Word up!! – The Nation

  • Oxford English Dictionary recognises 29 Nigerian usages

In yet another tribute to the globally-significant cultural influence of Nigeria, the respected Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has added 29 new Nigerian words and expressions to its list.

Including typical Nigerianisms like “agric,” “buka,” “chop,” “eat money,” “Kannywood,” “tokunbo” and “zoning,” they are poignant reflections of the triumphs, tonalities and tragedies of Nigerian life.

They demonstrate the incredible imagination the country’s citizens bring to the things that they see, the experiences they encounter, and the ways that they feel.

The OED’s choices are peculiarly appropriate in their humour, pathos and edginess. “Chop,” for instance, is defined as “To acquire (money) quickly and easily.

Frequently in negative sense: to misappropriate, extort…” The word accurately characterises the rampant corruption that has sadly come to characterise national life.

“K-leg” is both a biological and a moral descriptor, given the way it encompasses a growth defect as well as the failure of ostensibly well-laid plans. “Zoning” is symbolic of the contemporary mania for allocating political offices in order to satisfy ethnic and other primordial considerations.

The 29 new additions to the OED join 57 previous arrivals, as well as a potpourri of words and expressions drawn from everywhere in the world English has interacted with local norms and cultural values.

They reflect Nigeria’s status as one of the world’s largest centres of English language use. With some 79 million users, the country outstrips England with its 55.98 million population.

The inclusions are a tribute to the imaginative dexterity its people have brought to the language ever since it showed up on the country’s shores, especially as reflected in the work of writers like Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Gabriel Okara and Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Nigeria’s capacity to put its creative stamp so memorably upon a foreign language is a lesson for a nation that has far too often punched below its weight internationally. In spite of its numerical dominance, its qualitative human and natural resources, and its natural position of global pre-eminence, Nigeria has been singularly unable to leverage the enormous cultural influence it has garnered over time.

Africans routinely utilise Nigerian expressions from Nollywood movies; the country’s music is routinely played on radio stations across the world; its athletes are lauded for their outstanding performances across a wide variety of sports; its never-say-die ethos has become a watchword for those who celebrate the indomitability of the human spirit.

These qualities should have made Nigeria an epicenter of black achievement, a bold counterweight to the racist attitudes which frequently taint encounters with members of other races across the world.

However, an inability to properly channel its virtues and consciously stem its vices has made the country’s achievement far less than its potential.

Nigeria should be more aware of its own capabilities and ensure that it utilises them to the benefit of the majority of its citizens. The OED’s recognition would be a good place to start.

Why is it that Nigeria lacks a national dictionary, unlike the United Kingdom with the OED and the Cambridge Dictionary of English, or the United States with its Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, or Australia with The Macquarie Dictionary? Why are there no official dictionaries of the country’s many indigenous languages? For all the government agencies, our endowment of the arts and culture should be laden with such assignments.

The celebration and advancement of all things Nigerian should be a Nigerian project, subscribed to by all citizens, regardless of socio-economic status, political inclination, or ethnic leanings.

It will enable everyone to pay greater attention to the many things that unite them, as opposed to the few that supposedly fragment them.

It will enable Nigerians to acquire a clear apprehension of their manifest qualities as a truly great and talented people. It will provide the country with a much-needed focus for its energies, as opposed to the destructive and wasteful political scuffles which have come to characterise public discourse.

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