As I have pointed out here before, the verb “renumerate” is arithmetical. It means “to number again” or – following, say, an election recount - “to announce a new number” of those who voted for, for instance, Uhuru Kenyatta or Raila Odinga in the last presidential kidumbwedumbwe.
In Latin, to which through French English owes many of its words, the verbal prefix re- indicates a repeated action and the substantive numerus refers to a large arithmetical count. However, in the contexts in which I continue to find the offensive verb in Kenya’s English-language news organs, that is not what appears to be in the minds of most of our English speakers and writers who use that word.
What most of our reporters and commentators seem bent on is to use the verb to renumerate as if it meant to pay wages and salaries. In other words, they seem permanently unable to distinguish between two very simple but very different ideas, namely, the verb to renumerate and the verb to remunerate.
Let us stress it. To renumerate is to number again, that is, to count again or to give a new number to. This should be obvious from the Latin prefix re at the beginning of that word. The element “re” indicates a verbal repetition, and the Latin stem numerus represents the plurality, the “manyness”, of the items.
To remunerate also has something to do with such numbers and figures. For its part, however, to remunerate is to pay for the services that one has rendered in a unit of time, usually, but not only, in industrial circumstances.
Yet, as we know both from our labour movement’s indefatigable Mr Francis Atwoli and from whoever is for the time being in charge of industrial relations in the Cabinet, the twain will never be in one accord concerning the figure that labour ought to bag.
Whereas Mr Atwoli wants it to rise overnight to the pinnacle of Mr Kilimanjaro, the Labour minister wants it to sink permanently to depths of Hell’s Gate in Kenya’s Rift Valley. And, as the reactive English poet of Indian infamy points out, “never the twain shall meet”.
Please do pay attention also to the difference in spelling. The word to renumerate comes from the Latin numerus, meaning “many”. It is, in other words, an arithmetical idea, a figure, a number. It is thus quite reasonable that the nu element of that word comes before the me element.
However, in to remunerate, which means to reward a person – in what we call wages or salaries – according to his or her length, quality and intensity of labour, the two consonants “m” and “n” have swapped places and, therefore, drastically changed the meaning of the resulting word.
For its part, to renumerate is to count something, to give it a definite number, whereas to remunerate – in which the nume aspect in the middle of the first word has become mune – is to reward someone for his or her manual or mental services.