10 Correct English Words Misused By Nigerians


Nigerians have this obscure gift of coming up with words, phrases and tenses that will suit their communication. Be it in pidgin, slang words or their native tongue, Nigerians are never in short supply of “coined” words that justify its usage per time. This article brings to the fore, 10 correct English words which Nigerians have taken the liberty to misuse.

Electioneering campaign: It is common place to hear statements like this in Nigeria, especially from the media. What is wrong with this phrase? It is outright tautology! “Electioneering” and “Political campaign” mean the same thing. It is either “electioneering” or “campaign.”The two shouldn’t be used together.

Alumni: In its nonstandard use in Nigeria, “alumni” is an all-purpose term for a person who has graduated from a school (secondary, university, institute, etc). But in its true sense, “alumni” is the plural form of alumnus (for males) and alumna (for females). These days, in order to avoid the confusion, people just say or write “alum.”

Gist: We use this word in Nigeria to mean chit-chat or gossip (example: I have a gist for you). We even add the suffix “ed” to make it a verb (example: she gisted me about her new boyfriend.) This is absolutely senseless in Standard English. The word “gist” is a correct English noun which means “the theme of a speech or literary work or most vital part of some idea or experience” (example: the gist of Christianity is Jesus Christ). Other words for gist could be nitty-gritty, substance, core, nucleus etc.

Go-slow: The word go-slow exists, but not in the way Nigerians use it. A “go-slow,” in the Nigerian context, refers to a situation in which road traffic is very sluggish due to vehicle queues. However, go-slow in the English language actually means an industrial tactic used by employees whereby they intentionally reduce activity, productivity and efficiency in order to press home some demands. The preferred words to use when describing sluggish road traffic are “traffic jam,” “traffic congestion,” “gridlock,” and “hold-up.”

Read more: 15 Wrong Words and Phrases That Nigerians Use

Mediocre: People are always being referred to as “mediocres” in Nigeria. But in Standard English, the word “mediocre” means “moderate to inferior in quality” if applied to things, or “lacking exceptional quality or ability” if applied to human beings. It is an adjective and not a noun and so it cannot be used in place of a person, place or thing. You can only say “She is a mediocre nurse,” but not “the nurse is a mediocre.”

Opportune: When we use the word “opportune” in Nigeria, we do so in relation to the word “opportunity.” We add the suffix “ed” to give it a feel of something from the past. You often hear people say, “I was opportuned to be in London last week” and so on. The truth is that, there is nothing like “opportuned” anywhere in the Standard English. The correct word is “opportune.” It is an adjective; therefore it has no past tense. However, some verbs (participles) can function as adjectives or adverbs in a sentence. For instance, the verbs, fattened, overwhelmed, amused, upset and mystified are all participles. The word “opportune” means appropriate or well-timed.  (Example: “the opportune arrival of the ambulance saved his life”) The error arises perhaps, from thinking that “opportune” is a derivative of “opportunity.” It is not.

Upturn: Nigerians use this word to mean “reverse” or “overturn.” The word “upturn” is a correct English word which means an upward movement or improvement in business activity, etc when used as a noun (example: Since he became chairman, there has been an upturn in the accounts). When the word is rendered as “upturned” (that is, used as an adjective), it is traditionally used as a synonym for “turned upside down.”

Well done: Our use of the phrase “well done” as a form of salutation for someone who is working is peculiarly Nigerian. In Standard English, “well done” is an adjective which means, “carried out satisfactorily or thoroughly cooked”,especially, meat. Example: The work was well done, Allow the food to be well done.

You are (highly) welcome: Nigerians use this phrase as a grand way of saying “welcome.” But in Standard English, the phrase “you are welcome” is only supposed to be said as a polite response to “thank you.” It will confuse an American or Briton if you say “you are welcome” to them when they didn’t say “thank you” to you. You can only use the single word, “welcome” to show a warm reception of visitor on his arrival to a place and not the phrase, “you are welcome.”

Smoothen: Does the word “smoothen” exist? Well, only in informal, nonstandard American English. In Standard English, “smooth” is both an adjective and a verb.” For instance, where we would say, “the ministerial nominee bribed the senators to smoothen the way toward his confirmation,” educated American and British speakers would replace “smoothen” with “smooth.”