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No holds barred!

SAMPLE 1: “He said that the interaction was one of the ways of seeking a path out of the wood, urging the participants to engage in a hold no bar session in other to achieve this.”(Military and Media: Forging a New Path, the Sunday Sun, June 2, 2013)

I urge readers to pay attention to the phrase, “urging the participants to engage in a hold no bar session.” We are particularly interested in the supposedly idiomatic expression, “a hold no bar session.” There are too many deficiencies in the “idiom” for it to retain any useful identity of its authentic self. Distorted as it is, however, it has managed to hold forth an appearance of an idiom that truly educated users are familiar with.

We have stressed repeatedly in this place that idiomatic expressions have near-sacred syntactic and lexical composition, brooking no variation of any kind except in situations or contexts of creative adaptions in the hands of linguistic outlaws that creative writers sometimes present themselves as. Idioms are to be treated as single lexical items whose identity and import transcend those of the individual words that together constitute them. Users of the language should learn to respect the integrity of idioms.

Now back to the idiom under examination:Among many of its defiencies, the idiom fails to present the word hold in its proper form. Unlike in this fake version in which the word hold is offered in its singular form, in the authentic idiom, the word is always in its plural form—holds. Secondly, the word bar is a false representation of the authentic form. In the context of the original idiom, the word is usually in its participle form—barred. Thirdly, the word no does not come after the word holds in the original idiom. It comes before it. And fourthly…? We shall come back to the fourth deficiency later.

Here is the idiom in its true identity: “no holds barred.” When you say there are no holds barred in an activity, competition, discussion, interview or meeting, you mean there are no rules, constraining or restraining factors, no limits to be observed, etc. The writer, no doubt, has demonstrated that he is aware of the meaning of the idiom, but he has offered a badly fractured form of it. He, like many other writers, should retrieve the authentic idiom and persuade himself to internalize its appropriate form.

Now the fourth problem, before we forget. With the benefit of the insights we have furnished so far, here again is the authentic form of the idiom situated in the context provided by the reporter: “a no holds barred session.” Readers should please note that the expression is modified by the article a, and the entire expression modifies the noun session. This description tells us that the expression has been used attributively—as if it is an adjective—modifying the noun session. That being the case, the words making up the idiom have to be hyphenated to each other: “a no-holds-barred session.” The hyphenated idiom is now used as a single word, a kind of compound word, a modifier. The modifying function of the expression here is different from its function in the sentence, “There were no holds barred at the meeting” or “The convener of the reconciliatory meeting urged all members to talk frankly, with no holds barred” or “There are usually no holds barred in a war situation.”

The writer of the piece from which the bastardized idiom is taken seems to have a weakness for wrong forms of words. Please note the form other in the same environment in which the failed idiom occurs: “urging the participants to engage in a no-holds-barred session in other to achieve this.” The word occurs specifically in another supposed idiom, “in other to achieve this.” Apparently, the reporter is unable to differentiate grammatically, semantically, and phonologically between the words other and order. It may be reasonable to assume that the error originates as a pronunciation problem.

To be sure, the form required by the context is order. Please read the following sentences: 1)Children are educated in order for them to fit into modern society. 2)We started off early in order to arrive there before dusk. 3)Laws are made in order to regulate human relationships in society. 4)The loans are given in order to help the poor and support the weak. 5)The Town Planning authorities exist in order to maintain a decent and well-ordered environment. 6)The government funds the Police Force in order to maintain law and order.

The word order is also used in the following way: 1)In what order are photographs to be taken? 2)Workers should come in in order of seniority. 3)Please make a list of your needs in order of importance. 4)Soldiers and policemen are expected to carry out the orders of their superiors without delay. 5)Court orders must be obeyed within a defined time frame. 6)I take orders from my boss only. 7)The policeman ordered her to stop. 8)It is a big and reputable restaurant where any kind of food and drink can be orderd. 9)When the police reach the limits of their ability, the army may be called in to restore order. 10)Let’s be familiar with the order of service before the arrival of the couple.

Now other: 1)As a way of making our economy stable, vibrant and independent of foreign economies, our leaders should harness resources other than oil. 2)There are many other ways of adding value to your life and those of others apart from sharing your wealth with other people. 3)I have some other things to tell you, but I reserve them for another day. 4)There are several other important religions in the world apart from Islam and Christianity. 5)The other interesting aspect of the story is that the woman ‘kept’ three men simultaneously. 6)My father visits us every other week.

At any rate, the word order replaces other in the context under review.

Sample 2: “According to the gentlemen of the press from the UK, they said that in the archive of Igala Kingdom in their home country, there is a bold inscription…”(Behold Nigeria’s Oldest Prison, the Sunday Sun, June 2, 2013)

I draw readers’ attention to the structure, “Acccording to the gentlemen of the press from the UK, they said…” We are trying to see the relationship(in terms of cohesion and coherence) between the first part of the structure(“according to…”) and the second part(“they said…”). Now, the “according to”-part of the structure contains all the bits of information presented in the “they said”-part of the structure. The expression “according to” means that somebody or some people said something. That expression is usually followed, as it is here, by the mention of the person(s) who said something. To go ahead and say in the second part of the structure “he/they said” is to involve at least that aspect of the structure in verbal and semantic redundancy.

Now two options are open to us for eliminating the redundancy: eliminate the expression “according to” and retain “they said that” or eliminate “they said that” and retain “according to”. Of course either of the options will require a slight verbal adjustment. Here are the two alternatives: “According to the gentlemen of the press from the UK, the archive of Igala kingdom in their home country…”.; “The gentlemen of the press from the UK said that the archive of Igala Kingdom in their home country…”

Sample 3: “Eyewitnesses said the train was coming from the Northern part of the country before the incident, which happened few minutes before 8.00 am in the morning….Another eyewitness, Mr Festus Ademola Oyekale, who is a resident in the area said the railway level crossing in the area is so porous that in recent times, many residents have lost their lives  because the barrier/drop down used for closing traffic at the approach of coming trains are no longer working…”(Derailed Train Causes Panic In Ibadan, the Sunday Sun, December 15, 2013).

First, we note the time adverbial, “8 am in the morning.” Two elements are noteworthy here: the word am and the expression in the morning. Isn’t the reporter aware that the acronym am(ante meridiem) is used to denote hours of the morning when it is placed immediately after a figure(such as 8) representing the time of the day as it is done here? Doesn’t he know that the expression in the morning following the acronym directly means the same thing as the acronym itself? The error is not different from the one committed when one says 10 pm in the night. The expression in the night(like in the morning) is redundant or unnecessary, for the information it is intended to give has already been given by the acronym pm. Writers are therefore advised to choose either the acronym(am, pm) or the adverbial indicator(in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, in the early hours of yesterday)

Next, we pay attention to the plural verb-form are which occurs in the structure, “the barrier/drop down used for closing traffic at the approach of coming trains are no longer working…” What noun is the copula are meant to be in concord with? Before we make any effort to locate it, we must have an idea of what we are looking for. Given the fact that the verb is in its plural form(are), the relevant noun item has to be in its plural form. Luckily for us, there is a noun, occupying a slot immediately before the verb slot, that is plural. That noun is trains. Will logic or even common sense, not to say sound grammatical judgement, encourage us to see a relationship of concord between the verb slot and the noun trains? Quite doubtful. What is it or are the things that is or are no longer working? Trains? Cerainly not. The barrier/drop down? Certainly yes. If it is the barrier/drop down, as we are sure it is, then the verb has to be singular, for the relevant noun is singular. In any case, in view of the singular character of the relevant noun(barrier/drop down), we hereby change the verb from the plural to the singular form: is.

Finally, we note the phrase, “the approach of coming trains.” I think the word approach should be eliminated. In my view, the words approach and coming are saying the same thing.