• Saturday, June 22, 2024
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BusinessDay

Idiomatic expressions and their Nigerian variants

English language

An idiomatic expression or idiom, for short, comprises a group of words in a fixed order, whose meaning is different from the meanings of each word. In that connection, this week’s treatise seeks to juxtapose these fixed expressions in standard English language with their Nigerian variants. To err on the side of caution, it is strategically vital to affirm that, although the Nigerian variants have become ubiquitous in our climes, you ought to acquire mastery of their standard and globally acceptable counterparts. Without question, these standard renditions will prove instrumental in engaging audiences that consist of native-speakers only, second-language users only or an impressive admixture of both categories.

To start with, you should bear in mind that the idiom with which one implies that people attempt to enjoy the advantages of something without being confronted by its drawbacks is “to have one’s cake and eat it,” as opposed to the predominant variant: “to eat one’s cake and have it”. Also, have you once or often acknowledged that “beggars have no choice”? If that is the case, it may interest you to know that this is expressed more appropriately as “beggars can’t be choosers”.

Presumably, as well, it might have been said within your hearing that ‘the devil you know is better than the angel you don’t know’. So long as my presumption is not wide of the mark, be reliably informed that the inclusion of ‘angel’ in that idiom is largely born out of people’s spiritual inclination. As such, the idiom is conclusively rendered thus: “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t”. Further to this, when you discuss two perspectives that can rationalise a situation or circumstance, it is correctly branded as “two sides of the same coin” — not “two sides of a coin”.

Another noteworthy instance is the declaration that somebody “woke up on the wrong side of the bed”, when people intend to admit that someone is in a melancholy mood. If the truth be known, such dejected people are appropriately said to have “got out of bed on the wrong side”. On top of that, “James is determined to secure that contract by hook or by crook” — not “…by hook or crook”.

Besides, as responsible citizens, you shouldn’t be a law unto yourselves. In other words, you shouldn’t “take the law into your own hands”. On this evidence, you are highly likely to hear some people incorrectly say, “…take the laws into your hands”. Crucially, too, one is supposed to assert that “you have got another think (not ‘another thing’) coming”, when one has resolved to admonish an individual to ditch his/her plans or sentiments for something else.

Pursuant to the aforementioned reflections, until Nigerian English is made to serve official purposes in Nigeria, through its recognition in the National Policy on Education, Nigerians must have it engraved on their minds that idioms such as “what is good for the goose is good for the gander”, “on a platter of gold”, “in the twinkle of an eye”, “one man’s food is another man’s poison”, “bite the finger that feeds you”, “from frying pan to fire”, and “actions speak louder than voice” should be correctly portrayed as “what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander”, “on a (silver) platter”, “in the twinkling of an eye”, “one man’s meat is another man’s poison”, “bite the hand that feeds you”, “out of the frying pan into the fire” and “actions speak louder than words”, respectively.

Likewise, do not forget that “the proof (not ‘the taste’) of the pudding is in the eating” and “He who pays (not ‘plays’) the piper calls (not ‘dictates’) the tune.”

In equal measure, “green snake under the green grass” is aptly depicted as “a snake in the grass”. Not only that, “out of sight is out of mind” should be put in black and white as “out of sight, out of mind”. Additionally, what bridegrooms and brides should declare over the course of exchanging marital vows is “for better or (for) worse”; not “for better for worse”. However, it is quite unfortunate that “if the worst comes to the worst”, some people will divorce their spouses. With recourse to the foregoing, kindly observe that I did not write the adulterated version: “if worse comes worse”. Coincidentally, when a mediator attempts to pacify an aggrieved or disgruntled party, the chances are that the former will say, “Don’t take this matter personal”, instead of “Don’t take this matter personally”.

Funnily enough, there is a superabundance of other standard idiomatic expressions that might even sound incorrect to the overwhelming majority of Nigerians. One of such expressions is obtainable in the last sentence: “funnily enough”. This is pervasively and unwittingly expressed as “funny enough”. Equally in the category is “joking apart” or “joking aside”, which, as often as not, is voiced as “joke apart” or “jokes apart”. Again, note that when you refer to an energetic and unpredictable person, you are talking about a “live wire”, and not a “life wire”.

Lastly, when an individual, for instance, an ICT mogul like Mark Zuckerberg, makes a mammoth sum of money easily, such a person will not “smile to the bank”. For the sake of the precision that idioms originally represent, that person will “laugh all the way to the bank”.

In conclusion, when Chinua Achebe was quoted as saying, “Proverbs are the oil with which words are eaten”, that extends to idiomatic expressions in the case of the English language. They enrich your language use and should be applied with exactitude.