MASS MEDIA AND SLOPPY USE OF LANGUAGE: An Overview of the Nigerian Writers – By Oladokun Bolaji David


The founding fathers of journalism realised the importance of correctness and accuracy in the use of language and created the position of the sub-editor whose duty is to read, spot, and correct errors; refine copies, guard against poor taste, libel, puffery, axe grinding and such other anomalies that could harm the languages, image and reputation of the media content. As gatekeepers, the editors and the sub-editors are sharp-eyed, versed in the language of communication and versatile.

However, despite these accolades, grammatical errors, bad concord, licentious idioms, poor use of phrases, word-coinages, wrong choice of words, sloppy use of literary devices, extensive use of clichés, slang, journalese and unbridled use of adjectives have taken over our mass media contents. Hardly is there any story in moist of our newspaper, magazines and or in the radio and television that is completely error-free.

Reading and listening to our media contents have revealed that the reporters, casters and rewrite men can hardly distinguish between such verbs as given/giving, been/being,. The reporters also often confuse the meaning of and wrongly use of such homonyms as advice/advise, blitz/bliss, border/bother, certify/satisfy, owe/own, cite/site, cause/course, council/counsel, devise/device, fare/fair, eminent/imminent, precedent/precedence, tale/tell, tow/toe, stationary/stationery, wreak/wreck, wring/ring among others.

Such licentious expressions and coinages such as: meet with, likes of, witch-hunting, setting-up, come February 28, stinkingly rich, electioneering campaign, razed down, many at times, joined together, are so common in our today’s media platforms.

It is very easy for most Nigerian user of English language to manufacture words or to ‘Nigerianize’ words where he finds it convenient to do so, a development Ndibe says is a product of the journalists’ often-lazy adoption of the politician’s language. Consequently, they have manufactured such words as opportuned (opportunity to); indigene (indigenous); up till (up until); heading to (heading for or heading towards); among such other words and expressions unknown to English language.

Contributing to the confusion in the use of English language is existence of two blocs of the language: The American English and Bristish Standard English. The American in their pragmatic manner took the language to an operating table and performed a surgical operation on it. All the alphabets they considered superfluous in a word were chopped off. Alternative words, names, dictions, idioms, syntax and phrases were found for things they considered far-flung. After the operation, humour became humor, glamour, glamor; programme, program; organisation, organization among many others. Some usage of the language accepted and popular in American are considered otiose in British Standard English. They effected many changes unknown previously to the language. This brought confusion as it became difficult to follow one version strictly as advised by language purists.

American and British Englishes pose problems for the native speakers in both countries and baffle the borrowers. In the age of personal computers, a writer is likely to receive a false alarm on spelling and diction because the pc he is using is programmed on an alien set of values.” This tends to give the media writers’ and other prolific writers’ the added burden of keeping vocabulary and diction under control. The problem however, is that writers do not know of the existence of the two versions much less their differences. In their ignorance, they muddle up the two.

Perhaps the worst problem of most media writers is their penchant to write to impress and not to express. Nothing identifies a writer as unsure of himself or herself more than an all-out effort to impress his readers or listeners with the power of his or her vocabulary. In his effort to impress, he often falls victim of the many laws, customs, and conventions that guide the language, especially the English language.