The riches of language
The eavesdropped conversation went like this:
Diplomat: ”What are you going to do to fix that corruption problem I read about in the morning paper?”
Politician: ”We’ll fix the reporter.”
ZBC’s morning recipe was read by a new voice and he was talking about the mixing of flour into a stiff doff. It was necessary to knead the doff through and through. He didn’t say thruff and thruff, but listeners did hear him cough. It sounded like a coff anyway.
Another newsreader declared that a vicious axe murderer had been hung at Harare Central Prison that morning, prompting one listener, sounding like a teacher I had once, to write in angrily: ‘Meat and pictures are hung, my dear. People are hanged.’
More famously, we had the state broadcaster announce the arrival, for a Commonwealth summit, of Queen Elizabeth the Eleventh. We had talks at the United Nations on the Middle East crisis going on ‘behind closed bars’ in New York and Margaret Thatcher’s ‘Consecutive Party winning its third conservative term in office.’
(Before that, up in Zambia, Arthur Bottomley was visiting as the Commonwealth secretary. On arrival he said it was a pleasure to be in Gambia. The ZNBC cleverly got its own back on that night’s news by saying: ‘Today we welcomed the British Bottomwealth secretary Arthur Commonley.’
Back home in Zimbabwe, in classical music programmes we had Mozart’s Waltz in a flat.
No room to swing a cat let alone dance a waltz. And did the first movement of Sibelius’s 2nd Symphony in a major have anything to do with the bowel movements of an army officer?
In pop music, we had the deejay telling us all to rush out and buy Freddie Jackson’s new album because ‘it leaves a lot to be desired.’
The newspapers had ‘Bank Chief Thumps His Nose at New Investment Rules’ and ‘Women Allowed in Church’ on the ordination of Anglican women for the first time. As bar room wags put it, it would be nice for choirboys to be molested by a woman for a change. An upcoming political meeting was going to be ‘a damp squid.’ Squid from the sea are generally damp.
Later, ZBC was carrying a statement by African National Congress secretary general Alfred Nzo condemning the visit to apartheid South Africa of Germany’s Franz Josef Strauss. The bulletin said the ANC condemned the visit of Johan Strauss in the strongest terms. Someone phoned in to tell them that the composer of the Vienna waltzes started decomposing quite a few decades ago.
Proverbs and sayings didn’t escape either. You now had ‘more on your shoulders than you could chew’ and ‘the ball is in your frying pan now.’
We were also warned to beware those very cheap dijito watches because the date was not programmed for leap years. We doubted the cheap digital watches would last four years anyway.
It’s often just a matter of diction.The head of the chamber of commerce in Bulawayo Joseph Malunga noted that people were having trouble pronouncing the name of the second city. It is not Bull-away-oh or Bul-aweigh-o but Bull-a-why-o or sometimes Bwool-a-why-oh. Slurring it a bit helps to get it right. ”Just be lazy when you say Bulawayo and you will have pronounced it properly,” Malunga said.
Then the Norwegian ambassador was holding a dinner party for prominent Zimbabweans and the editor of the little known Motor Trader magazine got a nicely embossed invitation from the embassy. The editor got around to wondering why he had been invited; the other guests were mainly people of influence and of a political bent and there was no mention at all over dinner of silencers, camshafts or fuel injection. But the food was superb and the wines excellent. Everyone was very polite, even after it became clear that the ambassador had meant to invite the editor of Moto, or Fire, the Gweru-based magazine funded by the Catholic Church whose stock-in-trade was political controversy and social issues.
Milton Park suburb, a route used by university students heading towards the western reaches of town, recently had some interesting graffiti on its walls after police stopped student demonstrations on the campus. One graffiti artist spelt the word ‘fucke.’ Maybe he ran out of paint before finishing the past tense. Nearby, in foot-high letters, he had put the word ‘shirt.’ I can only assume the writer had got something against shirts or he was trying to swear at the police with the term for what the dogs of Milton Park leave on the verges for us to tread in.
But even the justice system isn’t immune. We had a witness being described as being ‘as deaf as a post office,’ we had a lawyer admonished for ‘creating a storm around his tea cup,’ and we had the drunk who ‘drank like a fish and chips.’