Of cost and cause

A fortnight ago, we had started considering issues from the last excerpt for that day when space cut us short. That excerpt is here presented as the first sample for today.

Sample 1: : “The president, in his remark, said over six decades, oil exploration in the region had caused the rural communities their sources of livelihood in the face of acute degradation of their land and water among other damaged biodiversity in the region…It smirks of attempts to gain recognition and position individuals for possible negotiations with the FG…The preferential treatment got by Tompolo, Atake, Boyloaf, Asari and other ‘Generals’ at the detriment of ‘Commanders’ and foot soldiers have been a cause of friction…They are hiding under a platform of underdevelopment to perpetuate these evils…He said there are 45 communities around the Benin River without portable drinking water…Gory tales of inhuman treatment and human rights abuses allegedly carried out by the military from the creeks is further alienating the Federal Government and the military in the region…”(Ogoni Clean up, the Struggle and the UNEP Report, The Nation, Sunday June 5, 2016)

Now consider this: “The president, in his remark, said over six decades…” Please note the parenthetical phrase, ‘in his remark’, in which the possessive pronoun ‘his’ refers to ‘the president’. I had thought that brevity was a cardinal journalistic principle of writing. This is necessarily so as space, like airtime in the broadcast media, is never available in unlimited supply. Word-wasting is not only time-wasting it is also space-wasting and distracting. Do readers actually need that bit of information: ‘in his remarks’? What purpose does that phrase serve that the reporting verb, ‘said’, does not serve? In whose ‘remark’ do we expect the president to have ‘said’ what he said if not ‘in his remark’? The reporter and his editor may unwittingly provoke readers’ assumption that space is available to them in abundance, and to utilize all the space available they engage in verbal padding! I am so certain this is not the case; this is just an instance of stylistic carelessness.

Next, we note the usage of the word caused in the following context: “six decades (of) oil exploration had caused the rural communities their sources of livelihood.” Is that actually the word that context requires—caused? I believe that word is a wrong choice, confused as it is with the word cost. Actually the wordscaused (in its past tense) and cost have similar pronunciation.

We shall come back to the word cost later, but let us note that if an error is so serious that it costs you your job, it makes you lose your job. No, it does not cause you your job; it costs your job.

Now we illustrate the usage of the words cause, course and curse, words whose usage we have illustrated several times on this page. But we would not be tired of drawing attention to them for as long as confusion arises in their usage in the Nigerian press.

Read the following sentences: 1) Careless driving is one of the major causes of road traffic accidents in Nigeria. 2) One major cause of corruption in Nigeria is poverty. 3) The police in conjunction with the doctors are investigating the cause of his death. 4) Nobody has been able to identify the cause of the fire disaster. 5) Accommodation and food were the main causes of students’ unrest in those days. 6) Medical experts have not been able to establish the cause of cancer. 7) Conflict of egos among Nigerian leaders was the cause of the civil war. 8) There are people who would hate you without cause.

It should be clear that X is the cause of Y if X makes Y to happen. The word has been used as a noun in each of those sentences. While retaining the sense of the noun, it can also be used as a verb: 1) The civil unrest was caused by an abrupt and irrational increase in the prices of petroleum products. 2) Nobody knew what caused the strained relationship between the man and his wife. 3) It was speculated that the divorce was caused by infidelity and mutual suspicion. 4) The constitutional crisis was caused by the establishment of an interim government. 5) The accident was caused by poor visibility and an awkwardly parked vehicle. 6) The military training exercises accompanied by the booming of guns caused fear and panic in the neighbourhood. 7) That kind of diabetes is caused by excessive intake of sugar. 8) Anaemia causes or aggravates some other very serious diseases. 9) Excessive rains cause flooding. 10) Anxiety and tension cause hypertension.

Whether it is used as a noun or as a verb, the word cause has to do with producing an effect or a result.

Now read the following sentences: 1) The Boko Haram insurgents do believe sincerely that they are fighting a just cause. 2) The progressives should join hands and fight a common cause. 3) It is rare to find wealthy people using their wealth in the pursuit of noble causes. 4) All Christians are called upon to fight and defend the cause of Christ on earth. 5) He would not fight any cause that has no direct relevance to his finance or pride. 6) The late M K O Abiola was reputed for giving generously to causes in aid of human progress and development.

The noun cause as used in those sentences does not mean to produce an effect or result (unlike the sense illustrated in earlier sentences). Rather, it refers to a purpose deserving or worthy of action or attention.

Now we illustrate the usage of the word course: 1) If you fail a compulsory course, you have to take and pass it before you graduate. 2) Many students regard mathematics as a difficult course. 3) There are courses that all science students must take. 4) Many students don’t want to register for courses being handled by that lecturer.5) Can a student change his course in the penultimate year? 6) All engineering students must take and pass all mathematics courses.

It should be clear from those sentences that the word course refers to a programme of study.

Now read the following sentences: 1) In the course of their investigation, the police stumbled upon a very valuable piece of evidence. 2) The panel is free to invite any member of staff for questioning in the course of its enquiry. 3) More witnesses will be invited in the course of the trial. 4) In the course of my legal practice, I have seen a number of such curious cases. 5) The map shows the course of the river from its source to the sea. 6) The human rights activists are insisting that justice must take its course. 7) In the course of my training as a doctor, I have seen and treated worse manifestations of the disease. 8) In the course of the lecture, I discovered that I was teaching a wrong class.

The word course as used in those sentences refers to a path or track or movement in space or time. The word can also be used as a verb as the following sentences illustrate: 1) Although he said nothing, he was obviously sad as tears coursed down his cheeks. 2) Anxious, terrified and expectant, he felt ‘hot’ blood coursing through his veins.

We now turn to the word curse. Read the following sentences: 1) The Biblical Jericho was under a curse and it took the intervention of Elisha the prophet to bring healing to it. 2) It is a sad irony that oil is a curse rather than a blessing to the Nigerian nation. 3) Hardship may have its own uses, but poverty in its worst form is incontrovertibly a curse. 4) A life under a curse cannot prosper without divine intervention. 5) It is wrong to curse a child however rebellious or disobedient he may be. 6) Jesus cursed the fig tree because it did not produce fruits.

It should be obvious that the word curse (a noun and a verb) refers to an expression or situation that brings evil, ill-luck, mysterious injury or destruction.

The following sentences illustrate the difference among the words: 1) In the course of the war, we discovered that war is a cursecaused by men’s greed and selfish ambition. 2) A war may or may not be a good course of action depending on whether or not you are fighting a just cause.

The discussion continues next week by God’s grace.