image NIGERIAN EXPRESSIONS THAT SEEM ENGLISH BUT ARE NOT. THIS IS A COMPILATION OF WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS COMMONLY USED BY NIGERIANS. THESE WORDS SEEM TO BE ENGLISH IN NATURE, BUT THEY [by THEY, I mean the meaning attached to them] ACTUALLY ARE NOT TRACEABLE TO THE ENGLISH VOCABULARY. SOME ARE INCORRECTLY USED, SOME ARE GIVEN DIFFERENT CONNOTATIONS, SOME ARE ANGLICISED NIGERIAN TERMS AND OTHERS DO NOT HAVE ENLISH ORIGINS BUT SEEM TO DO. MANY OF THESE WORDS ARE SLANGS, BUT SOME ARE NOT BECAUSE THE ARE USED IN FORMAL SETTINGS. {PLEASE NOTE THAT ALL DEFINITIONS USED IN THIS ARTICLE ARE EXTRACTED FROM THE MERRIAM-WEBSTER DICTIONARY} Area: [noun] this is a usually metallic device for radiating or receiving radio waves. The appropriate substitute is antenna. Example: Please change the bearing of the area, it’s not picking up any signal. Big boy/Big girl: [noun] this is a pretty common Nigerian phrase that is used to refer to youths [teenagers and adolescents] that are gregarious, extroverted, proud and often well-to-do. These type of youths are usually singers, cyber-criminals and playboys. Example: Don’t mind Tunde’s attitude, he’s a big boy now. Cassava flakes: [noun] this is a tush way of referring to the common garri [i.e. processed cassava soaked in water] drank in all parts of the country. Chinko: [noun & adjective] this is used to refer to people who come from China, or products, especially mobile phones, that are ‘made in china’. In English, the proper usage is without ‘o’ i.e. ‘chink’. Example: I wouldn’t recommend that you buy a chinko. Chop: [verb] this simply means to eat. But it can also mean to enjoy or maximise an opportunity to the fullest. Example: Take me to a near-by restaurant, I want to chop before going to work. Coded: [adjective] if something is coded, then it is either surreptitious or complicated. It is best known and understood by the speaker. Example: My relationship with her is coded, and I don’t have to speak about it. Collabo: [noun] this is an abbreviated form of the word ‘collaboration’. It is mostly used in the entertainment industry to mean partnership between musicians in the production of a song. Example: The song is a product of the collabo between 9ice and Tu face. Collabo [verb]; is to enter into partnership with someone, especially a singer. 2. It may also mean to make love with someone. Corper: [noun] a corper is someone who is serving the country through the NYSC [National Youth Service Corp] scheme. Most corpers are transferred from their state of residence to neighbouring or distant places to render near-free services to their motherland and to get more experience as well as exposure by so doing. Since, they are often trained and monitored by the military, the word probably has its origin in the army rank: corporal which is above a private first class and below a sergeant and in the marine corps, above a lance corporal and below a sergeant. Example: The government is yet to pay the corpers in Oyo sate. Doe: [noun] simply means money or cash. Example: Gimme more doe, then we can discuss. Environmental: [noun] a non-Nigerian might be confused when he hears that this word is a noun, not an adjective. Well, Nigerians make use of this word as a short-form of ‘environmental sanitation’, a monthly exercise in which people clean-up their houses and its surroundings, gathering the dirt for government to dispose. Example: Please, when is the next environmental taking place? Express: [noun] this word is erroneously used in Nigeria to mean a highway i.e. a wide road that connects two major cities, and is less trafficked. Example: An accident is reported to have occurred on the express. Face-towel: [noun] this is a small absorbent clothe used mainly for drying the face. We have hand towels, beach towels, kitchen towels, sanitary towels, tea towels but no face towels. The equivalent expression used in English countries in possibly towelette. Example: I need to get face-towel, I’m sweating profusely. Flash: [verb] this is in fact one of the most popular words that fall into this category. It means dialling a phone number, allowing it to ring and then intentionally end the call. Rather than use this word, variants such as phone, telephone, call, ring up and dial are more suitable as they can also mean an attempt to reach someone by phone, not necessarily having a conversation with that person. Notwithstanding, flash is still the most perfect word to use, a very nice innovation that fits into the current state of the economy. Example: Don’t worry, when I get to your apartment, I will flash your number. Fleet: [verb] to spray liquid substance from a container, most especially insecticide, into a particular place. I was surprised when I found that the word ‘fleet’, in actualty, does not mean this. Example: Make sure you fleet your room with ‘ota fia-fia’ before going to sleep. Four-One-Nine/419: [noun] this is a felonious crime of obtaining title to another’s property by knowingly making false representations with the intention of defrauding the victim. It is known in legal parlance as false pretence. Most people use this word [419] without knowing the origin. Why is it 419 and not any other set of figures? This is because it is section 419 of the Criminal Code of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that states the meaning, criminality and sanction of this crime. Someone who commits this crime is liable to ‘imprisonment for three [3] years. Example: Due to unemployment, everybody is now engaging in 419. {note that this word may also refer to the person engaging in false pretence} Globe: [noun] this is word that actually means a spherical representation of the earth, a celestial body, or the heavens. However, in Nigeria it is used to connote a lamp that is partially globe in shape. The apposite words to use in replace are ‘bulb’ or ‘lightbulb’. Example: Please switch-off that globe, it’s consuming too much electricity. Go-slow: [noun] in the English vocabulary, this means a slowdown or retardation in business, spread of a disease etc. However, it is used in Nigeria exclusively to mean a traffic jam in which there is slow movement of vehicles. See hold-up. Example: I’m sorry for coming late, it is due to the go-slow along Lagos-Ibadan express way. Hammer: [verb] if someone hammers, then he has just hit it big i.e. he has suddenly, sometimes unexpectedly, gained a huge sum of money. This may be as a result of participation in a contest, lottery or fraud. Example: Everybody gets a free drink today, I just hammered big-time. Hold-up: [noun] this is a traffic situation in which vehicles are temporarily [but for a long period of time] at a halt. Hardly is there any form of movement, as against go-slow in which there is movement, but a minimal rate. Example: Please go on with the meeting, I am in a hold-up. Jack: [verb] to jack is to study persistently for hours, most especially in preparation for an oncoming examination. It’s a common usage in the university environment. I recently learnt that there are different ways to it, such as MTN [from Morning Till Night], TDB [Till Day Break] and so on. It means, in English, to fish in the night using a jacklight, to raise the level of something or to take to task. Example: Is it true Emeka fainted today as a result of excessive jacking? Jazz: [noun] popularly known as “juju” by the Yorubans, this an act of affecting another’s thinking or condition through the use of magical powers, or an object that symbolises this act. The English equivalents are charm and mojo. Example: While in the exam. hall, I forgot all I read. I must have been under the influence of jazz Kobalise: [verb] this word has its root in the Yoruba expression ‘koba’ which was anglicised through the addition of ‘lise’. It means to expose a bitter truth or dark secret about someone, or what that person has done and prefers to remain undisclosed. Example: Why did you kobalise the principal? Now the whole knows he’s having an affair with Mrs Johnson. Machinery: [noun] a person whose professional services are employed and paid for, often illegally, by a group or organisation, especially in order to win a contest against another group or organisation. The closest word to this, in meaning, in the English vocabulary is mercenary. Example: Their soccer team undoubtedly won because they hired skilful machineries. Mama-put: [noun] a local restaurant where foods are sold at relatively low prices. Example: I do not like patronising mama-puts, the hygiene of their foods cannot be guaranteed. Momcy/Momsy/Mumcy/Mumsy: [noun] this means mom. Synonyms include mother, ma, mama, mamma, momma, mammy, mommy and old lady. Example: Momcy is about to be delivered of a baby boy. On-point: [adjective] when something is on point, it is perfect for a purpose or for an occasion, and it needs no modification. Synonyms include spot-on, precise, exact, on-target, dead-on etc. Example: Oh my God, that dressing is just on-point. 2. It may also serve the purpose of emphasis for a particular activity or event you are engaging in or you are planning to engage in. Example: Wedding [things] on-point. Palm: [noun] this is a type of foot-wear, made of rubber, leather or any thick material, which, unlike shoes and sandals, does not cover or support the heels/back side of the foot. Example: A lot of my foot-wears are palms because they are very easy to put on. Pant: [noun] this, in correct usage, means an outer garment covering each leg separately and usually extending from the waist to the ankle [usually used in plural just like ‘trousers’]. But in Nigeria, if you tell someone to take off his pants for an X-ray test, he will definitely be amazed and quizzical. This is because he considers the word to mean knickers or underpants. Example: My most of my pants are size 42. Player: [noun] a player is someone who flirts a lot, has many of girlfriends and is very promiscuous. It has a similar but not exact meaning of ‘playboy’. Example: Didn’t you know Femi is player before you went ahead to date him? Popcy/Popsy/Pop-man: [noun] simply means Dad. Synonyms include father, old man, pop, poppa, pa, papa and daddy. Also see Momsy. Example: I’ll see popsy today concerning my school fees. Runs: [noun] this means the process in which something is done or sought, perhaps examination, admission, youth service etc. Example: How is school runs? Runs [verb]; using an unlawful or inappropriate method to achieve success in a particular thing. The funny thing about this word is what you arrive at when you attempt to figure out the present continuous and future tenses. Do we say ‘runses’ or ‘runsed’? Example: Did Tunde runs his UTME? Shack: [verb] in the English vocabulary, it is a noun that means a hut, room or any similar enclosure. But in Nigeria, it is a variant of the word ‘drink’, only that it is mostly used for alcoholic substances. Example: I hope you have something I can shack in here? Slippers: [noun] or bathroom slippers: this is also a common usage in Nigeria. It is used in reference to foot-wears that are light, open and made of rubber. They are indoor wears that are mostly used in the bathroom while having a bath. The word does exist in the English vocabulary but it depicts a different type of foot-wear which is not open, not made of rubber and perhaps used while sleeping. It is worthy of note that the which this word often erroneously refers to is, in actualty, what is called a pair of ‘flip-flops’.  Example: Please get me a pair of slippers, I need to use the bathroom. Tape-rule: [noun] this is a wrong variant of the words tape and tape-measure. It is a narrow strip of limp cloth or steel tape marked off in units, such as units or centimetres, for measuring. Example: I cannot cut your cloth if I don’t have a tape-rule. Things/Thingy: [noun] used to give emphasis to a particular activity Example: Exam. things. Toast: [verb] does this not mean to make something turn brown by heating it? NO! At least, not in the Nigerian colloquial usage. Rather it means the act of flirting [i.e. behaving amorously without serious intent] with another, especially one belonging to the opposite sex. A toaster refers to one who is fond of toasting, or who is flirtatious in nature. Example: I am tired of toasting here and there, it is high time I settled down. Tush:[noun & adjective] In England, this word means a long pointed tooth and is a slang for buttocks, but here in Nigeria it means something else, an expression or somebody that is classy. Example: I love Whiz kid, the guy is just tush. Tush up [verb]; to fancy up an object or to become classier than before. Example: Please Dad, try and tush up a little. You can’t come to my convocation looking like that. Yuppy: [noun] this is used to refer to a type of motorcycle, better known to Britons as Moped. I hardly see it again. If you want to know what it looks like, buy an Indian movie. Example: Where did you get this yuppy? I didn’t know they still use these. MORE COMING SOON !


  1. I drop a comment each time I especially enjoy a post on a
    site or I have something to add to the discussion.

    It’s triggered by the fire communicated in the post I read. And after this post A COMPILATION OF ENGLISH COLLOQUIALISMS IN NIGERIA | A PRODIGY’s RATIOCINATIONS.
    I was excited enough to write a comment 🙂 I do have 2 questions for you if it’s allright. Could it be simply me or does it seem like a few of these responses appear like written by brain dead individuals? 😛 And, if you are writing at other places, I would like to keep up with you. Could you make a list the complete urls of your shared pages like your Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?

  2. Don’t misunderstand me, I love this write up but I do find some errors or rather misunderstandings of some words and phrases. For example the first word “area” is actually people saying “aerial” which is another word for antenna. “Doe” is actually “dough” which is a common word for money not only in Nigeria. “Express” is just short for “expressway” which is a perfectly acceptable term, nothing erroneous about it. “Kobalise” doesn’t exclusively mean to expose a secret, it just means putting someone in trouble, anyway you do it is fine. “Pant” IS used correctly. Just not in the American way. In British english it does mean undergarments.
    It seems to me like you were quick to call things incorrect or erroneous too quickly. How about alternative or simply another. They don’t make it sound like we are wrong when we are just being… Nigerian.

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