Daily Trust (Abuja)

18 November 2012

Nigeria: Top 10 Peculiar Salutations in Nigeria English (II)

5. "Thank God!" Nigerians like to say "thank God" as a polite response to a "thank you." Example:

Mr. A: "Thank you so much for your help."

Mr. B: "Thank God."

The sense that Nigerian English speakers hope to convey when they say "thank God" in response to an expression of gratitude is that the honor for the favor they bestow on others belongs to God, not them. It's a socio-linguistic evidence of the deep religiosity--or pretense to piety-- of Nigerians. However, native English speakers don't use "thank God" that way. They use it mostly as an exclamation of relief. Example: "Thank God he is alive!" It's also used in the idiom "thank God/Heaven for small mercies/favors," which is said when something bright happens in an otherwise hopeless situation. Example:

Mr. A: My brother was run over by a truck, but he survived it. The doctor said he has a 99 percent chance to be well again.

Mr. B: Thank God for small mercies!

Native English speakers also use "thank God" in mildly satirical contexts to call attention to people's deficiencies, such as saying "thank God he remembers my name this time around" about someone who perpetually forgets your name. So, if a Nigerian were to say "thank God" in response to an expression of gratitude from a native English speaker, the Nigerian speaker might be misunderstood as implying that the native speaker hardly ever shows gratitude. In other words, the Nigerian might be understood as saying, "thank God you have the good sense to say 'thank you' now!"

In sum, "thank God" hardly appears as a stand-alone phrase in native-speaker varieties of the English language; it always depends on another phrase or clause to make a complete sense, as the examples above illustrate. Most importantly, it's never used as a response to an expression of gratitude.

6. "It is well." This peculiarly Nigerian English salutation for people in grief is distilled--perhaps I should say distorted-- from a popular hymn (as Christians call a song that praises God) written by an emotionally distraught American Christian lawyer by the name of Horatio G. Spafford who lived in Chicago in the 1800s and was hit by a string of personal tragedies. As a mechanism to cope with his grief, he penned a thoughtful hymn titled "It is well with my soul" that some Christians consider the "closest to heart for one undergoing grief."

Although the context in which Nigerian Christians use "it is well" is consistent with the intent of the hymn, native speakers don't say "it is well" to a grieving person. That would come across as stilted and detached. Besides, the full expression is, "it is well with my soul." Perhaps it would make more grammatical sense to say "it is well with your soul" to a grieving person than to simply say "it is well."

7. "I wish you long life and prosperity." Nigerians use this expression when they send congratulatory messages on people's birthdays and anniversaries. There is even an acronym for the expression: LLNP. The acronym has been popularized in Nigerian cyber circles by Facebook and Twitter.

There is nothing grammatically wrong with the expression. It's just peculiarly Nigerian. I've never heard any native English speaker say "I wish you long life and prosperity" to people on their birthdays or wedding anniversaries. That doesn't make the expression wrong, though; in fact, many native English speakers I spoke with found it quaintly charming. When I searched the phrase on Google, I found that it appeared only on Nigeria-centered websites.

However, there is a 2002 Canadian movie titled "Long Life, Happiness and Prosperity." Since Nigerians have used the expression "long life and prosperity" long before 2002, it is almost certain that the movie is not the source of the expression among Nigerians. It seems highly probable that it is derived from the phrase "live long and prosper," which"The Phrase Finder," a British grammar website, says is "an abbreviated version of a traditional Jewish religious blessing [that] came to a wider public in the Star Trek TV series." The site adds that the phrase is translated "from the Vulcan language phrase 'dif-tor hehsmusma'...."

Based on the phrase "live long and prosper," native speakers developed an expression for a toast (that is, drink in honor of a person or an event) that goes something like: "To long life and prosperity." It is uttered before clicking glasses. I guess that's where the Nigerian salutation comes from. However, in native-speaker environments, the phrase is never used as part of birthday or other anniversary greetings.

8. "Two days! /Quite an age!" "Two days" is limited to the Hausa-speaking parts of northern Nigeria. It's a direct translation of the Hausa expression "kwanabiu," which is used to indicate that you haven't seen someone in a long while. In Yoruba, it is rendered as "ekujo meta," which translates as "it's been three days." In Batonu, it is rendered as "beseka so yiru," which translates as "it's been two days." The reference to the number of days is merely synecdochic, that is, it's using a part (in this case a few days) to stand for a whole (in this case, long absence that has taken several days, perhaps years).

Other parts of Nigeria tend to use the expression "quite an age," which is completely meaningless outside Nigeria, to express the sense that Hausa-speaking northern Nigerians convey when they say "two days."

Native English speakers either say "hey stranger!" or "long time no see!" when they meet friends or acquaintances they haven't seen in a long while.

9."Well-seated."This is a literal translation from many languages in central and southern Nigeria. It's a special form of greeting to acknowledge that a group of people are having fun sitting. Native English speakers have no equivalent for this form of greeting. I had never heard of it in Nigeria until a reader brought my attention to it on Facebook last week.

Yoruba people, for instance, say "ekujoko" as a polite greeting to people who are seated in a place--and who're possibly having a conversation. In Hausa, that would translate as "sannu da zaunawa," which makes no sense in the language. The Hausa idiomatic equivalent of "ekujoko" would be "sannu da hutawa," which would translate literally into English as "well-resting." Well-resting is, of course, meaningless in English--just like several salutations in our native languages for a whole host of activities. Interestingly, in Batonu, the Yoruba "ekujoko," which would translate as "bekasindu," is a salutation for people who are mourning. It implies that they have been so grounded by their grief that they can't go anywhere.

10. "More grease to your elbows." The correct rendering of this archaic British English expression, as I've pointed out several times here, is "more power to your elbow." It is rarely used in contemporary British English and has never been used in American English at any time. The modern version of this expression in both British and American English is "More power to you!" It means "bravo!" "well done," "good job!"

Bonus:

"How far?"--This is a clipped expression that seems to derive from Nigerian Pidgin English. So is "How now?" Both expressions are used where native speakers would say "hi," "hello," or "How do you do?"

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