When a reader needs a dictionary to read you, you have failed him!

Friday January 14 2022
Dictionary pic

Check these out: GRENDA for Grinder, DRILY for Drill, FEN for Fan, KAWOSHI MASHINE for Carwash Machine, BLOWA for Blower, KATINI MASHINE for Cutting Machine. Trust sign writers! PHOTO | AMS

By Abdi Sultani

We scribes are understandably keen on our choice of words. Yes, words are our stock-in-trade, which is why striving to enrich one’s vocabulary competence isn’t an option.

However, your wide range of vocabulary notwithstanding, you shouldn’t use words that force your reader to consult the dictionary every now and then as he goes through your story. You must avoid the use of words or expressions that smack of someone keen on demonstrating that “you also went to proper schools.”

Media critics are apt to note with concern the use of what I will call exotic words. That is, words that might probably pass muster in a leisure magazine even as you pen a “hard news” story. Sample the following likely headlines:

• Premier THRILLED by people’s self-help efforts;

• Speed of classroom construction ENCHANTS the visiting leader;

• Coach UNVEILS reasons for his team’s defeat;

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• Company chair ENVISIONS faster growth in 2022 and

• Government DISBURSES Sh2 billion for public libraries


One will be excused to conclude that the words in caps smack of some editor’s attempt to impress. If you ask me, I will say the words are shrouded by ambiguity. Or, pomposity. Who needs that in a general (mass) readership newspaper?

Your sources might love it, since all they care about is that you covered them with “lots of respect.” But you might have to ask yourself: how about the hapless reader, the man on the street who buys my newspaper?

Enough lecturing, sorry! Let us now move on with this column’s main duty, which is sharing linguistic gems picked up over the past week. Here we go...

In the Friday, January 8 edition of the tabloid closely associated with this columnist, there is a story entitled, ‘Seko Shamte: Shattering ceilings uplifts Bongo to new heights’. It is a story on the activities of one Ms Seko Shamte, an impressive Tanzania, who is a filmmaker, script writer and director rolled into one.

She is thus reported: “Ms Seko was the director of the films such as…”

We will fuss here about etiquette. It isn’t right to refer to the filmmaker as Ms Seko; she’s Ms Shamte or Ms Seko Shamte. Yes, just like I’m NOT Mr Abdi; I am Mr Sultani or Mr Abdi Sultani. Or simply, Abdi—no prefix.

The scribbler further reports on the ambitious Ms Shamte by paraphrasing what she said: “For Bongo films to BREAKTHROUGH into international grounds, it is crucial to have distribution companies…”

To breakthrough? Nope, because “breakthrough” isn’t a verb. It’s a noun that means “an instance of achieving success in a particular sphere or activity.” So, you MAKE a breakthrough.

And then, Page 2 of the Sunday, January 9 edition of Bongo’s senior-most broadsheet had this story, ‘Massive boost for education in Longido’ and therein, the scribbler writes:

“The DC called on leaders to take legal measures on parents who would refuse to enroll their children TO schools.”

Hello; we don’t enroll anyone “to” schools; we enroll them IN schools!

In the same edition, there is this story, ‘Mwanza jogging clubs asked to register’. Now purporting to report on what Ilemela Municipal Council Cultural Officer said, the scribbler writes: “He urged the clubs TO EXERCISE regularly as PART OF improving their health.”

Oh, no! Clubs don’t exercise; it is club members who exercise “as part of THEIR effort to IMPROVE their health.”

In another story, written on Page 9 and entitled, ‘Cargo through TZ ports up by 10.7 pc’, the scribbler purports to tell readers what a ports boss said. She writes:

“The Ports Director General Eric Hamissi said there are DELIBERATE efforts being made by the government to invest in port handling equipment…”

The adjective “deliberate” is a useless passenger word; it doesn’t add value to the noun “efforts”. We need to avoid NGO-speak in serious news reporting.