Thursday October 17 2019

Brown envelope is a euphemism for a bribe. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Stop taping my newspaper

I don’t think the Daily Nation is doing me any favour by coming with some old ways of doing things by introducing a tape to prevent some lazy people reading without paying.

Now my paper got torn the other day while trying to remove it. Please inform those concerned to do away with this tape before I give them a red card by stopping buying your paper.

— Amos Okindo

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I refer to my earlier complaint (“Unreadable material”, in Readers Have Their Say — Oct. 4, 2019).


I have a solution so that the portion taped can be readable: let the tape be transparent.

— Benjamin Kibias, Nairobi.

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Brown envelope syndrome

The public editor was wrong on the issue of the brown envelope syndrome (“Politicians are mostly to blame for ‘brown envelope’ syndrome”, DN, Oct. 4, 2019). He exonerates journalists from demanding bribes and asserts that they are simply given without demanding. How wrong!

I have in the course of my work encountered journalists who demanded bribes. If you do not bribe them they expose you. They will kill your story or threaten that they will report you negatively.

Journalists are the most corrupt. They report about others being corrupt but, of course, not themselves.

— Symon Mburia, Kutus

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Benefits of studying logic

I’m responding to Peter Mwaura’s concerns about errors (“Admitting your mistakes shows that you are honest ad truthful” (DN, Oct. 11, 2019).

Quality is a joint responsibility of the author and the editor. Errors by contributors could overload the editor and thus increase the likelihood of errors in the edited version.

The most common errors relate to fact (which I call ‘editorial’, though the word’s common usage refers to stupid or meaningless rather than factually incorrect), reasoning, and grammar.

Regardless of one’s profession or vocation, your regular contributors could benefit from a casual acquaintance with literature on logic, use and abuse of the English language, and semantics (language and meaning).

A long time ago, I had the good fortune of reading Introduction to Logic by Irving M. Copi, Carl Cohen and Kenneth McMahon, Modern English Usage by H.W. Fowler, The Complete Plain Words by Ernest Gowers, Semantics: A New Outline by F.R. Palmer, and a few chapters from Papers in Linguistics 1934-1951 and A Synopsis of Linguistic Theory 1930-1955, both by J. R. Firth.

Introduction to Logic has tips on avoiding loaded questions and fallacies and minimising tautology (saying the same thing twice in different words).


An example of a loaded question with a presumption of guilt is, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” — where a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer is an admission of having a wife and having beaten her at some time in the past.

Repetitions and tautologies include ‘6am. Sunday morning’, ‘maternity hospital for pregnant women’, ‘mixed school for boys and girls’ and ‘she is pregnant with a child’.

The Complete Plain Words gives examples of troubles encountered with pronouns, especially if there is more than one antecedent (noun). For instance, in “If the baby does not thrive on raw milk, boil it”, it is not clear whether ‘it’ refers to the baby or the milk.

It is also useful to minimise collocations (a sequence of words that co-occur more often than would be expected by chance).

J.R. Firth noted that “You shall know a word by the company it keeps”, while F.R. Palmer devotes considerable space to collocations.

Collocations include ‘utterly stupid’, ‘richly decorated’, ‘fully aware’, ‘maiden voyage’, ‘excruciating pain’, ‘burst into tears’, ‘sustainable development,’ and ‘take a risk’. Incidentally, ‘good fortune’ is a collocation.

The above-mentioned literature assisted me to know that ‘judgmental’ has little to do with a judge’s state of mind.

— John T. Mukui, Nairobi

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