I love to talk. I talk a lot. I have been called a chatter-box by more than one family member. Anyone who went to school in Kenya is familiar with the noisemakers list; a list of the names of any student who dared to speak in class while the teacher was out of the room. The classroom prefects and/or monitors were in charge of updating this list, which they would submit to the teacher upon his or her return. The teacher would call out the names, and one by one the noisemakers would make their way to the front of the classroom for a good ass-whooping. (I use this phrase both figuratively and literally because there were one or two male teachers who seemed to take great pleasure using the canes on our behinds as opposed to our hands) My fondness for talking was such that one teacher in particular threatened to punish any monitor or prefect who submitted a noisemakers list that did not include my name. As a result of this, my name would oftentimes be the only name on the noisemakers list. For all the beatings in the world, for all the having to kneel down on cold concrete floors with hands suspended above my head…I still love to talk.
As someone who loves to talk it is only natural that I find myself engaged in the all sorts of conversations. This in turn has exposed me to weird questions, annoying phrases, and strange words most of which I let slip by. There are however a few things that people have said/asked that have had me vowing never to speak again. These are my top three.
1. ‘So, how do you know so-and-so?’
This question can be heard at parties, especially birthday/house parties with the host’s name replacing ‘so-and-so’. The guest who asks this question is usually one who feels that they have known the host that much longer than you and by extension have more right to be there than you have. In the same way one will observe a dog lifting up its leg at every other lamppost as it goes about its daily walk on a familiar route; the guest who asks this question can be seen moving from person to person marking out those faces he or she does not recognise. If this guest stops at you and this is the first question they ask; you are the lamppost.
2. Use of terms of endearments by total strangers
I miss the days when Routemasters filled the streets of London and bus -conductors would struggle to keep their balance as they churned out tickets from what looked like a rather old cash register dangling from their necks. What I don’t miss is how every conductor would conclude their sentence with the words such as ‘love’, ‘sweetheart’ or ‘darling’. I could never understand what it was about asking for a single to Covent Garden that would inspire such affection from someone I did not know. This behaviour is not just limited to bus conductors. I had a Design and Technology teacher who would say things like ‘Alright sweet-pea?’ or ‘How are you doing my sweet and sour?’
As if this is not enough, the use of these phrases is not standardised. So for instance in Yorkshire one can be called ‘love’ by a stranger, in the West Country do not be surprised if someone refers to you as ‘my lover’. Here in Nigeria it is ‘baby’ or ‘babygirl’
What I dislike most about this sort of talk is that it is contagious. I have noticed that I now refer to anyone and everyone as ‘my dear’. Why I do it, I do not know. What I do know is that 99% of the people I use it on are not dear to me. It disturbs me greatly to know that I am part of the problem.
3. Archaic words/Big grammar* used in everyday conversation
I know exactly when my hatred for this behaviour began. It was when a security guard at work said to me;
‘Kui, are you ok? You look ee-MASH-EE-ated’
After he wrote it down for me I discovered the word was emaciated, which according to Mshairi is pronounced ee-may-see-ated. Whatever! The guard meant to that I had lost weight yet what he said to me was that I looked “thin or haggard, especially from hunger or disease.” Was there ever a greater conversation killer?
Since I have been in Nigeria I have heard people speak of ‘paucity of funds’ when what they mean is that they are broke, or ‘my peculiarities’ when everyone knows that is a nice way of saying ‘ I have issues’
While these sorts of words may have a place in written texts or even speeches delivered to a particular audience, in everyday conversation I find it breaks the flow. I end up focusing on the word itself and not what the person is saying. Lord help both of us if t is a word I have never heard of before because whatever story was being told shall have to be interrupted while I ask endless questions about the words meaning and origin.
*Baba Willy’s Pidgin dictionary defines big grammar as ‘long and difficult English words’
Thanks to the Dr for his input on regional variations of the use of the word ‘love’.
Thanks to JKE too for helping me organise my thoughts.