Talk Naija

Posted on 24/10/2012


Talk Naija



How do we learn a new language? How easy is it to adapt to a new environment? What changes our perceptions, or our speech patterns? How does a baby learn to speak? How are new words coined? How does slang get to go viral? What is right? What is wrong? Am I asking too many questions…? Give me a minute. Please.


Language development is a process that starts early in human life. Infants start without language, yet by four months of age, babies can discriminate speech sounds and engage in babbling. Some research has shown that the earliest learning begins in the womb when the foetus starts to recognize the sounds and speech patterns of its mother’s voice. Just like new walkers eventually become swift runners and clambering climbers, new talkers begin to make great strides in language development at around 18 months, adding words to their growing toddler vocabulary at an astonishing rate.


Traditionally, each year the English language develops about a thousand new words. The King James Version of the Bible itself contains only about 8,000 different words. But new words are being created at an amazing pace today due to technological advancement. That’s right. The rapid-fast world of text messaging has led to the coining of new words – well, new slang words, perhaps. And these days a slang word is more likely than ever before to stick around. That’s because of where the slang is being used – in the cybersphere, where it has more chances to reach across age groups, demographics, cultures, and societies. It can permeate. It can get picked up in the main stream and suddenly, what was even once a thumb-printed spelling mistake can now be overheard in conversations on the street being held by parents, business professionals and even grandparents. lol…?


What is slang? In order for an expression to become slang, it must be widely accepted and adopted by members of a subculture or group.  Slang has no societal boundaries or limitations as it can exist in all cultures and classes of society as well as in all languages, and words used as slang may be new coinages, existing words may acquire new meanings, narrow meanings of words may become generalized, words may be abbreviated, etc.  However, in order for the expression to survive, it must be widely adopted by the group who uses it.  Slang is one way in which languages change and are renewed.


Over the years, Nigerians have developed peculiar words and slang that can only be understood by a bonafide Nigerian – born and bred! Examine the phrase, ‘Well done.’ If you said that to any non-Nigerian he would look at you funny; but actually, the phrase ‘well done’ is a form of salutation for someone who is busy at some form of tasking duty. Its direct origins perhaps emanate from the traditional relatives of the thought. A Hausa person would say, for instance, ‘Sannu da aiki,’ just as a Yoruba-speaking fellow would also greet: ‘E ku ise’ in his language. Expressions like ‘Well done’ have no such parallels in Western climes where such a term would rather imply thoroughly cooked food or meat, particularly, steak, or as an expression of applause for achievement synonymous with a ‘bravo,’ or a ‘splendid.’ The expression may also be used as an adjective to describe something that has been executed with diligence and skill. It is not part of the cultural repertoire of people in the West to reserve a special form of salutation for people who are working. That is why we are all ignorantly saluting the performances of people like Fashola and Oshiomole when all they are simply doing is performing on the requirements of their expected obligations and promises to the people!


Another word that means something totally different in Nigeria from what is universally accepted is the word: ‘Sorry.’ We have ingeniously altered the word’s original native English meaning from a mere exclamation to indicate an apology into an exclamation to express concern for a misfortune. Worse off, we use it whether or not we are responsible for the said misfortune. I can never forget my early experiences as a 7-year old Nigerian kid who had just resumed boarding school in a southern Welsh village in the UK during a really cold winter. Anytime someone fell or hurt him or herself I kept saying, ‘Sorry!’ It seemed the most natural thing to say and I always wondered why everyone else was so mean when they couldn’t understand why I always had to say it. “You didn’t hurt them; why are you saying sorry?” Again, my unlearned 7-year old brain was still thinking in formative traditional mode. You see, this usage of the word, which is completely absent in American and British English, is an approximation of such expressions as ‘Sannu fa’ in Hausa, ‘Pele’ in Yoruba, and ‘Ndo’ in Igbo.


Next, let me warn you – be wary of where you use the terms, ‘Flasher,’ or ‘Flash me.’ You see, in both British and American English, a flasher is someone, mostly a man, who has a compulsive desire to expose his private parts in public! So be careful whom you decide to ‘flash!’ Personally, I dislike flashers – I mean the Nigerian version – why would people flash other people and always expect them to call back? And what’s the idea of ‘flashing’ with a hidden phone number? By now, if you are British or American, you would understand that the word ‘flash’ is a synonym for ‘buzz.’ “That Michael fellow is just a buzzer; he keeps buzzing me non-stop!” Get it? But, again, be careful – that word, buzzer is also another word for a doorbell!


The caption: ‘Lagos is changing’ is more than just a slogan these days. Have you noticed how hard it is to find open spaces where you could ‘Ease yourself’ these days? Thankfully more public bathrooms have started springing up on the island so whenever our American visitors wish to ‘go to the restroom,’ as they would say, we could oblige them with nicer, cleaner public conveniences where they could all ease themselves in comfort!’ Don’t you just love Naija?


Now, here’s a tricky one: The descriptive terminology – Tribe. A tribe can be described as a social group existing before the development of, or outside of, states. Many anthropologists used the term tribal society to refer to societies organized largely on the basis of kinship, especially corporate descent groups. Some theorists hold that tribes represent a stage in social evolution intermediate between bands and states. Other theorists argue that tribes developed after, and must be understood in terms of their relationship to states. As such, the term, tribe is a contested term due to its roots in colonial anthropological foundations and the connotations that these hierarchical definitions may have.


Around these parts we seem to be fond of using the word tribe to describe our ethnicities – it even existed in a verse of our first national anthem: “Though tribe and tongue may differ…” In its modern usage, tribe is a condescending, even derogatory word that Europeans and people of European descent reserve only for people they consider inferior. You will never hear of the English tribe or the German tribe or, in fact, the Japanese or Chinese tribes. To such societies, to detribalize a person or a people is to Europeanize or westernize them. It is to make them lose their language, their customs, their mores, and generally things that make them primitive by European standards. In Australia, for example, Europeans forcefully adopted Aboriginal children and detribalized them by taking them to white foster homes so that they would lose all connections with their original culture and thereby become civilized!


Do you recognize any differences between the terms, sending forth and sending off? When we host our office parties to send off long-serving staff members, do we also issue them red cards? Perhaps we should start learning how to send our people forth instead of off the pitch!


Which day of the week is actually Next tomorrow? Ask a Nigerian – he’d probably tell you it could be the day after tomorrow. How did that get through the process…and if Wednesday is next tomorrow, pray, what would Thursday be…?


And how come Nigerian women are the only women in the world who Take-in? I mean, become pregnant! The English phrasal verb to take in actually implies to absorb information, or to deceive, or to make clothes smaller, or even to assume care or support. If you could but ignore the more graphic expression that comes to your x-rated Nigerian mind, acceptable examples whereby such term can be used include:

“The lecture was rather boring and I didn’t take in much of what the lecturer said.” “She took me in with her story until someone told me the truth.” “The jacket was far too big around the shoulders, so I had it taken in so that I could wear it.” “The family took in the three little urchins.”


In the Nigerian office space the term: Not on seat means that a particular officer is unavailable. To say that someone is not on seat may suggest that the person is required, or at least, expected to be seated. For example, a teacher may get annoyed if a child is not in his seat at school. It’s not likely you need to tell someone on the phone that someone is not sitting down when he is supposed to be. However, in contrast, in American business, you could say “He’s not at his desk right now.” He may be in a meeting, home sick that day, getting a cup of coffee, or picking up something from the printer. You don’t know where he is, but you can see that he’s not at his desk. It’s also common to leave phone messages such as, “I’m not at my desk right now, so please leave a message,” behind. However, a generic thing to say would be: “He’s not here at the moment.” Definitely not: “He’s not on seat!”


Here are a few other odd Nigerianisms (There – I can even coin my own word!):



Disvirgin – (Shh!!!) Hello…You mean deflower, don’t you?


Opportuned – Wrong! The word is Opportune. It’s an adjective, never a verb. Also the word is no derivative of opportunity!


Upliftment – Does not exist in accepted usage. The word is Uplift. Full stop!


Godfatherism – The first newspaper journalist, editor or author who coined this word should please stand up for public recognition – and flogging! He probably had a crush on Al Pacino! O.K. Political godfathers do exist, and we know their names and modus operandi. But who would coin such an ugly word just in a search for a politically correct ‘ism!’ Fortunately words have existed that should’ve taken care of the subject. Check Clientelism: the exchange of goods and services for political support. It is a political system at the heart of which is an asymmetric relationship between groups of political actors described as patrons and clients and political parties. Clientelism is further defined as a set of actions based on the principle, ‘take there, give here,’ with the practice allowing both clients and patrons to gain advantage from the other’s support. Or choose Prebendalism, a Nigerian permutation coined by Richard A. Joseph, director of The Program of African Studies at Northwestern University, Illinois, US, to describe the sense of entitlement that many people in Nigeria feel they have to the revenues of the Nigerian state. Elected officials, government workers, and members of the ethnic and religious groups to which they belong feel they have a right to a share of government revenues. Joseph had written in 1996, “According to the theory of prebendalism, state offices are regarded as prebends that can be appropriated by officeholders, who use them to generate material benefits for themselves and their constituents and kin groups…” That explanation got me thinking – National cakeism…?


Complimentary card – The word complimentary simply means free, that is, costing nothing. Example: “The author gave me a complimentary copy of his new book.” So a complimentary card simply means a “free card.”


Hot drinks – Do you mean a cup of hot tea…or a quart of whisky? Or is it just hot because it burns your throat going down?


Beer parlour. You mean, bar? But where else would Ngozi Fine Legs sell her special isi ewu and chilled stout? Or is that just beer parlour goship…?


Common Nigerian greeting/reply: How are you? We are Managing…? Managing, ke? You run the company? Oh! You meant surviving, right?


Go slow – Living in places like Lagos, it’s easy to forget that to go slow actually means to be careful or deliberate – although in the case of some of our former and present governors and national leaders, it would be absolutely correct! We even once had a governor in Lagos christened Baba Go Slow!


Another very common error is the usage of the phrase: Be rest assured. Always ignore the prefix ‘be.’ The correct thing to say is simply: ‘Rest assured.’


Then there’s the Torchlight. What’s that? Oh I see – we took the British torch and embellished it with the American light to produce a unique word that’s now British, and American, yet truly neither British nor American! Of course, torchlight also exists as a separate word in both British and American English, but it only refers to the light produced by a flashlight, or a torch, if you will.


Finally, the word short knicker belongs to this category, too. It is also derived from mixing American and British English. Shorts, is the preferred American word for trousers that end at or above the knee. The British prefer to call same, knickers.


A lot of research and external assistance was employed in compiling this article; it’s actually a hotchpotch of various borrowed ideas from multiple sources that have variously discussed the subject of Nigerian English extensively, yet it is still far from complete. Perhaps you have some pet words of your own that you would love to add to our list? Thanks…? As the average Nigerian would say, please don’t mention!