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Getting rid of inconsistency in writing

COMMENTARY
By Pharaoh Ochichi | November 7th 2015

NAIROBI: If you think explaining to someone the meaning of the simple word ‘consistency’ is easy, you’d better think again. The other day, a kid demanded to know the meaning of this word that featured in last week’s piece. I tried many a time but he seemed unable to get it. What finally worked was a story about a loyal dog in the international media many years ago. The story goes...

Every morning the pet accompanied her master to the bus stop on his way to work and returned to the spot at dusk to welcome him and escort him back home. She performed this ritual without fail. One fateful day, she escorted him as usual in the morning, but he fell ill at work and died. On that day the dog went to the bus stop normally and waited for her master, oblivious of what had happened to him, but returned home alone. After two days, the man was buried, but for a decade, the dog kept consistently going to the bus stop in the evening to check whether her boss would turn up. She would wait for some time and then return home. This story could explain why some people aren’t amused by those who eat dog meat. “How can you eat a friend?” they wonder. The kid was happy and sad.

Today’s discussion is a sequel to the past week’s, which centred on writing and speaking in a simple and clear way – devoid of pretentiousness. The discussion concluded that although consistency is a vital constituent of good writing and speaking, due to the strong influence of the American dialect, the daily newspapers in Kenya find it difficult to employ consistently the British Dialect. To use purely vocabularies of one dialect may seem like chasing a mirage, as it was explained last week. To underscore the point, in the letter to the editor headlined Ministry and exams council will have to address these problems of cheating (October 29, 2015), a local paper which adopts the British English, used the word ‘cheaters’ instead of ‘cheats’. Despite this challenge, there’s a lot one can do to attain some measure of consistency (standardisation) and in turn achieve some level of good style.

As regards spellings, some words with ‘-ize’ can be made ‘-ise’; others such as ‘color’ and ‘labor’ can also be changed into ‘colour’ and ‘labour’; and words like ‘theater’ and ‘center’ can be converted into ‘theatre’ and ‘centre’. This exercise requires one to be hawk-eyed, but a suitable computer program can do the trick to free a paper of words such as ‘politicized’ that was in the story headlined Impeachment: Separating truth and lies (October 23, 2015). It’ll correct a word like ‘criticize’, appearing twice under the headline Choose extraordinary over the ordinary (October 16, 2015). The software would also help the editor, guided by the style guide, to combine words like ‘cross roads’, making them one word. The two words were on the story titled Resign if you can’t end cash crisis, Raila tells President (October 27, 2015). All the stories cited here were in different local dailies – pointless to name them.

Further, on October 29, a paper had the word ‘health care’ (two words) in the headline India to help boost health care. So if you sometimes use ‘healthcare’ (one word) and other times ‘health care’, where is consistency? But dictionaries differ in the spelling of the compound noun; whereas the Longman and Oxford stick with ‘health care’ (two words), the Cambridge and Collins settle on ‘healthcare’ (one word). But these dictionaries agree that the correct spelling is ‘crossroads’ (one word) – not ‘cross roads’.

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