“Barb­ing Salon,”“On a Plat­ter of Gold” Not Stan­dard English: Q and A on Nige­rian English Us­age

Sunday Trust - - NEWS - [Twit­ter: fa­rooqkper­ogi@gmail.com @fa­rooqkper­ogi <https://twit­ter.com/fa­rooqkper­ogi> and why? Is it “barb­ing sa­loon” or “barb­ing salon”? Which one is cor­rect with I know there are many peo­ple in Nige­ria who like gold, but could this be the rea­son why mos

Ques­tion: An­swer: Nei­ther of the two is cor­rect. The con­ven­tional ex­pres­sion among na­tive English speak­ers is “bar­ber­shop,” or “bar­ber shop,” or sim­ply “bar­ber’s,” as in, “I went to the bar­ber’s to get a hair­cut.” “Barb­ing salon” or “barb­ing sa­loon” are pe­cu­liarly Nige­rian English ex­pres­sions that no one out­side Nige­ria un­der­stands. Well, Ghana­ians also use the ex­pres­sion, so it’s prob­a­bly ac­cu­rate to call it a West African English ex­pres­sion.

Some years back, a re­cently ar­rived Nige­rian im­mi­grant in Amer­ica by the name of Deji asked on a web­site where he could get a “good barb­ing salon.” “Does any­one know where i can get a good barb­ing salon?” he wrote. “I am a black guy and would like the best place around.” The re­sponses were hi­lar­i­ous. “What the hell is a barb­ing salon?” some­one asked. To which the Nige­rian re­sponded: “Well, you know what a Salon is if you haven’t had [sic] about barb­ing right? It’s Sim­ple!!” Well, it’s not that sim­ple, as an­other poster pointed out: “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

Yes, “barb­ing salon” doesn’t mean a place where you get a hair­cut. In fact, as I will show shortly, it re­ally doesn’t mean any­thing in Stan­dard English. So when you are out­side Nige­ria don’t ever tell any­one you are look­ing for a “barb­ing salon” or, worse, “barb­ing sa­loon.” You won’t be un­der­stood, and here is why.

In Stan­dard English, the verb “barb­ing” is never used in re­la­tion to the act of cut­ting the hair. “Barb­ing” means to pro­vide with barbed wires, as the gates and fences of many homes in Nige­rian urban ar­eas usu­ally are. In other words, “barb” doesn’t mean to have a hair­cut; it means to fit with barbed wires, as in, “I barbed my house to pre­vent thieves from climb­ing over my fence.”

The verb used for cut­ting hair is “bar­ber,” as in, “he bar­bers for a liv­ing.”

You are prob­a­bly more con­cerned about the dif­fer­ence be­tween a “sa­loon” and a “salon.” Well, a sa­loon is a place where al­co­holic drinks are sold and served, what Nige­ri­ans call a “beer par­lour.” Sa­loon is also the name of a kind of car. As you can see, com­bin­ing “barb­ing” and “sa­loon” in the same sen­tence is one of the most mean­ing­less ex­pres­sions any­one can ever make in the English lan­guage.

A salon, on the other hand, is a place where women make their hair, do their nails, wax their bod­ies, etc. It’s also called a beauty shop, a beauty salon, or a beauty par­lor. Of course, “salon” has other mean­ings, such as a place where works of art are dis­played, a large sit­ting room for guests, etc., but it is most com­monly used to re­fer to a place where hair­dressers and beau­ti­cians work.

If you say “barb­ing salon” in any coun­try where English is a na­tive lan­guage, you might be un­der­stood to mean “a barbed salon,” that is, a salon that is fit­ted with barbed wires. That would be hard to even con­ceive of be­cause sa­lons are some of the safest places in the West; they don’t need barbed wires to pro­tect them from crim­i­nals. So “barb­ing salon” is also a mean­ing­less ex­pres­sion in Stan­dard English.

Note that although sa­lons cater mostly to women’s beauty needs, some of them also dou­ble as places where men can have a hair­cut. That doesn’t mean, of course, that you can call such places a “bar­ber salon.” That would sound ridicu­lous.

In sum, it’s OK to say “barb­ing salon” in Nige­ria be­cause that’s what ev­ery­body else says, but be care­ful not to say that out­side Nige­ria if you want to be un­der­stood. Say “bar­ber shop” in­stead.

Ques­tion: An­swer: The usual id­iom in Stan­dard English is “on a plat­ter” and some­times “on a sil­ver plat­ter.” It is per­haps the lat­ter ren­der­ing of the id­iom that in­spired Nige­rian English speak­ers to re­place “sil­ver” with “gold” since gold is more valu­able than sil­ver.

The Nige­rian English id­iom “on a plat­ter of gold” was most cer­tainly pop­u­lar­ized by a pop­u­lar ques­tion in high school gov­ern­ment and his­tory exam that read some­thing like: “Nige­ria got its in­de­pen­dence on a plat­ter of gold. Dis­cuss.” I don’t know if the ques­tion still ap­pears in se­condary school ex­ams. It most def­i­nitely is the source of the Nige­rian English ren­der­ing of the id­iom as “on a plat­ter of gold.”

To give or hand some­thing to some­body “on a plat­ter”- or “on a sil­ver plat­ter”- is to give it to him or her al­most ef­fort­lessly. It is the same sense the Nige­rian English id­iom “on a plat­ter of gold” con­veys.

My sense is that na­tive English speak­ers would un­der­stand that you mean “on a sil­ver plat­ter” if The Nige­rian English id­iom “on a plat­ter of gold” was most cer­tainly pop­u­lar­ized by a pop­u­lar ques­tion in high school gov­ern­ment and his­tory exam that read some­thing like: “Nige­ria got its in­de­pen­dence on a plat­ter of gold. Dis­cuss.” you say “on a plat­ter of gold,” but it would im­me­di­ately be ap­par­ent that you have lim­ited pro­fi­ciency in the lan­guage. The lex­i­cal and gram­mat­i­cal prop­er­ties of id­ioms are usu­ally fixed and can’t be changed ar­bi­trar­ily. Re­plac­ing “sil­ver” with “gold” and chang­ing the struc­ture of the id­iom may be a good ex­am­ple of lin­guis­tic do­mes­ti­ca­tion, but it does mark you out as a non-na­tive speaker.

Ques­tion: An­swer: There is noth­ing wrong with the state­ment as far as I can tell. I think the per­son who told you the ap­pear­ance of “nat­u­rally” ren­ders the state­ment mean­ing­less has a lim­ited un­der­stand­ing of the range of mean­ings “nat­u­rally” en­cap­su­lates. “Nat­u­rally” can mean “of course” or “as might be ex­pected,” and this mean­ing fits well with the in­tent of the quoted state­ment. “Nat­u­rally” doesn’t only mean “ac­cord­ing to na­ture.”

Nev­er­the­less, as a grad­u­ate of Bayero Uni­ver­sity Kano, I would re­cast that sen­tence to, “A BUK grad­u­ate is ahead of you nat­u­rally”! Se­ri­ously, though, it is a cre­ative, punny bumper-sticker slo­gan that both im­plies that the car whose sticker you’re read­ing is ahead of you of course (that is, “nat­u­rally,” or “goes with­out say­ing” be­cause you have to be be­hind the car to read the sticker) and that its owner is an ABU or BUK or UI, etc. grad­u­ate. “Ahead” here can be un­der­stood both lit­er­ally (that is, his car has sped past you) and fig­u­ra­tively, that is, the qual­ity of his or her ed­u­ca­tion is worth more than yours. It’s just cheeky, good­na­tured hu­mor.

Ques­tion: An­swer: In Amer­ica, a day­care is a place where work­ing par­ents take their chil­dren who are be­tween the ages of 1 and 3. At age 4, chil­dren at­tend what is called pre-kin­der­garten, usu­ally called “Pre-K.” At age 5, they at­tend kin­der­garten.

“Nurs­ery school” is a chiefly Bri­tish English term for what Amer­i­can English speak­ers rec­og­nize as pre-K and kin­der­garten. Note that the Bri­tish “nurs­ery school” and the Amer­i­can pre-K and kin­der­garten are col­lec­tively called “preschool” in both Bri­tish and Amer­i­can English. Chil­dren who go to preschool are called preschool­ers.

To your sec­ond ques­tion, yes, it’s true that in Amer­i­can English any­body who teaches at a uni­ver­sity is called a pro­fes­sor. “Pro­fes­sor” is used in the same generic sense that “lec­turer” is used in Bri­tish and Nige­rian English. For in­stance, where a Bri­tish or Nige­rian English speaker would say, “I have great lec­tur­ers in my uni­ver­sity,” an Amer­i­can English speaker would say, “I have great pro­fes­sors in my uni­ver­sity.” I have writ­ten sev­eral ar­ti­cles on this. Search the ar­chives on my blog.

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