Serving thirty years ago with the United-Nations-Transitional-Authority-in-Cambodia in 1992-1993, I had a young Indonesian pilot as one of my Staff Officers. One of his responsibilities was to draft memoranda for my approval. Unlike Ghana, Indonesia was colonized by the Dutch. English therefore did not come naturally to my young Captain.
Increasingly frustrated with my constant correction of papers he wrote, he one day asked me, “Sir, why is English so difficult? It is not logical! Why?”
Bake, Make, Take
The example he gave using three words was, “bake,” “make” and “take.” While the past tense of bake is baked, that of make is made, while take is took! His question then was, why is one ending of past tense not adopted logically for all three words?
If adding “d” was adopted as in baked, then make could simply be “maked” while take becomes “taked!” Similarly, if take changes to ‘took, then why does bake not become “book” and make “mook!” For option 3, if “ade” was adopted as make becomes “made,” then take could be “tade” with bake becoming make “bade!”
For a pilot used to controls of logical operating systems in the cockpit, his desire for logic was understandable. However, I explained that, like the Dutch language he was used to, English like any other language, was/is flexible and dynamic, and could not be subjected to strict cockpit rules of an aircraft!
In recent times, the word “banter” appears to have “found favour in the eyes of” some radio/TV presenters, unfortunately for the wrong reason! Regularly, insults/serious exchanges/fights have all been described as “banter,” the exact opposite of what they are! The reason for this may not be far!
In school, we were taught the word “onomatopoeia!” These are words which suggest the action they stand for. Examples are bang, screech, and shoot! Banter appears to fall in this category, as its pronunciation suggests aggression, hence the mistaken usage. Perhaps, “bantam-weight” in boxing has also contributed to the problem!
“Banter” is defined as “a playful and friendly action done with teasing remarks!” Therefore, using banter to describe an altercation/serious confrontation is wrong! Incidentally, banter is not the only word misused. The phrase “to churn out” has also been caught in banter’s web.
To “churn out” is routinely heard in statements like;
1. “At a colorful ceremony, the newly graduated medical doctors the university has churned out were congratulated by the Guest-of-Honour for their hard work over the past six years of study.”
2. “The new state-of-the-arts hatchery churns out thousands of day-old-chicks daily for poultry farmers!”
To “churn out” means mass production with little regard for quality, ie producing quantity without quality. Therefore, things churned out are considered inferior. Certainly, this is not what the users intend.
Figure of Speech
In George Orwell’s classic 1984, the word “doublespeak” features. Doublespeak is the deliberate use of words/phrases/sentences ambiguously, so as to give what is said more than one meaning. Recently a statement made a few years ago assuring and emphasizing the determination to fight galamsey was reduced to being only a “figure of speech!” Why?
The old saying in primary school in the early-1960s stated, “you can fool some of the people all the time, and all the people some of the time. But you cannot fool all the people all the time!” Sadly, in the “global village” the world has become with news available everywhere in real-time, we only make a laughing-stock of ourselves in the eyes of those we run to with begging-bowls, after mismanaging our economy, when we reduce a statement on a serious issue like galamsey to “only a figure of speech!”
At an Institute-of-Economic-Affairs dialogue in April 2023, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director-General, World Trade Organisation, said Ghana’s debt restructuring is a “sad lesson” for African countries to build fiscal buffers during economic prosperity. She added “there has to be in place fiscal rules that prevent that (debt restructuring) from happening in future!”
On 11th April 2023, Citi FM reported an interview captioned “Unable to afford medication, pay domestic staff: The sad story of a pensioner bondholder.” Seeing the picture and sad story of an individual bondholder, 92 year-old retired teacher Mrs Sybil Foli, widow of the late Professor of Medicine, Prof AK Foli who served Ghana for many years teaching at the University of Ghana Medical School, tears rolled down my cheeks.
Is this the old age we worked so hard and saved towards? Please don’t hasten our appointment with our Maker prematurely! The reality of pensioners’ individual bonds being touched, as part of domestic debt restructuring is inhumane, as it amounts to a death sentence!
Running a country is not rocket science if it is underpinned by integrity, discipline, humility, seriousness and humaneness. It is not a playful “banter,” where figures are “churned out” to cover mismanagement, then go to IMF for bailout!
Leadership, lead! Fellow Ghanaians, WAKE UP!
Brig Gen Dan Frimpong (Rtd)
Former CEO, African Peace Support Trainers Association
Family Health University College, Accra
Source: Brig Gen Dan Frimpong (Rtd), Former CEO, African Peace Support Trainers Association, Nairobi, Kenya
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