Last week, acting Safaricom CEO Michael Joseph made a remark during Bob Collymore’s memorial service that generated rancorous debate on social media. Inter alia, Joseph said: “Over the last 15 years I went from being amused by this white man in a black body pretending to be a very serious corporate person to really becoming a serious corporate leader.”
The use of adjectives ‘white’ and ‘black’ as comparatives in judging competency within the corporate world were bound to be viewed as racist, and racism is not looked upon favourably here. However, by reading between the lines, a number of interpretations can be arrived at. This is made possible by the apparent ambiguity in the comment.
Still, several questions arise: First, were Joseph’s remarks deliberately taken out of context to fit a certain design by those irked by them? Second, was Joseph glorifying racism? The debate is not yet truly over, and so, the jury is still out there. However, had Joseph stuck to Collymore’s wish to just read the “damn” poem and get done with, all the commotion would not have arisen. That said, let us pick some grammatical aspects from this brief narration as the basis of our discussion today.
These are; adjectives, suffixes, prefixes and quantifiers. Adjectives tell us more about a noun or pronoun. For example, “Quarrelsome Kenyans on social media have been on Joseph’s neck all week”. The word ‘quarrelsome is the adjective. It describes Kenyans on social media as people who are given to quarrels irrespective of whether the issue at hand merits attention or not.
As a rule, adjectives come before the noun or pronoun they modify but sometimes, adjectives come after linking verbs. For instance; “Michael Joseph’s remark was unfortunate”. Linking verbs serve as connections between subject and additional information about the subject. Linking verbs include; is, am, are, was and were. Thus, the adjective ‘unfortunate’ comes after the linking verb ‘was’.
Note also that two or three adjectives can be used together in a sentence, much the same way Michael Joseph did when he said “white man in a black body”. Adjectives come in two forms, namely; comparative and superlative. When talking about two things, comparative adjectives apply, often followed by the word ‘than’. For example “George is better than Martin in sprints”. Superlative adjectives show the measure or degree of quality and often apply where there are three or more things. For example: Bicycles are fast, cars are faster but planes are the fastest”.
Suffixes are defined as single or several letters added to certain words to form a different word. For example; to the word race, we can add suffixes ‘ist’ and ‘ism’ to form the words ‘racist’ and ‘racism’. Prefixes on the other hand are defined as a letter or several letters that appear at the beginning of a word. There are quite a number of prefixes, but let us consider the most common ones. These include ‘anti’ (against) as seen in the words antivirus, antibody, antisocial and antifreeze.
‘Arch’ (highest or worst) as seen in the words, archangel, archenemy and archetype. ‘Astro’ (star) as seen in the words astrology, astronomer, astrophysics. ‘Geo’ (earth) geography, geology, geometry and so forth. Words that end with suffixes ’al’ refer to things that are seen as ‘relating to’. Such words include annual, arrival, comical and educational. Words that end with the suffixes ‘ism’ refer to a belief or a practice as reflected in the words activism, optimism and racism, etc.
You might have come across the words ‘firstly’ ‘secondly’ and ‘thirdly in texts, yet such writing is bad form. Even without the suffix ‘ly’, these words convey the same meaning without affecting the sentence in any way. The words ‘first’, ‘second’, ‘third’ and so on, lead us to the subject of quantifiers. Quantifiers are adjectives and adjectival phrases that are used before a noun to indicate amount or quality. These include ‘some’, ‘many’, ‘a lot’, ‘a few’ etc.
Thus, ‘first’, ‘second’, ‘third’ and so forth are known as ordinal numbers. They refer to distribution. Adjectives that refer to quantity, such as ‘one’, ‘two’, ‘three’, ‘four’ etc are known as cardinal numbers.
When one seeks to give a sequence of events, it is advisable to use ‘first’ ‘second’ and ‘third’. For example: “There were twenty leaders on the podium. Mary was the tenth to arrive’. To write” There were twenty leaders on the podium. Mary was number ten to arrive,” is bad form.
Mr Chagema is a correspondent at The [email protected]
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