I stood perplexed as I heard the words roll out of the speaker’s mouth. He said, “Let’s stand on our opening prayer.” While I was still trying to decipher what it meant to stand on an opening prayer, I saw my colleagues rise. It dawned on me that the speaker meant we should rise for prayer. After, I began to muse on why someone would think opening prayers are meant to be stood on. I was jolted to reality by the loud outbursts of laughter from some of my colleagues. I asked the person close to me what the cause of amusement was. She said, “Oh, he said we should go and sympathise with one of our colleagues who is getting married this Saturday”. I observed those in the room, and saw that a few people were too shocked to laugh. They just kept exchanging bewildered looks at the speaker’s blunder. I felt their pain. However, I decided to give the speaker a benefit of doubt. I assumed he made those blunders by mistake.
Before the meeting came to an end I had been shot with endless arrows by the speaker. I kept hearing adjectives misplaced and to-be verbs used as gerunds. There were unfathomable blunders like, “When we wenting there, so he said we should keeping the money, so I have go to the place” and so on. Throughout I kept wondering how the said speaker was able to write exams successfully and graduate from a higher institution.
Speaking of higher institutions, I remember some memorable conversations I’ve had in time past. The outcome of these incidences almost convinced me to wear a bullet proof when preparing to listen to, or speak with people. A few years back, I was at one of the prominent universities in Nigeria. I was not clear on directions so I decided to ask for directions from a couple walking towards me. I said, “Good afternoon folks, would you please direct me to the Faculty of Science.” The handsome young man answered, “Una go waka down small and turn left, una go see one Bisi road that Bisi road na where the Facuti dey.” I had no problem with his use of pidgin English as I love the language myself. However I clarified, “Bisi road?” The young lady, eager to leave, put her arms on her waist like a butterfly about to take off, rolled her eyeballs and said “Yez! Bisi road.” I thanked them for the directions and took off for Bisi road. I got to the said turning and searched for a signboard telling me I was on Bisi road but I didn’t find any. I asked passersby if I was on Bisi road, they kept giving me strange looks and said they had never heard of such.
When the scorch of the hot sun was almost done bleaching my skin, I had enough sense to just ask for directions to the Faculty of Science. In no time I was there. On getting home that evening, I shared my experience with a friend. He laughed loud and explained that the couple meant busy road and not Bisi road. I was too stunned to speak.
My next experience took place in a commercial vehicle. Two ladies were having an argument about the university they recently concluded their undergraduate studies. One’s premise was that the university, being one of the best in Nigeria, has enough finance to run its programs. She went on to say, “Ah! Our University always gets enough sponsorships gan.” I began to wonder if I was the wrong one. Apart from the code mixing, I felt the right word in that context should be sponsors and not sponsorships. Well, I had the right to think I was the wrong one, because the girl in question looked like an educated lady that just completed her studies in Harvard.
A similar unforgettable experience taught me never to estimate good diction by looks. I went to a supermarket to get some toiletries and saw this classy looking lady. I noticed she had some toiletries in her shopping basket so I walked up to her and asked for directions to the toiletry section. She said confidently “Went over there”. I said, “Excuse me?” She repeated the statement with utmost confidence “I said you should went over there.” At this point, the only thing I could mutter was “Oh, thank you very much.” And she gladly replied, “Yelz, you’re wecom.” I watched with pity as she sashayed with her shopping basket like it was the latest Gucci bag. I concluded in my heart never to measure good diction with looks.
I must confess that I am not a grammarian, but I happen to fall into unfortunate situations where I cannot ignore the wrong use of the English language. The only solution I can proffer presently is that we process what we say before we speak.
Abimbola Iyun Roberts