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English, indeed, has the word ‘Prioritise’

By Pharaoh Ochichi | August 22nd 2015

Greek philosopher, Heraclitus of Ephesus, once said, “It is impossible for a man to step into the same river twice”. What he meant was that when a man steps into (the) river the second time, it would not be the same water and he would not be the same man – changes would have already taken place.

English language, like many other things, undergoes changes every now and then. English has changed so much since the time Bishop Robert Lowth wrote what is regarded the first publication on the rules of the English language, A Short Introduction to English Grammar, in 1762; since when Oxford University Press, in particular two brothers Henry and Frank Fowler, and Charles Talbut Onion, came up with the first volume of A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles in 1888; and from the time when the (named) brothers again published a manual, The King’s English, in 1906. Today, for example, words such as “google” and “tweeter” have found its way into the English language and are both used as “verbs” and “nouns”.

There was a time when, according to my worn-out dictionary, “to deliver” just meant, “to take things to somebody they have been sent to, or to take somebody somewhere”; “to give a speech or any other official statement”; “to do what you are expected to do”; “to help a woman to give birth to a baby”; “to aim something”; and “to rescue”. That time this verb did not mean “to give birth to a baby”, but today it also means that. English – like other living languages – changes.

So remarks by Philip Ochieng, a veteran journalist and grammarian, that he is disappointed that The Standard has refused to take his constant guidance that “the English language has no such verb as “to prioritise” are rather unfounded. The verb “to prioritise”, which in American English takes “-ze” instead of “-se”, is today in many leading dictionaries: Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (CALD), Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (LDCE), Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (OALD), et cetera. And many English speakers – not only the NGOs and The Standard – use it in their everyday communications.

To demonstrate further that the word does exist and is in use, in CALD the verb “to prioritise” is defined as, “to decide which of a group of things are the most important so that you can deal with the first: You must learn to prioritise your work”. This word which “priority” is the noun means in LDCE, “to put several things, problems, etc. in order of importance, so that you can deal with the most important ones first: You need to prioritise your tasks. It also means, “to deal with one thing first, because it is the most important: The public wants to see the fight against crime prioritized.”

And OALD says that it means “to put tasks, problems, etc. in order of importance so that you can deal with the most important first: You should make a list of all the jobs you have to do and prioritise them”. The second meaning of the word in this particular dictionary is, “to treat sth (something) as being more important than other things: The organisation was formed to prioritise the needs of older people.” Well, the meanings here are more or less the same, but that is neither here nor there.

Need I say more?

Dr Ochichi teaches at the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication (KIMC)

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