Although social meaning is what a newspaper usually claims to be in the marketplace to sell, tautology by East Africa’s newspaper reporters and other information purveyors through English is among the many practices which continue to play havoc with mediated meaning, that is to say, with meaning through the media.
In that way, we are horribly – not to say criminally – short-changing all the buyers of our such goods. Consider, for instance, the following statement in the Sunday Nation of December 10: “This counsellor discovered that the reason I was relapsing was because I had something else that was not being treated”.
Whether it was he or whether it was merely the disease that was “relapsing” is a question not addressed properly in that statement, although we must ignore it for the nonce.
Let me reiterate, instead, that clarity of meaning is topmost among the requirements of both a writer and a sub-editor, especially in a public medium, such as a periodical.
Yet, apparently, the relevant newspaper’s supervisory desk was so proud of that statement that it ordered the headline to be printed in bold caps as a breaker on page 7 of its “Lifestyle” pullout.
As usual, the everyday word because was among the problems. For, here, that word made the statement disgustingly tautological (this being an adjective whose import we have discussed in this column a million and a half times).
None the least, if you insist on the question, my purpose becomes embarrassingly obvious. For, in that context, cause and reason are exactly the same thing. The cause of anything is the reason that the thing exists. The cause is why it exists. If – as in the now universal Judaeo-Christo-Muslim super-religion – God is the creator, then God is the ultimate cause.
In that very same case, your own human father and mother are nothing but prostrate instruments of the deity in his teleological and miraculous ability to bring things, including embryos, into living existence.
All the priests of our world have a name for it. As a black American songstress lilts it out enchantingly, “It will take a miracle…”
To reiterate, the cause of a thing or of an idea is why the thing or the idea is or exists. Few users of English – including even natives of England, North America and Down Under – ever pay any attention to the obvious fact that, usually, the reason for anything is the same thing as its cause.
That is true whether materiality be the component of the thing or whether – as in religion – the causal factor be non-material and merely ideal and-teleological.
The nitty gritty of it is that the word because is composed of the verb to be and the noun cause. That is why the word because implies “caused by”, “created by”, “enabled by”, “occasioned by”, and so on – the expression “created by” including even in the context of the Judaeo-Christo-Muslim super-religion’s theological teaching concerning the origin of ourselves and of our universe.
Philip Ochieng is a retired journalist. email: [email protected]