By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
One of the basic objectives or functions of the journalism profession is not only to inform or entertain but to also “educate” people on issues from various spheres of life. And that this can only be achieved through the proper use of words and phrases for the proper understanding of the consuming listening or reading public. As it is said that communication is not just the collocation of words, but what one wants to communicate.
It is based on this that today I have decided to look into the issue, sometimes in the media about the arrival of “dead person” or “a dead person arriving.” This was what was done or reported by some, of us in the media last week when the body of Public Works Minister Mabutu Vlah Nyenpan was brought into the county. He died recently in Ghana, where he was taken after he reportedly fell prey to “pressure.”
Even though sometimes ago, I did a piece on similar issue, today, I’m reinforcing this that a dead body cannot arrive. I decided on this because the dead person being reported about, fallen Minister Nyenpan, now a former comrade, was one of the youthful intellectuals of this country, something he exhibited as a young man during his days in New Kru Town, when he used to live in an area commonly referred to as Lagoon Road. The borough has indeed lost one of its best brains and intellectuals.
The fact of the matter is that a dead person, as an inanimate cannot engage in any act to suggest arrival. To “arrive is to come to a certain point in the course of travel; reach one’s destination.” Furthermore, to arrive means, “To reach a destination; To make an appearance; To be near in time; To achieve success; To reach by effort or thought.”
Even if he had died, testate (with a will), as we say in law still his body would not arrive. Therefore, the most appropriate thing to say is either the “body was flown home” or “brought home,’ because such action is involuntary.
Similarly, it is like someone saying to another person that the dead body arrived at the funeral home. No! This is wrong because the dead body cannot arrive there; it can only be taken there by someone or people. And so in this situation, it would be wrong to say, the fallen Minister’s body arrived at the funeral home.
Just Friday evening while listening to a local radio newscast it was reported that President Weah and some officials of government ‘”welcomed’ the body of the fallen Minister at the Roberts International Airport. Actually, it should have been, “Received,” and not welcome, as dead body cannot be welcomed, but can be received, considering the sadness associated with the event.
Another issue the media, as the conduit of society must take note of is when people, including government officials sitting in certain positions, die while in those positions; the deceased cannot immediately be referred to as “former. In the case of the fallen Minister, I would be wrong to immediately refer to him as former Public Works Minister now. Obviously, this characterization would come about at certain time following the interment.
As communicators or journalists, one of the major tools to communicate or convey messages are the use of words. But what matters is to use the appropriate words to properly convey the message we want to base on the fasts available. In the case of newspapers, such occur in the headlines. If it is misleading, it would definitely mislead the readers, thus sending the wrong message.
Sometimes it is not just the grammatical correction of the sentence or headlines, but the message being conveyed. One of such examples I always told my students were in two forms. The first says “MAN FOUND WITH MISSING PARTS,” while the other reads: “MAN FOUND WITH PARTS MISSING”.
Unarguably, both headlines are correct, but they portray different messages. In the first headline, it refers to a situation of a man who was found dead with some missing parts, not necessarily from his body, while in the second headline, it refers to ritualistic killing, where some parts from the dead man’s body were extracted. So you see, it is not just the grammatical correction of the sentence or headlines, but the message being portrayed.
Likewise, at times we use some words interchangeably, failing to realize that they carry different meanings. Two of such words are “TENURE and TERM,” whenever it comes to leadership. A Term refers to a fixed or limited period for which something, e.g., office, imprisonment, or investment, lasts or is intended to last.
As for Tenure, as a Noun, it refers to the period of time a person holds a position or office. It comes from the Latin word, “tenere” meaning “to hold” and refers to the period of time a person works at a particular job or in an office.
To make it simple, “Term” is the time given to carry on certain activities. For example in the case of the Supreme Court that opens on certain time. As for tenure, it is a time given, mainly years to serve in a particular position or a job, which is sometimes referred to as “tenure job or position.” For example, in the case of the presidency of this country, the Constitution allots six years as the time to serve, which can only be for two terms-12 years.
In communicating, one must be mindful of the words he or she uses to communicate because if it is not properly done or the wrong word is used, proper communication had not taken place, something that has the propensity to lead to unnecessary confusion. A story is told of a husband, who in raining praises on his wife, said, “My dearest wife.”
As the story goes, his wife was infuriated by this because he spoke superlatively, indicating that he has two others, but that was not the case. The issue was that he used the wrong word, “dearest” instead of “dear.” Even though he apologized to her, renewing his love for her, she still could not accept it. Don’t ask me what happened next.
Similarly, a story is told of someone who was accused of committimng an act. Actually, he was not the one, but the word he used in his defense was wrong. He said, “It was not intentional.” As a result of the use of his word, because he wanted to display his command of terminologies and verbosity, he was adjudged guilty. By the time he realized that he had spoken the wrong word, it was late.
I recall that many years ago a relative told me that whenever I and someone were in a misunderstanding I should always avoid telling the person in the Kru vernacular, “NA-MUI-JEY” (You will see). The person’s advice was that someone upon hearing this, could harm the person and that because I was publicly heard making such threatening statement, I stand to be accused.
As it is said in the Liberian parlance, “sometimes what one says can put them in trouble,” Or that “what comes from your mouth or tongue can put you in trouble.” Hence, we must communicate properly.
Once again, as we communicate as media people or ordinary citizens, we MUST be mindful of our “CHOICE OF WORDS,” or else, we would be communicating wrongly or that it may land us into trouble.
Lest we forget that sometimes, we media people get into trouble or face serious lawsuit because of the way we communicate, especially the words we use to report certain stories, involving people’s reputation.
I Rest My Case
NB: Atty Wesseh Is Also A Part Time Instructor Of Mass Communications