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You must not die when ‘electrocuted’

By Pharaoh Ochichi | April 16th 2016

NAIROBI: If you approach an academic to seek his opinion about this or that issue, you shouldn’t be surprised if he reaches his bookshelf, and piles on his table a number of titles on what you considered an easy issue for an intellectual to tackle without any reference. To get useful and reliable information, you can’t depend on a single source – that is the message. Before you reach a conclusion, you’ve to ask yourself: what does so and so say about this matter? What about this other authority? And how about ... In other words you have no option but to consult widely. This is the reason academics warn: Beware of someone who uses one source of information.

Last week, April 9, probably the columnist of Mark my Word, Philip Ochieng, relied on either a single book or only his knowledge to draw the conclusion that the word ‘electrocuted’ only means ‘to be killed by electricity’. According to the Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary, “to electrocute” means “to injure or kill somebody by passing electricity through their body.” The book provides the example, “Six people were drowned; five died from electrocution.” The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English says, “if someone is electrocuted, they are injured or killed by electricity passing through their body.” The Macmillan Dictionary notes (that) the word means to kill or injure someone with electricity. And the Collins COBUILD Dictionary agrees that “if someone is electrocuted, they are accidentally killed or badly injured when they touch something connected to a source of electricity.”

Grammarians are of two types: descriptive and prescriptive. Although these language experts are concerned with grammar rules, the former deals with how people apply them. But these authorities never complain that language rules are violated, because they are alive to the fact that language evolves. Therefore, one wouldn’t find it hard to know where to place Philip Ochieng. The grammarian assumes (that) there is only one correct construction, others that may be in use are all wrong. The columnist will express great sadness that the very newspaper for which he writes committed tautology when it said in one of its news stories, “Woman stopped from giving First Lady gift.”

For him, to give a gift is to “utter tautological nonsense.” Yet dictionaries agree that ‘to give a gift’ is a correct grammatical structure, and is as correct as “to make a gift.” The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, for example, illustrates the meaning with: “The clock was given as a retirement gift when he left the police.”

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