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Accuracy, sincerity are hallmarks of a good argument

By Pharaoh Ochichi | June 25th 2016

NAIROBI: A discourse on language or on any other issue is supposed to be serious work which requires that one relies heavily on nothing but well supported hard facts.

While Prof Mauri Yambo would expect a person involved in serious discussion to present facts and let the facts speak, Charles Dickens in ‘Hard Times’ would want the participant to stick to sheer facts, because, according to the writer, truisms alone are what’s required in life.

But in his column (June, 11), Philip Ochieng employs odd tactics to obscure and to cause confusion so as to get an advantage in a language argument. For example, he begins by referring to me as a guru, an exceptional language expert. The gurus of English are, among others, George Orwell, Sidney Greenbaum, Randolph Quirk, Geoffrey Leech, and Jan Svartvik. The former, first named Eric Arthur Blair, hardly uses a semicolon in his writing, because he believes a comma serves the purpose.

Locally, the authorities I know of are Prof Okoth Okombo, Prof Henry Indangasi, and late Prof Ali A’amin Mazrui. Mazrui has a reputation of being able to use English in a way that wow many, including the native speakers. Those listed here are the crème de la crème of the English language – and not me. Even though I know something about the language, I can’t play in their league. If some people are better than you, you should be as frank as playwright Bernard Shaw.

When, one time, Shaw saw Italian Luigi Pirandello’s theatrical masterpiece, he remarked, “This playwright is greater than I am.”

Back to the grammarian’s article. Ochieng then says I wrote that “the term ‘phrasal verb’ refers to any verb composed of many words.” No, this isn’t what I said. With the advent of technology, however, why should somebody waste precious space reiterating what he said? Press a button and then read what I said about the word ‘back’ as used in the sentence “Why Kibaki wants the bank he ‘sold’ for Sh20 back”. Push the same button again to access what the columnist said on May 7 about the same word.

But it doesn’t hurt to say that the Longman WordWise Dictionary lists ‘bring back’ as a phrasal verb. In terms of structure, what’s the difference between ‘bring back’ and ‘want back’? In the sentence in question, ‘back’ is part of the verb ‘wants’, and together they form a phrasal verb ‘wants back’. While the first element of a phrasal verb is a verb, the second one is normally called a particle.

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We can never have enough lessons on language use
In his articles in The Standard on Saturday, Dr Pharaoh Ochichi has tackled a variety of points of grammar thus far. Most recently, he cautioned against misuse of the verb ‘to avail’.
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