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Education

Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say (XIII)

By Segun Omolayo

For various reasons and in different ways, writers have continued to say what they do not mean and mean what they do not say. They do this by using words and expressions that do not mean what they intend to say. As hinted much earlier, Writers indulge in such an uncommunicative use of English because of carelessness, ignorance, unfamiliarity with correct usage, the love of bombasts and so on and so forth. Malapropists swap words illegitimately and mostly comically, thereby encoding wrong communication for the receiver. Because communication is sharing meaning clearly between a sender and a receiver, such writers are simply not communicating. We will therefore continue to highlight the essence of communicating precisely, using live examples as usual. You must wonder why anyone would write like this:

  • Neither did they explain the reason for this

To say explain the reason is simply comical, inappropriate, unenlightening, tautological and therefore bereft of all sense, intelligibility and meaning. The better way to convey the message is to replace the word explain with the verb give. Explain the reason is not correct because to explain is to give a reason for something. What tautology! So, explain the reason is like saying give the reason for the reason. That obviously is not sensible. To make ourselves clear, we re-set the sentence, using the appropriate word in the context of the presumed intended message, thus:

  • Neither did they give the reason for this.

Using wrong inflections of the appropriate words might just be the communication barrier in your constructions. See how this plays out in the discussion of the example of malapropism that follows:

  • The absenteeism of members at the meeting continues to frustrate effective policy recommendations.

Apart from the word absenteeism being a wrong inflection, there is a tinge of bombast in the construction, a case of a writer trying to puff up the statement, preferring the high-sounding word to the direct, simpler and clearer diction. Absenteeism is a state of being absent or a disposition to being absent; whereas the real issue is the actual absence of people. The less mouthful noun absence is, therefore, the more appropriate word, not absenteeism. “Absence more appropriately depicts the act or behaviour, while absenteeism emphasizes the attitude or disposition. That both are related nouns does not make them automatically interchangeable. Use absence, please” (“Pop” Errors):

  • The absence of members at the meetings continues to frustrate effective policy recommendations.

“Pop” Errors advises, however, that absenteeism will be correct diction in the context, if we reconstruct thus: Absenteeism continues to frustrate effective policy recommendations.

There are some words and expressions which writers typically find difficult to handle and thereby often resort to the self-help of using terms as it suits their fancy. The word worth and its inflections fall into that category. In the sentence below, the inflection worthy is the mishandled subject:

  • It is worthy noting that the Minister of Planning hails from this town.

Worth, a word writers and speakers often find rather tough to handle, is the required form of the word here, not the adjective worthy. Worth and worthy are adjectives, “but a good deal of care is required in choosing between them in a context like this, which can be rendered in several ways as follows: It is worth noting that the Minister of Planning hails from this town; OR It is worthy of note that the Minister of Planning hails from this town; OR It is note-worthy that the Minister of Planning hails from this town.

Oftentimes, the bad habit of not saying what you mean by choosing wrong words, terms and expressions do get really ridiculous, as in:

  • The good relationship fostering between the citizens of the two nations cannot be overstated.

Check out the meaning of the word fostering and see that its misuse has rendered the sentence meaningless. Citing the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, “Pop” Errors, says, “To foster is to encourage something to develop” or to “promote or to support, cultivate, advance, stimulate, nurture.” It adds that, “None of these will justify the use of fostering, leaving the reader stranded, wondering maybe the writer is talking of a developing or an existing relationship. Why not say it as it is? Remember, good writing is all about sharing meaning clearly and precisely.” From these explanations, the writer could not have reasonably intended to convey any meaningful message with his choice of words. You could, however, surmise that he is talking about existing relations. If it is so, the following options of conveying the message unequivocally are suggested:

  • The good relationship existing between the citizens of the two nations cannot be overstated

OR

  • The good relationship developing between the citizens of the two nations cannot be overstated.

Is imprisonment a matter of enrolment or incarceration? That is the issue in the example of malapropism that follows:

  • More disturbingly, the rate of inmate enrollment at the prison keeps rising.

Clearly, people who are locked up in prisons are not just enrolled. They are detained, kept away from civilized society or incarcerated as punishment for offences they have been convicted of. It is therefore inappropriate to talk of rising inmate enrolment where the more plausible message is that more and more people are being imprisoned. A wrong impression has thus been conveyed with the use of the expression inmate enrollment as if it is a case of just registering prisoners. What is rising is the rate of incarceration, which is putting people in prison. The message will therefore be better delivered if we simply write:

  • More disturbingly, the rate of incarceration (or imprisonment) is rising.

 

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