Posted by: Dr. Y. | February 3, 2020

Nigerian Words in the English Dictionary

Flag and map of Nigeria

Flag and map of Nigeria

Oh yes… the Oxford English Dictionary has just selected 29 new Nigerian words to be part of its new edition. Allright people, make place for Chop (eat) Okada (Bend-Skin), Mama Put (eatery), Rub Minds(consult and work together), and Next tomorrow (the day after tomorrow), into the Queen’s English Dictionary…. Isn’t it marvelous how each culture adds to another? Even the conqueror at some points gets conquered (just jesting) by finding himself speaking words from the conquered. We, Africans, or those who have been colonized around the world, who have had to learn the language of the oppressor, should consider that language as part of our war trophies, because our ancestors had it pushed down their throats, and today we can speak the oppressor’s language and even understand them better than they do us, or ever wanted to, given their ‘superiority’ complex! Enjoy from the OED website.

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My English-speaking is rooted in a Nigerian experience and not in a British or American or Australian one. I have taken ownership of English.

Bend Skin

‘Bend Skin’ in Cameroon = ‘Okada’ in Nigeria

This is how acclaimed Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie describes her relationship with English, the language which she uses in her writing, and which millions of her fellow Nigerians use in their daily communication. By taking ownership of English and using it as their own medium of expression, Nigerians have made, and are continuing to make, a unique and distinctive contribution to English as a global language. We highlight their contributions in this month’s update of the Oxford English Dictionary, as a number of Nigerian English words make it into the dictionary for the first time.

… One particularly interesting set of such loanwords and coinages has to do with Nigerian street food. The word buka, borrowed from Hausa and Yoruba and first attested in 1972, refers to a roadside restaurant or street stall that sells local fare at low prices. Another term for such eating places first evidenced in 1980 is bukateria, which adds to buka the –teria ending from the word cafeteria. An even more creative synonym is mama put, from 1979, which comes from the way that customers usually order food in a buka: they say ‘Mama, put…’ to the woman running the stall, and indicate the dish they want. 

Grilled fish on a charcoal stove / du poisson braise sur un rechaud a charbon

Grilled fish on a charcoal stove / du poisson braise sur un rechaud a charbon

Okadaon the other hand, is first attested twenty years later, and is the term for a motorcycle that passengers can use as a taxi service. It is a reference to Okada Air, an airline that operated in Nigeria from 1983 to 1997, and its reputation as a fast yet potentially dangerous form of transport, just like the motorcycle taxi.

… The oldest of our new additions that are originally from Nigeria is  next tomorrow, which is the Nigerian way of saying ‘the day after tomorrow’. It was first used in written English as a noun in 1953, and as an adverb in 1964. The youngest of the words in this batch is  Kannywood, first used in 2002, which is the name for the Hausa-language film industry based in the city of Kano. It is a play on Hollywood, following the model of Nollywood, the more general term for the Nigerian film industry that was added to the OED in 2018.

Nigerian Pidgin is another rich source of new words for Nigerian English. Sef, first evidenced in Nigerian author Ben Okri’s novel Flowers and Shadows, published in 1980, is an adverb borrowed from Pidgin, which itself could have been an adverbial use of either the English adjective safe or the pronoun self.

… A few other expressions in this update would require some explanation for non-Nigerians: a barbing salon (earliest quotation dated 1979) is a barber’s shop; a gist (1990) is a rumour, and to gist (1992) is to gossip; when a woman is said to have  put to bed (1973), it means that she has given birth; something described as qualitative (1976) is excellent or of high quality.


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