Categories: Columns

Readers’ language clinic (1)

This column is for the exchange of meaningful ideas on various aspects of the English language and its correct usage — I am merely an active coordinator

Ebere Wabara

On July 18, 2018, I published the following blunder entitled “Military junta” incorrect. One anonymous reader sent me the SMS below and declared, in blissful ignorance, that I “should stop misleading people”! I have never seen this kind of effrontery as he insisted that “military junta” was correct, citing all manner of authorities.

READ ALSO: ‘Military junta’ incorrect

The controversial extract: “VANGUARD COMMENT of June 4 offered readers the following mistake: ‘Coming 25 years after the military junta (sic) led by General Ibrahim Babangida torpedoed the sovereign will of the Nigerian electorate….’ A ‘junta’ is ‘a military government that has gained power by using force’, according to Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, New Edition for Advanced Learners.”

READ ALSO: Babangida’s two-party option

Let us now take his rejoinder before addressing the issues he raised.

HELLO sir, “junta” means a military or political group ruling a country after seizing power. Military junta is different from political junta. Military junta is therefore correct. For your information, please check your concise Oxford English dictionaries — you should not limit your conclusion to one source, please. Or Google! Contrary to popular belief that it is either Spanish or Portuguese, JUNTA is actually a Hindi word meaning crowd, people, group, etc. Made popular by Latin-American countries’ unstable governments in the 60s and early 90s especially in Bolivia, Columbia and Nicaragua. (sic) I have benefited immensely from your column, hence this rejoinder. Not to join issues, sir.

  • (08022277222)

WITHOUT necessarily “joining issues”, Wordsworth intervenes thus: In any form of formal writing, you must contextualize words and expressions generally. It is not just enough to lift from a book or online platforms the etymological history of a word without situating it rightly, which is what contextualization is all about.

A “junta” could correctly be any group of people or mob with a common resolve — not just military or political. It could be labour, academic, institutional, religious, medical and so on. Going by the context of the corrected extract, it is obvious that “military” was glaringly otiose. There is no applicative ambiguity whatsoever as to why “military” should be jettisoned from the excerpt in question. Grammaticality cannot be treated in isolation of context, environment (audience/ target) and communicative objective.

In journalism and, by extrapolation, reportage, there is what is called “tight writing”. You do not waste space and time on clauses and phrases whose meanings are either implied or self-explanatory. Such morphological tragedies are regarded as padding, needless embellishment or tautology in extreme cases.

READ ALSO: Responsible journalism necessary for good governance – Buhari

I will be wasting precious space of a 1,000-word column and time listing the copious dictionaries, multifarious reference books and exponential online sources that I use here. The most annoying aspect of the curiously anonymous feedback under focus is that when I called the cellphone number, the incorrigible fellow thundered that “I should stop misleading people” and thereafter stopped taking my calls aimed at civilizing him on dynamic syntactic nuances!

This kind of lexical irresponsibility that borders on conservatism, circumscribed knowledge, blissful ignorance and illiterate bookishness smacks of marginal literacy that noisily drums emptily! I welcome readers’ constructive contributions to this debate essentially and especially because I am not a knowledge monopolist!

This column is for the exchange of meaningful and robust ideas on various aspects of the English language and its correct usage—I am merely an active coordinator and a scholar, too, without any professorial pretensions or doctoral ascriptions! Also, I am not infallible, just like all other human beings.

In summation, I insist that “military junta”, as excerpted above, is incontrovertibly, unquestionably, unassailably and unimpeachably wrong contextually. No General torpedoes a government with kid-gloves — and will the junta in that case not be military? So, why write “military junta” in that circumstance?

EBERE, thank you, I have always been accused of being pedantic when I point out blunders by our supposedly educated journalists/ speakers/legislators, not realising it irks other readers too.

  • Uwem Ekpoudom

I HAVE always respected your person and your views on certain issues until defending your principal became your passion. That aside, what did you mean by “even the Bible … has contradictions, if not fallacies … the edition of reference is important and critical because what is right today may be wrong tomorrow”? Please, explain because I noticed that you have conveniently avoided mentioning holy Quran to avoid possible backlash. But the Bible is always a fair game!

  • Fred K.D. (08036166374)

COLUMNIST’S response: Why will defending my principal be devoid of passion? Why did he employ me or what am I supposed to be doing? The bible surely contains contradictions! ‘What is right today may be wrong tomorrow’ simply demonstrates the dynamism in English language usage. I have zero tolerance for bigoted religiosity in column writing.

THANK you for the updates in English. Regards.

  • Dr. Anthony Agbaso (08033084523)

HAVE you written any book? If yes, how can one get it? I am in love with your articles. May your ink never dry up.

  • 07063399458

MY answer: I have written three books that need to be reprinted. Once they are ready I will publicize them. Thanks for your intercession.

THANK you for taking up the task of improving our English. Your column “Wordsworth” is revealing. Please, add specialized English language school to your crowded schedules. It will benefit those who desire to have a command of it. Sustain your efforts. Your fans appreciate you.

  • Okoro (08115706378)

FROM Vanguard of July 13 comes the next contribution: “…the command received an information….” ‘Information’ is uncountable, but a ‘piece’ of information or just information is acceptable.

  • Tony Ololou, Alvan Ikokou Federal College of Education, Owerri (08034484056)

THANK you for your column. We need more of you to help children learn proper English as print and electronic media have failed.

  • Ambassador Odi Nwosu (07083794764)

I AM always delighted to read your column weekly after the demise of Pa Bayo Oguntunase. Thanks for keeping the flag flying. Stay blessed.

  • Bayor Issah, Ilorin, Kwara State (08037063924)
Tokunbo David :Sun News Online team writer and news editor

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