15 Nonexistent Words and Phrases Commonly Used by Nigerians

New English, Modern English, International English, South African English, Australian English, Indian English are some of the designations used to describe the new varieties of English burgeoning all over the world.

These new “Englishes” are the result of the global spread of English that began with British colonialism during the nineteenth century.

However, two kinds of English language are recognized in the world today – The British English and the American English. Nigeria, being colonized by Britain is supposed to speak the British English by default. But today we have found ‘our own way’ of communicating among ourselves with almost total disregard for the rules of the language.

Some even boast about it, calling it the “Nigerian English.”  Below is a list of some wrong words and phrases commonly used by Nigerians which were imported into the English language and are not (and will never be) recognized internationally. This distinction is important for mutual intelligibility in international communication in English.

1. Complimentary Card: This is what we call a “business card.” This phrase is very senseless because the word “complimentary” simply means “free,” (example: “the artiste gave me a complimentary copy of his new CD”). So a “complimentary card” will simply mean a “free card” and therefore has nothing that denotes business or work. Rather than say “complimentary card,” make use of the term “business card” or “contact card.”

2. Upliftment: This is a word so common among the Nigerian populace.  We use it to mean “improvement.” We invented it as a forward-formation from “uplift.” But in Standard English, “uplift” is both a verb and a noun. For instance, we say, “my foundation will ensure the moral upliftment of the society,” but it should actually be, “my foundation will ensure the moral uplift of the society.”

3. Working Experience (as used in CVs): This is another phrase from which I don’t know where it was imported from. So many Nigerian graduates prepare their CVs with the phrase “Working experience” when it should actually read, “Work experience.” Maybe ‘the experience’ in question is actually a human that is working, pooh!

4. Disvirgin: This word is used on a daily basis across all sectors of Nigerian society when they intend to say that a woman has lost her virginity or that they are using something for the first time. The correct word to use, however, is deflower, because “disvirgin” is not even a word.

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5. Cross-carpeting: Ask a Nigerian politician or political analyst about a politician who has dumped his political party for another party, usually a rival party and the first word you are surely going to hear from his mouth is “cross-carpeting”. The right words to use when describing this scenario are “crossing the floor,” “party switching,” and “defection” and not “cross-carpeting.” Sadly, our learned political analysts are guilty of using this wrong term repeatedly.

see more non-existent words Nigerians have invented on the next page

6. Yesteryears: This old-fashioned word, which is sometimes used for literary effects, has no plural in Standard English. It remains “yesteryear” whether it is used in a singular or plural context.

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7. Plumpy: Nigerians really have a way with words. The word “plumpy” in used in Nigeria to describe someone who is plump or slightly fat. It was gotten from the combination of the words “plump” and “chubby.” The correct expression is “plump.”

8. Installmentally: This word is a favorite of many Nigerians especially, between traders and customers but, sadly, it simply does not exist in any standard dictionary. It is used to denote a bit-by-bit payment for items and commodities. The correct rendition of the word is “in installments” or “by installments.”

9. Cunny: This is a word which Nigerians use to describe someone that is being deceitful or crafty but it is not a word in Standard English. The correct term to use is “cunning” and not “cunny.”

10. Outrightly: In Standard English, this word is an adjective and not an adverb, and as such, it does not take the “-ly” form in the sense of “beautifully,” “utterly,” etc. And I think someone should tell Nigerians this.

11. On/Off the light: Still, on the confusion of parts of speech, we sometimes use expressions like “off the light,” “on the light,” etc as if “off” and “on” were verbs. How dare you say that? (I can almost hear someone say that) But “Put/switch off/on the light” is the preferred alternatives in Standard English.


12. Wash a negative: This phrase is common among photographers in Nigeria. “Develop a film” is the preferred way to say this. Films, (photographs and videos) are “developed” not “washed.”

13. Wake-keeping: “Wake-keeping” exists only in the imagination of a few English speakers. As a matter of fact, there is no such thing as “wake-keeping or “wake-keep.” The correct word is “wake.” Both “wake-keeping” and “wake-keep” are ungrammatical.

14. Barbing Salon: In Standard English, the term “barb” refers to the pointed part of a particular type of wire. It is also used metaphorically to refer to an aggressive remark directed at a person. The use of the phrase “barbing salon” to refer to the place where people go to have a haircut doesn’t make any sense especially outside the shores of this country. “Hair salon” is the preferred term for it. The word, “barb” does not mean “to cut the hair”, therefore, there is no such thing as, “I went to barb my hair.” You should rather say, “I went to have my hair cut”.

15. Wrong Words And Phrases Commonly Used By Nigerians Include:

Luxurious bus- Luxury bus

Of recent – Recently or Of late

Plate-number – Number-plate

Hot drink – Hard drink or Strong drink

Air-conditioner – Air-condition

Mannerless – Ill-mannered

Rentage – Rent

Vandalisation – Vandalism

Letter-Headed Paper – Letterhead

Insultive – Insulting

Over-speeding – Full speed or Speeding

Instead of halting between opinions of what use is right or wrong, refer to a good dictionary for clarity.


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