The work of a professional scribbler is fraught with dangers. More so when you have condemned yourself to the use of an alien language as the tool for your trade.
Yes, like when you unwittingly convey the wrong message to your customers (listeners/viewers/listeners), just because you picked a wrong word or phrase to say what you set out to say!
It is on account of this concern that this columnist never tires of reminding his media colleagues that we cannot be too careful when it comes to the need to be precise in language use. Short of that, we fall short of expectation while purporting to execute our noble duty to inform, educate and educate the public.
That is enough lecturing. Let us now proceed to share gems unearthed from Bongo newspaper editions of the recent past. We will start with goodies contained in our July 8 copy of a leading tabloid, entitled, ‘Tanzania makes progress in aids response: report’.
We fail to see why the subeditor chose to write “aids” instead of Aids or AIDS since that is the accepted acronym for “Acquired Immunity Deficiency Syndrome”. Well, that is neither here nor there, so we will leave it as it is, then, look at the intro:
“Tanzania has made remarkable progress, WITH the latest report showing that the global HIV target set for 2020 WILL BE MISSED.”
It is clear the subeditor was excited with the fact that although the global HIV is outlook is bad, Tanzania’s situation is pretty good. We understand.
However, by using the preposition “with”, he lumps together two contradicting news items—the bad and the good—hence confusing the reader. We could redeem the sentence thus: “Tanzania has made remarkable progress EVEN AS the latest report shows that the global HIV target set for 2020 will be missed.”
Better still, in the place of “even as” (an expression that is increasingly becoming a cliché), we could use the good old, simple preposition “although”—Tanzania has made… ALTHOUGH the latest reports show that…”
The scribbler further writes in Para 5: “Tacaids executive director, Dr Leonard Maboko, said the success reflected government efforts to ensure Tanzanians know the importance of “testing HIV.”
There’s a problem with the expression “testing HIV”. When you want to verify your health status with regard to a certain ailment, you don’t test the ailment; you test FOR it. You do not visit a medical laboratory to test malaria; you go there to test for malaria.
Come July 18, and we have this bold headline on the front page of a major broadsheet, ‘Time to hold breath’, in which the scribbler says in his intro:
“After a historic turnout of CCM cadres seeking endorsement to contest FOR various posts in the upcoming General Election, aspirants are now holding their breath as they await THEIR verdict.”
There are two contentious usages here. One, if someone is aspiring to clinch an electoral post, we say he is CONTESTING THE POST (not for the post). Two, the over 8,000 CCM cadres who had declared their desire to be MPs, sat back with bated breath to wait for, not THEIR verdict, but the verdict of the district committee mandated by CCM to vet Bunge aspirants.
Further on, our scribbling colleague writes: “…Dar es Salaam alone had 827 candidates and OTHER REGIONS with high number (sic!) of aspirants are Kagera (328), Arusha (320), Kilimanjaro and ZANZIBAR (53).”
A keen reader will be able to quickly figure why we have capitalised portions of the sentence. It is to draw attention to something that is not right.
A newly arrived visitor to our country who picks up the newspaper would be excused if he concluded that, like Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar is also a region, something which is not true. Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous state which, together with Mainland Tanzania (formally Tanganyika), forms the United Republic of Tanzania. How do we remove the unintended misinformation?
Here is our attempt: “…Dar es Salaam alone had 827 candidates. Other AREAS with high a number of aspirants are Kagera (328), Arusha (320) and Kilimanjaro regions, as well as ZANZIBAR which had 53.
Ah, this treacherous language called English!
Send your photos and linguistic gems to email firstname.lastname@example.org or WhatsApp on Tel No 0688315580