January 28, 2020 / 12:12 PM / 2 months ago

Nigeria and the Oxford English Dictionary 'rub minds'

LAGOS/ABUJA (Reuters) - Ask a Nigerian what corrupt politicians do with public funds and he or she may say, “They chop it.” The Oxford English Dictionary agrees.

Hailing from the streets of Nigeria, “to chop” - meaning to illicitly make money, and “rub minds” - a synonym for “confer”, are among 29 distinctive aspects of Nigerian English to obtain pride of place in the august dictionary.

“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,” the dictionary said in notes accompanying its latest update this month.

One of the major drivers of Nigerian cultural influence abroad has been its Afropop music which now dominates swathes of home continent Africa and influenced the work of overseas artists as big as Drake.

Getting Nigerian English recognized for inclusion has not been easy, however, according to Nigerian author TJ Benson, who said his favorite of the new Nigerian terms making it into the dictionary was “severally”, meaning “repeatedly”.

“When it (Nigerian English) is being suppressed or we are being told that there is a better way (of saying something), or this is what is correct and then this is what is not correct, I think it affects us and it also demeans us,” he told Reuters.

“I think this (recognition) is empowering for lots of us writers and for everyday people, because at the end of the day it ties back to identity and how we perceive ourselves and how we express ourselves.”

Another of the unique Nigerian references now in the dictionary is “okada”, which stems from the massive traffic jams for which megacity Lagos is internationally notorious.

Okada are motorcycle taxis that weave through motionless cars and are named after the defunct Okada Air airline because they are often the only way to “fly” through the city.

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But okada are the bane of daily commuters such as baker Dambo Godfrey. “There is no day I go out that I don’t see okada in my path,” said Godfrey. “It should not be very difficult (now) for me to explain to a white man when he is asking what is an okada - I will say: ‘Go and check your English dictionary’.”

Godfrey added that the Oxford English Dictionary’s embrace of words from Nigeria, with the world’s largest black population in one country - was only right. “If over 190 million people are saying one thing, it is something that should be popular.”

To check Nigerian entries in the dictionary, click here

Reporting by Angela Ukomadu in Lagos and Paul Carsten in Abuja; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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