Sunday, 13 September 2009

What the heck are you saying?

My love for words and expression is the main driver for my interest in writing and by extension blogging. The written word has the power to convey one's thoughts in a clear, crisp and concise way, one that, I dare say, is much more effective than even the spoken word. After all, when you're reading a text and you come across a "big word", you can quickly make reference to a resource and get along with your task. However, you cannot stop someone in the middle of a sentence to "break down" his/her vocabulary before proceeding with the conversation.

Some time last week, I was laughing with a couple of friends over how some people complicate their conversations by using difficult words, or "vocabs" in Ghanaian secondary school parlance, when simpler words could do the trick. This led me to reminisce the days when I, completely enthralled by a writer's choice of words, would memorise whole sentences in the hope of using them when the occasion presents itself. Many of us, who watched the ultra-hilarious Pattington Papa Nii Papafio in the TV serial Taxi Driver, would easily recall moments of extreme excitement and fun that the profligate use of big words ignited among Ghanaian television viewers.

I recall with just a little trace of accuracy a tale my English teacher told our class in JSS 1, so i present it in an assorted cocktail with similar tales that i have picked up over the years. It was about a learned man whose obsession with big words was so great that he used them in everyday conversations. Instead of simply asking the small boy next door, "what's your name?", he would blurt out "what is the alphabetical construction of your human dignity?" or "what characterises your nomenclature?" If he wants to say "come quickly," he would opt for "proceed in my direction with alacrity." His equivalent of "i'm going to urinate" is "i'm proceeeding to evacuate my internal hydrosity", whatever that means.
More likely than ever, in philosophical situations, our gentleman does not spare his listeners the ordeal of deciphering, with difficulty, the meaning of every sentence of his. He would always prefer "super abundance of any performance is detrimental to the performer" to "too much of a thing is bad", and "A slight inclination of the cranium is as adequate as the spasmodic movement of one of the occular organs, to an equine quadruped devoid of its visionary capacity" to "a wink is as good as a nod to a blind horse!" Soon his neighbours and aquaintances got fed up with his linguistic ways and avoided his company as much as possible.

One day he returned home only to find his beautiful home under fire. In complete hysteria, he began to shout his neighbours for help. Guess what he said? "Multitude!, multitude!, a great conflagration is consuming my magnificent domicile!" "The beautiful edifice that I erected is being razed to the ground by a ravaging inferno!" Passers by, who either did not understand a word of what he was saying or chose to ignore his verbose pleas left him to suffer his misfortune alone. In the end, he lost his home, which was an entire lifetime investment.

This story, i guess, is completely fictional. However, we all stand to pick a major lesson from it-to ensure that every time we speak, our choice of words fit the context. We should not get our listeners to the point of "what the heck is he saying?" After all, there is a bit of our friend in every one of us.


  1. haha, good post. I find this using-big-words-joke is very common in Ghana. Many people can make a "nonsense" sentence for "come here" etc straight from memory. I wonder if it is because that story is told in all JSS?

  2. interesting...i have a friend whose command over the English language is forceful. I hardly do get to understand him.

  3. Great post, Gameli. I guess we all want to feel smart. And we think if we construct sentences that confuse our readers, only then can we show that we shark. Me thinks not. I think you can demonstrate intelligence through clarity of thought, and importantly the ability to simplify, simplify, simplify. So take an arcane topic and make it accessible to many. Not the other way around.

  4. Thanks a lot everyone.

    @Kajsa, lol. The Ghanaian sure likes to impress with his language. In some schools in Gh, the students tend to play such word games for fun.

    @NFA, your friend better watches out before he gets drowned or something?

    @Esi,I agree that simplicity is the true hallmark of scholarship. It's admirable helping common folks understand complicated stuff in a very simple way.

  5. Yea, i have also wondered myself why some people just suffer themselves to speaking english that only they can understand. I guess it's got to do more with showoff than anything else.

  6. You have concisely articulated the dilemma that irreversibly devours the psychological stance of majority of the citizenry in South Saharan Ghana.....what da heck am I saying? Nice post.

  7. Haha, Edward, what the heck are you saying?

  8. Pappington Papa Nii Papafio is the best!

    I wish I could remember some of what he used to say.
    Will look for some Taxi Driver episodes.

  9. @Ato, like clutching his head or any part of his body that is hurting and shout: "my oesophagus!"


Keep comments and insights coming to get the discussion going!