life things that happened in the past, are happening currently, or are likely to happen in certain contexts.

As a matter of fact, Nigerians have used the movie industry to immortalize their rich culture.

In that regard, Kenyans have failed dismally. Most Kenyans know a lot about Nigerian culture than their own, thanks to these ubiquitous movies.

While most people would readily associate the word buff with polishing to a shine, especially of cars and floors, it also means a fan or enthusiast. The act of soaking the sun in the nude, as happens mostly along the beaches, is referred to as ‘sunbathing in the buff’.

Besides the entertainment value in Naija movies, there is a downside. The language employed is relaxed and deliberately ungrammatical. Unfortunately, this has eluded many as it seems to be rubbing off on some people.

There is cause for concern when phrases that dominate the English language today include; ‘enter inside’(Enter or get inside), ‘small water ( a little or some water), ‘I doesn’t know’(I don’t know), ‘he don’t know’ (he doesn’t know), ‘I have said mine’ ( given you my piece of mind or told you what I think) ‘Give me small ‘ (give me a little of) , ‘the hen gave birth to an egg’ (the hen laid an egg) , ‘borrow me your pen’ (lend me your pen). In the media, the phrase ‘in a spot’ has become so common, many have accepted it though it is bad form.

Place prepositions

Indeed, a concerned reader of this column sought to know whether it was proper to say ‘in a spot’ as opposed to ‘on the spot’. An earlier column explained this. Inter alia, I wrote; It helps to remember the various types of prepositions to avoid their misuse. There are time prepositions (before, after, during, until), place prepositions (around, between, at, against) and direction prepositions (down, up, across).

Place prepositions revolve around the words ‘at’, ‘in’ and ‘on’. ‘At’ refers to a certain point. ‘In’ refers to an enclosed area. ‘On’ refers to surface. Thus, ‘spotlight’ goes with ‘in’ - the area enclosed by the circle of light. When referring to a surface (or a tight situation), we say ‘on the spot’, not ‘in the spot’.

Yet besides poor sentence construction, there is a growing tendency in which many people are not overly concerned with correct word spellings. The preferred spellings unconsciously take on the way we pronounce some of the words. On separate occasions, I have seen the word ‘because’ written as ‘be course’ and ‘whereas’ written as ‘where us’.

 Certain words

Indeed, quite a number of words are written in such a manner. Equally worrisome is the inability to distinguish between ‘whose’ and who’s.  Nevertheless, the confusion in this case is understandable because the possessive form of words ideally takes on an apostrophe and letter ‘s’ at the end.  However, the possessive form of ‘who’ is ‘whose’ while who’s is a contraction of ‘who is’, or ‘who has’.

As earlier discussed, there are several purposes for which apostrophes are used, one of which is to show the possessive form of certain words. Others include being used in contractions. A contraction is a word in which a letter has been removed after two words are merged to form a single word.

Some of the most common contractions in every day usage include; doesn’t (does not), shouldn’t (should not), couldn’t (could not), won’t (will not) and we’re (we are), just to mention a few.

The possessive form of pronouns does not, however, require the use of an apostrophe. Regular possessive pronouns are ‘yours’, ‘hers’, ‘his’, ‘theirs’ and ‘its’.

Finally, an individual not happy with a certain headline in one of the local dailies was so worked up he wrote: ‘Dump headline’.

For one who prides himself on being an authority in the English language; always on the case of journalists, this is laughable. How about the good fellow getting it right next time and writing ‘Dumb headline’? Dump means site for depositing rubbish while dumb means stupid.

Mr Chagema is a correspondent at The [email protected]

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