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Opinions of Thursday, 10 March 2016

Columnist: Africanus Owusu-Ansah

Goofy spoonerism at the 59th Independence Parade

Shylock: “The curse never fell upon our nation till now; I never felt it till now”.

The Merchant of Vernice Act 3 ScI


Mistress Quickly: “Here will be an old abusing of God’s patience and the King’s English”.

The Merry Wives of Windsor

REVEREND WILLIAM SPOONER’s tongue could not keep up with his sharp brain and lofty thoughts. When he wanted to say ‘well- oiled bicycle’, he rather said ‘well –boiled icicle’ ; when he wanted to refer to Queen Victoria as the ‘dear old Queen’, he ended up calling her the ‘queer old dean’,. That is the origin of ‘spoonerism’, around 1920.

‘Spoonerism’ is defined as: the transposition of the initial sounds or other parts of two or more spoken words. (Examples of ‘spoonerism’ include: ‘tease my ears’ for ‘ease my tears’; ‘shake a tower’; for ‘take a shower’ and ‘fighting a liar’ for ‘lighting a fire’). The defects detected in the brochures issued at the 59th Independence Day parade in Accra could have been taken as peccadilloes (small faults, or trifling offences or flippant anecdotes) but for their international diffusiveness. For us here, it would have been the topic for discussion for a few sultry days only to evanesce into thin air.

In Kenya now, the newspapers are flogging the issue, calling on Ghanaians to come for Uhuru Kenyatta, if we wanted him to be the President of Ghana. After all, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah was co-President of Guinea after his overthrow in 1966. Ghana an English – speaking country is truly surrounded by French speaking or francophone ones. Ghana is Anglophone, but to say Ghana is an “Island of English speaking in the sea of francophone countries” amounts to over-stretching the synecdoche too far. It could at best be a paranomasia and at worst a hyperbole.

We have seen the expression; ‘Coat of Arms’ so often that a J. H. S. one boy can hardly make the mistake of calling it “Coat of Arm’, even if the ‘coat’ has only one distinctive heraldic bearing or shield. Of course, ‘youthfull’ could only have been the work of the ‘Printer’s devil’, the excess ‘l’ having been put there by an errant errand-boy, rendering the word ‘youthfull’ an erratum (NOT: errata, which is the plural of erratum). Ofaine, ‘Kinbu Senior High Technical School’ could not have been erroneously written as ‘Kimbu Senior High Technical School’ if the author had taken the trouble to check the spelling of ‘Kinbu’ or if the author understood a little Ga like me, Taflatse. We gloss over similar mistakes when we write ‘Cantonments’ as ‘Cantoments’, or ‘Christiansborg’ as ‘Christianborg’. The expression ‘as if by divine designed’ could have been rectified to read, “as if divinely-designed …” (the ellipsis – three dots) would have indicated that certain words had been deliberately left out.

But how come we were celebrating our ‘forward march’ and people could not ‘match’ this with the CPP charge: ‘Forward ever; backward never’. Now, it is as Vladimir Lenin puts it: ‘One step forward, two steps backward’. We seem to do a ‘backward acceleration’ as my very good friend (name withheld) would say. Somebody would ask, so, Ghana with a population of over twenty seven million citizens could not have scholars of English, Political Science, History, Sociology, Geography or Art to help put the brochure in shape? You see the reward in insisting that English is not important? And a beautiful lady who is herself a professor of English and who has authored some books – written in English- would tout Korea for using the Korean language (instead of English) to praise the achievements of Samsung, Hyundai. Try using local languages to write your story now, and see the patronage. Please, I am not for a minute condemning our local languages. They will evolve, but not now. I understand those who argue that English does not put food on the table of Ghanaians.

Another question would be ‘Why the rush to print the brochures, especially when the mistakes were detected?’ and yet another salvo: “Why did we not use the existing channel (Information Services Department) to prepare the brochures? Don’t you think instead of ‘low income level’ it could have been corrected to read: ‘low middle income level’? Not my correction, please.


And where are the proof-readers? People trained to vet a document for it to follow grammatical rules, syntax, diction and such other vital rules of writing. Go to any of the well-established press-houses, you will find them there: Daily Guide, Daily Graphic, Ghanaian Times, The Chronicles, et cetera. They could have done a better job with just a little charge. Some people would even have offered to do the proof-reading free of charge, that is, pro bono or gratis. Now, you can see the Minority in Parliament appear to smell a rat. Is it one of the ‘create, loot and share’ projects? The Supreme Court has helped us to expand our vocabulary—for providing us with ‘parboiled’ expressions, if one could be permitted to say so.

I have a problem: I edited a very expensive diary someone had got printed, with beautiful pictures and vital information on Ghana, being in the ‘centre of the world’-apologies to the Independence Day brochure.. The next time I saw the gentleman, he was a poor wretch: not a single diary had been sold … Let not the fate of that man haunt the authors, arrangers, composers or the sirs of these brochures, more so when the ‘harm has already been done’.

Be watchful: Some people would say: ‘Those who live in glass houses must not throw stones.’ Others might turn it to read; “Individuals who inhabit domiciles composed of frangible substances containing silicon compounds should be wary of casting hard, metallic mineral matter”. But let no one try to punish me for doing my heavenly-inspired duty. I am not Bishop Obinnim: I cannot change into a rat, a tiger, a snake or a tree; I can only remain human, and my wife can confirm this. What I am trying to do is to make use of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s charge: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country”. Of course, I would not dare challenge those who will bombastically render this saying as: “It is not deemed appropriate to make enquiry as to those initiatives to be actualized by this nation on behalf of individuals but, contrariwise, to ascertain the methodologies by which said individuals can maximize their optimum contribution to said nation.”

A caller to a Radio FM station could not understand why people should not focus their attention on the impressiveness of the 59th Independence Day Parade at the Black Star Square; well said, but what about the argument that the brochure could be the ‘icing on the cake’-some people keep these documents as souvenirs. And what about the rickety truck for carrying journalists on the parade grounds—with a rusty ladder for mounting the huge truck– ‘a comedy of errors’?

The Acting Director of the Information Services Department, Mr. Francis Kwarteng Arthur, is facing the wrath of workers under him for owning up the authorship of the brochure. Who is piling up the pressure or who is pulling the trigger? No one is accusing anyone. Stan Dogbe may after all be innocent of the charge leveled against him.

As far back as 300 years Before Christ (B.C) Zeno, the philosopher of Citium, a Grecian city had said: “Better to trip with the feet than with the tongue”. Various languages in Ghana have similar versions. They all mean: “It is better to take a bad step in walking than to say a wrong thing when talking”.

Of course, Zeno said this while he was drunk on wine, but in his sobriety, he remarked, “We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say”. It’s serious