Columnists Features

‘Butchering’ of words in adverts

Life: What a journeyCHARLES CHISALA
I DON’T know if you have also noticed this. At first I used to ignore this gross abuse or misuse of English Language, but nowadays I am not only irritated but also angry when I see such that.
In the same way I get piqued when people misuse my mother language, CiBemba, either through speech or the written word.
When I was working as a news reporter at the Times of Zambia in Ndola back in the ‘90s I was attached to veteran journalist and author Marta Paynter, who was working as copy editor then.
Every time I misspelt or misapplied an English word or phrase in a story the old lady would call me to sit next to her. She would correct it in my presence and explain to me why it was wrong and admonish me not to repeat the mistake.
Marta Paynter never glossed over an error or misapplication of a word or phrase no matter how small.
As my patient but firm mentor and coach she taught me one value, which I cherish to date. “Anything worth doing is worth doing right,” she always reminded me.
One day I wrote a news story after covering a fatal road traffic accident and submitted it to her for clearance before it was sent to the news editor in Lusaka.
Somewhere in the story I had written that the accident had happened ‘along’ the Kitwe-Ndola dual carriageway.
When she called me the tone of her voice was enough warning that I was in trouble.
“Mr Charles, sir! Will you please come and sit next to me,” she called politely.
Now when good old Marta sounded unusually polite and called you ‘Mr’ you knew there was trouble.
When I sat down she looked at me and asked me, “Are you sure the accident happened along the Kitwe-Ndola dual carriageway? Well, that is the most ridiculous thing I have ever read.
“Are you sure the accident continued happening until it reached the end of the dual carriageway, covering the whole road?” she asked.
Ms Paynter explained that by using the word ‘along’ I had implied that the accident had covered the whole road.
She said the correct thing to say was that the accident had happened at Kamfinsa on the dual carriageway.
“Road traffic accidents happen on roads and in streets, not along them. Don’t copy blindly what the police say or write. They are not journalists,” Ms Paynter lectured to me before releasing me.
On another occasion I wrote that someone had “passed away” after an illness.
“Mr Charles, are you a journalist or a poet?” she asked me sternly.
I timidly mumbled, “I am a journalist, madam.”
“Good. Then tell the readers that Mr X has died, for that is what he has done. He hasn’t passed away. And in news no one is ‘late’. Just call them their name,” Ms Paynter said.
I am just giving you an insight into why I am so particular about the correct use of language. You can regard me as a part of Marta Paynter’s legacy.
This is why I don’t, and won’t, ignore any misuse or abuse of language, no matter how trivial it may look.
The misspellings of words on signage begin not far from where I live in Lusaka.
There is an uncompleted church whose location is indicated on a small white sign post with the words “Sevant of God Ministries Church” crudely scribbled in blue paint.
The members and leaders of this congregation don’t seem to bother about the misspelling of the word ‘servant’ otherwise they would have corrected the embarrassing error.
Then somewhere not far from Makeni North SDA Church is a farm. At the of its security fence someone has been displaying a blue portable sign post on which he advertises his services in unstable handwriting in red paint.
“Lown Mowa, splaying of kokloches, dish instoleshon…,” the advertisement reads in part.
What the advertiser is saying is that he has a lawn mower for hire, provides pest control services and installs satellite dishes at a fee.
I now move to Mumbwa road in Lusaka West just opposite ‘The Well’ leisure resort where there is a small white building with these words written in black paint: “We sale cements”.
Any average learner of English should know that the word ‘sale’ is a noun and not a verb. The correct word should be ‘sell’ which is a verb.
And when did cement become a countable noun? Eish! How can someone count dust?
Cement is a collective noun which always takes a singular form despite the quantity of the material or substance.
You can have loads, pockets or heaps of cement. But surely you can’t tell the whole world that you sell cements, waters, sands, mealie-meals or rices.
Opposite the small building that ‘sales cements’ is a billboard advertising accommodation, conferencing, barber shop and a ‘saloon’ among other facilities and services.
Probably, the writers of that billboard or their clients do not know the difference between a saloon, which could mean a bar or a car, and a salon where hair dressing is done.
On the front wall of an unplastered house someone has written this advert: “We are expats in house wayling, plambering and penting.”
The advertisers were trying to say that they are experts in electrical wiring, plumbing and painting.
In a restaurant a menu is written in white chalk on a black board. “We offer delishas mills including villegi chicken, vinkubala, T-born, bush meet etc.,” the advert screams outside the restaurant.
The list is endless.
Maybe the quality of these adverts is a reflection of the levels of education of the writers and their clients.
If you cannot spell the goods and services you are offering correctly how will your prospective customers take you seriously?
You could use my editing services at a small fee. Take the offer or lose your customers.

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