Here is one word that should stay away from pages

Friday November 10 2017

Daily Nation

Matatu operators read a copy of the Daily Nation in Nyeri Town on August 14, 2017. A page must seek to whet the reader’s mental appetite. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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To my mind, the wealth and power of English consist, among many other properties, in that practically each of a great many key English words has several meanings.

Because — in the words of an extraordinary Englishman called William Shakespeare — econo-political England has recently bestridden the narrow world like a colossus, England’s language has, in turn, borrowed very many such ideas and words from other languages and cultures the whole world over.

That is among the properties that make English the most powerful language that humankind has ever created in its short but remarkable history.


Through English and other such world languages, human beings have combined their other nature-given forces to increase their productive powers a million times in every situation.

Yet that, precisely, is why English poses so many insuperable problems for the societies which have recently adopted that Euro-Germanic language as their tool of communication in administration, in commerce, in industry and in intellectual training and upbringing.

For that reason, many such English words frequently contradict one another in meaning, often directly and sometimes even jarringly.

However, in countries like Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, where history has imposed that Anglo-Germanic tongue as the means of education, commerce, industry and governance — but where English is the mother tongue of practically none of our leaders — that Euro-Germanic language frequently causes Kenyans and other East Africans many more problems than it solves.

For that reason alone, it is desperately important for every East African — especially among the public officials — to strive hard to use every English word as accurately as possible (semantically speaking).

Take the very simple word “move”. Kenya’s English-language newspapermen and women habitually use that word as a noun to refer to any action, including verbal, especially where the action is taken by a high-powered politician, civil servant or private company official.

According to our newspapers, practically every utterance and action by every government official is a “move”.

A misuse of the word “move” as a substantive — namely, as a noun — took place in a headline in the Daily Nation of Thursday, November 9.

Broadly speaking, what had happened had, indeed, been a “move”.

The only problem is that a newspaper page is like a restaurant menu.

A page must seek to whet the reader’s mental appetite and to glue him or her to every one of the stories that every one of its pages contains.


That, however, is possible only if each of those pages has different and equally appetising intellectual food items, all advertised — as it were — by headlines that will equally arrest the attention of every potential consumer, namely, every potential reader.

Though, in many contexts, bans never actually serve any useful social purposes, it might be socially useful all round if somebody — like the editor-in-chief — took the courage to actually slap a ban on the verb “move” from headlines in all the pages of all our daily newspapers in Dar es Salaam, Kampala and Nairobi until the sub-editors have learned to use it properly.