OUR KIND OF ENGLISH: Avoid literary silliness in social media too, scribe!

Sunday February 10 2019

WELCOM COSTAMER? We don’t know. However, we

WELCOM COSTAMER? We don’t know. However, we aver, the owner of this kiosk located in Tegeta Township in Kinondoni District, had duly instructed the signwriter to paint “WELCOME CUSTOMER”. Ah, trust signwriters! PHOTO|AMS  

By Abdi Sultani

Allow me to invoke, once again, the words of this editorial boss at the TSN under whom I worked between 2002 and 2004, one Mr MA. He often reminded us during postmortems: “Let us, at least, adhere to the basics!” Well, we all know about them, and it’s actually somewhat embarrassing to lecture anyone on the same.

Yes, because they’re things like: beginning your sentence with a capital letter; beginning proper nouns (i.e. names of people and places) with a capital letter. At the end of your sentence, put a full stop. Use apostrophes when you’re writing a quote. An interrogative sentence (a question) must end with a question mark, etc, etc. Basics! I’d have felt I’m wasting time saying the above, if I wasn’t certain everyone who’s reading this is a witness to the silliness displayed by several members of some social media groups they belong to. Whole adults write the name of this country as “tanzania” (instead of Tanzania), or the name its president as “magufuli” (instead of Magufuli).

Someone will say: “Look, Abdi, what matters is that one is communicating!” My response is: “Okay, but then, why did we go to school?” When you (a journalist) entertain literary silliness while contributing in your social media group you get used to it. Then, you end up conducting yourself in the same manner when penning a story for your newspaper!

Talk to any subeditor, be them from the English or the Kiswahili media, and they’ll tell you how they often come close to tears when they’re forced to spend their limited time ahead of the deadline sorting out mistakes made by fellow adults—mistakes they wouldn’t expect from their children who are in primary school!

Meanwhile, the subeditor is also expected to improve language quality, check facts, remove libelous material, come up with a bankable headline, etc. Let’s all be merciful to those overworked, unsung heroes of the newsroom, the subeditors, by ensuring we’ve subscribed to the basics of good writing—which are actually no big deal—before we hand over our story. Oops! The foregoing lecture leaves us with little space for sharing linguistic gems, but we’ll dish out a few all the same, so here we go… On Thurs, Jan 24, there’s a story on Page 28 of the tabloid close to this columnist entitled ‘Mbao stun champs Gor to go through’, and therein says the scribbler:

“Gor Mahia’s hopes to retain the SportPesa Cup title WENT UP INTO thin air as minnows Mbao FC stunned them 4-3 on penalties…” Nope; Gor’s hopes VANISHED/DISAPPEARED (not went up) into thin air…” Or, you may say “…hopes WENT UP IN SMOKE”. Beware idioms!

Come Sat, Jan 2, and the huge and colourful broadsheet had this, ‘Dr Mengi offer jobs to students with albinism’, and scribbler reports:

“The STUDENTS are Severin Nicholaus who is a STUDENT at the National Institute of Transport …and..”

We’d drop one “student” to eradicate monotony and rewrite: “The STUDENTS are Severin Nicholaus at the...”

Ah, this treacherous language called English!