The media and some entrenched language errors


Azuka Onwuka

When we were in secondary school, we were advised by our teachers and parents to read newspapers and magazines, listen to the radio and watch the television, especially news bulletins, if we wanted to improve our written and spoken English. That piece of advice proved useful to many of us.

However, in recent times, I have started questioning that. I have found myself regrettably warning younger ones and those I coach on spoken and written English to be wary of what they hear or read from the Nigerian media. This is because the bug of mediocrity, which has eaten deep into all facets of our national life, has not spared our media industry.

Except for about two newspapers, one of which is The PUNCH, one TV station and one radio station, I have not seen any serious attempt by our media houses to ensure that the language of their broadcasters or reporters is impeccable. The emphasis seems to be only on the information passed across. The sub desk, known as the gatekeepers in the media – has been virtually eliminated, creating room for “anyhowness” in most media houses.

Let us look at some words and expressions that have been corrupted by the media and almost used every day. Top on the list is the word “president,” which is mentioned every day in reference to the president of Nigeria, the presidential villa, the president-elect, the presidential candidates of the parties, the presidency, etc. On a daily basis, radio and TV stations call it “precedent” instead of “president,” hurting the ear of their listeners.

It should be noted that the “s” in “president” must always be pronounced as /z/ and never as /s/. Once the “s” is pronounced as /s/, the word becomes “precedent” /presidƏnt/ instead of “president” /prezidƏnt/. Painfully, this anomaly has spread from the media houses to the senators, members of the House of Representatives, ministers, governors, and our professionals, most of whom now call the President “precedent,” thereby unintentionally insulting the President. Even those who could pronounce the word correctly now pronounce it wrongly because they hear most presenters and broadcasters pronounce the word wrongly every day. That is the power of the media. Whatever emanates from it is assumed to be correct.

Just as the “s” in “president” must be sounded as /z/, so also must the “s” in some other words like “present/presentation”, “reside/residence,” “design/designation,” ”resign/resignation,” “resound/resounding,” “resume/resumption,” “presume/presumption,” “oppose/opposition,” “compose/composition,” “lose,” must be pronounced as /z/.

On the other hand, there are some words whose “s” must be pronounced as /s/ and not as /z/. These words include: base, basic, bass, basin, assume, consume, consult, increase, decrease, release, rehearsal, loose, etc.

In English, the pronunciation of a word is not primarily determined by its spelling. If it were so, the ending of “tough” and “though” would be the same, while the verb “read” and its past tense “read” would be pronounced alike.  The rule is that the pronunciation of each word must be confirmed from a dictionary. Every serious broadcaster should have the Daniel Jones pronunciation dictionary, which is to be consulted regularly. That dictionary also has the soft copy version that sounds each word, making life easy for a broadcaster.

Furthermore, it is sad to hear a broadcaster or reporter pronounce “airport” as “hairport” or “earport.” You wonder why a person who has not conquered his or her r intrusion is allowed to come on air.  If a broadcaster cannot overcome some speech defects, he or she can perform well behind the cameras: news production, administration, operations, marketing and advertising. But allowing such a person to come on air to broadcast news, present programmes or file in news reports shows that the radio or TV station has no respect for its audience, neither does it value excellence.

Also, there are some words and expressions that have been so wrongly used in both the electronic media and the print media that it is difficult convincing a Nigerian that such words and expressions are not correct. For example, “several” does not mean “many.” A “dupe” is the person who has been deceived or tricked, not the person who dupes another: the culprit is the duper. “Stature” is not the shape or figure of a human being; it is the natural height of a human being. Therefore, someone’s stature can be six feet or five feet. From this meaning comes the other meaning of “stature” as someone’s reputation gained through achievement, as in literary stature or political stature.

It is also un-English to say or write that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Even if taken literally, this statement is fallacious. Since the gander is the male of a goose, it is not all that is good for the goose that is good for the gander. For example, it is good for the goose to lay eggs, but abominable for the gander to do so. The correct saying is: what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Similarly, he who pays the piper calls the tune: he does not “dictate” the tune. That is a stock expression. It cannot be changed. Tunes are not dictated; they are called. Also, one worms one’s way into people’s hearts; one does not “warm” one’s way into their hearts. That expression is meant to draw a parallel between the winding movement of a worm and the subtle and indirect way people make themselves liked by another.

Moreover, someone who has the gift of oratory has the gift of the gab, not garb. Since “garb” means “clothing,” a person with the gift of the garb should be a person with a great fashion sense. In addition, a trouble-shooter is a problem solver, not a trouble-maker.

Furthermore, it is sad to see or hear a media person write or say that a person is a staff, a personnel, an elite or a riffraff, when it is known that these words represent a group of people. Therefore, one can only be a member of staff or a member of the elite.

Recently, the media has made strange efforts to change the forms of some verbs like “assure” and “inform.” These are transitive verbs: verbs that must take a direct object. These days, one hears or reads curious statements like: “The governor informed that the project would be completed by the end of the year,” or “the minister assured that he would look into the matter.” One is forced to ask: Inform whom? Assure whom? One cannot inform or assure a vacuum: one must inform or assure somebody. Therefore, it should be: “The governor informed the community that the project would be completed by the end of the year,” or “the minister assured the school that he would look into the matter.”

It is accepted that perfection is impossible, especially given the pressure under which media people work. However, there is a difference between an oversight and a mistake which stems from ignorance, laziness or presumptuousness. The journalist is supposed to be a language teacher to the public, not a mediocrity. (The reader would notice that I did not say “a mediocre” as is often wrongly written or said). The dictionary should be with the journalist always like his shadow. Luckily, different dictionaries are available online that one can refer to on one’s phone any time.

In addition to the poor political leadership that has promoted mediocrity in our land over the decades, much of the blame should also go to most owners of media houses. It is said that he who pays peanuts gets monkeys. Some owners of media houses are even notorious for not paying their staff for more than six months. That scenario makes it difficult for the best hands to remain in the industry. The salary of journalists should not just be regular, it should reflect the enormous challenge that goes with the job. Journalists in the US and the UK don’t easily run off to become aides to politicians, because some of them earn more than the politicians. Frequent training is also necessary.

However, whatever the challenges, the journalist must always strive for excellence, for as David W. Johnson said: “There are no speed limits on the road to excellence.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here