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Arts & Culture

These 29 Nigerian Words Are Now In The Oxford English Dictionary. Some Nigerians Are Dismayed By It

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The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) calls itself ‘the definitive record of the English language’. In recognition of Nigeria’s ‘unique and distinctive contribution to English as a global language’, Oxford lexicographers have updated the dictionary with 29 Nigerian words. It is important to mention that not all the words are unique Nigerian coinages. However, in instances where they are English derivatives, Oxford lexicographers added Nigerian usage as part of their definitions.

Pidgin, a mix of local parlance and English has become a lingua franca in Nigeria. It is so popular that the BBC now has its own Pidgin service. Speaking to CNN, the Oxford English Dictionary’s World English Editor, Danica Salazar said the inclusion of the 29 Nigerian words is part of a project to ensure the dictionary reflects the full spectrum of the English language. According to Salazar,

“The Oxford English Dictionary is a historical dictionary and its job is to tell the story of the development of the English vocabulary. A very important part of this is how English has become a global language used in different parts of the world by people from different backgrounds. And these people are creating new words that give different flavors of the language. Our job is to tell the story of English, and that story would not be complete without including the part Nigerians play in that.”

Nigerians Share Diverse Opinion on the Inclusion

There is divided opinion on the inclusion of the Nigerian words in the former British colony. Some think formalizing pidgin was better than ‘adulterating’ the language. However, it can be recalled that Chinua Achebe wrote in 1975 that ‘The price a world language must be prepared to pay is submission to many different kinds of use’. Thus, the inclusion of the Nigerian words is a subtle recognition of the literary giant.

Chinua Achebe

Timi Soleye, a historian, expressed dismay rather than excitement at some of the inclusions. Inasmuch as he had no problem with nouns like ‘okada’ and ‘danfo’, he objected to some of the verbs and adverbs. In an interview with BBC, he said,

“It is possible that in an attempt to be inclusive, they have made wrong calls. They added ‘sef’. ‘Sef’ is like a verbal exclamation to add emphasis but you go to the dictionary entry, ‘sef’ has no etymological roots. It doesn’t mean anything. It is not even a corruption from another language. What is ‘sef’? This amounts to accepting the debasement of English grammar. People should feel free to speak Pidgin but Pidgin isn’t English.”

The Nigerian English Words that are now in Oxford English Dictionary

agric, adj. and n.: “Of, relating to, or used in agriculture; = agricultural adj. Now chiefly West African.”

barbing salon, n.: “A barber’s shop.”

buka, n.: “A roadside restaurant or street stall with a seating area, selling cooked food at low prices. Cf. bukateria n., mama put n. Frequently as a modifier…”

bukateria, n.: “A roadside restaurant or street stall with a seating area, selling cooked food at low prices. Cf. buka n., mama put n.”

chop, v.6, Additions: “transitive. Ghanaian English and Nigerian English. To acquire (money) quickly and easily. Frequently in a negative sense: to misappropriate, extort, or…”

chop-chop, n.2: “Bribery and corruption in public life; misappropriation or embezzlement of funds. Also as a modifier.”

danfo, n.: “A yellow minibus that carries passengers for a fare as part of an informal transport system in Lagos, the largest city in Nigeria. Also as a…”

to eat money, in eat, v., Additions: “Now chiefly Nigerian English and East African. to eat money: to acquire money dishonestly; to misappropriate, extort, or embezzle funds. Cf. chop v.6…”

ember months, n.: “The final four months of the calendar year (September to December), esp. considered together as a period of heightened or intense activity.”

flag-off, n.: “The moment at which a race, esp. a motor race, is flagged off (see flag v.4 additions a); the start of a race. Now chiefly Indian English and…”

flag, v.4, Additions: “to flag off. transitive (usually in passive). To direct (a driver) to start a motor race, esp. one in which the competitors start at intervals, by…”
flag, v.4, Additions: “to flag off. transitive. Indian English and Nigerian English. In extended use: to start (an event or undertaking).”

gist, n.3, Additions: “Nigerian English. Idle chat, gossip. Also: an instance of this, a rumor or piece of gossip.”

gist, v.2: “transitive. To reduce (a text, document, etc.) to its essence or gist; to condense, summarize, or précis.”

guber, adj.: “Of or relating to a governor or governorship; = gubernatorial adj.”

Kannywood, n.: “The Nigerian Hausa-language film industry, based in Kano; Kano regarded as the center of this industry. Cf. Nollywood n.”

K-leg, n.: “In singular and plural. A condition in which one or both of a person’s knees are turned inwards, resulting in a noticeable gap between the feet when…”

mama put, n.: “A street vendor, typically a woman, selling cooked food at low prices from a handcart or stall. Also: a street stall or roadside restaurant run by…”

next tomorrow, n. and adv.: “The day after tomorrow.”

non-indigene, adj. and n.: “Not native. In later use chiefly West African: belonging to an ethnic group considered not to be indigenous to a particular area.”

okada, n.: “In Nigeria: a motorcycle which passengers can use as a taxi service.”

to put to bed in put, v.: “West African. to put to bed: to give birth. Also: to give birth to (a child).”

qualitative, adj., sense 3: “West African. Of high quality; excellent.”

to rub minds in rub, v.1: “to rub minds (together): (of two or more people) to consider a matter jointly; to consult and work together; confer. Similarly to rub our (also…”

sef, adv.: “Used for emphasis after a statement or rhetorical question, often expressing irritation or impatience.”

send-forth, n.: “A celebration or event to mark a person’s departure; a send-off. Frequently as a modifier, as send-forth ceremony, send-forth party, etc.”

severally, adv., Additions: “East African and West African. On several occasions; repeatedly.”

tokunbo, adj.: “Denoting an imported second-hand product, esp. a car.”
zone, v.

zoning, n., Additions: “Nigerian English. The system or practice of allocating nominations for certain political offices to candidates from particular regions, as part of an…”

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