On defer and differ

SAMPLE 1: “Prospective corps members who are quite ill should ensure they get proper treatment and recuperate very well before going to the orientation camps, even if they may have to differ the service to a later year.”(How to End Avoidable Deaths among Corps Members, the Sunday Sun, March 26, 2017)

The word that interests us is differ which occurs in the following context: “even if they may have to differ the service to a later year.” The contextual meaning of that word is postpone, delay, intentionally allow to come up at a later time. But is that the dictionary meaning of the word differ? I want readers to realize that the writer has confused the meaning and usage of differ with those of defer. Admittedly, the choice is not that of the reporter, at least not directly. That alibi would be of limited strength and value if, as it is most likely to be the case, the respondent spoke and the reporter recorded his speech and transcribed it later. The transcribed form, the written/printed form, which reaches the reader as differ, in reality is the reporter’s choice directly. Of course, the words defer and differ would have similar presentations in speech. It is the duty of the reporter transcribing the speech to decide which of them is appropriate to the speaker’s context. The reporter and his editor have failed in this regard, as they have made a wrong choice, preferring differ where defer is the appropriate choice.

Secondly, even if it is grudgingly conceded, for the sake of argument, that the material came to the reporter in the written form, he cannot escape culpability. It should have been incumbent on him to change the wrong word to an appropriate one. Alternatively, he could have decided to indicate that the form is erroneous by using the form sic in brackets. The conclusion is inescapable: The choice belongs to the reporter.

Now what is the difference between defer and differ? Now read the following sentences illustrating the usage of one of the senses of the word defer: 1) The chairman advised that the decision be deferred till the following meeting before which more facts would have emerged. 2) My intention is to defer payment for the service till the job is completed. 3) It is not advisable for women to defer childbearing till a later date because the biological clock does not favour that. 4) The government had to defer the announcement until the court made the fateful pronouncement. 5) Service to God and humanity should not be deferred for any reason. 6) Lawyers have advised INEC not to defer the general elections on account of the prevailing anarchy. 7) Please permit me to defer my comments till the next meeting. 8) The naming ceremony takes place today but the actual celebration will be deferred until funds are available. 9) If this generation decides to defer the sacrifices it ought to make now, it will be transferring unnecessary burdens to the future generation. 10) Death is one of the phenomena that cannot be deferred; its call is often urgent and final.

It should be clear from those sentences that to defer means to postpone, delay action or decision.

But there is another sense in which the verb defer can be used. Please read the following sentences: 1) In the Yoruba culture, young people are expected to defer to elders. 2) For the first time on matters of this nature, the national assembly deferred to the presidency. 3) Though I loved the lady with a passion, I deferred to my mother’s views on her and refused to lead her to the altar. 4) Is it always in the interest of patients to defer to their doctors? 5) Lawyers may seem to always defer to judges; in reality, they defer to the law. 6) Is the government likely to defer to the public on the issue of the removal of subsidy on petroleum products? 7) In our culture, people tend to look down on men who defer to their wives. 8)Should students always defer to their lecturers? 9) People defer to policemen more out of fear than out of respect. 10)In modern society people defer to experts on many issues.

When you defer to people or their opinion, you allow them to have their way, you accept their opinion because you respect them or their authority.

Now let’s illustrate the usage of the word differ: 1) African peoples differ from each other as well as from European peoples in many significant ways. 2) In what ways does life in Lagos differ from life in rural areas? 3) A democratic government differs from a military government in that the former runs on the basis of the rule of law and the latter on decrees. 4) The computer and the human brain are similar but differ in that the former can only act on the information the human agent puts into it. 5) The approach to teaching differs from teacher to teacher. 6) Democracy is not of one and the same kind: It differs from country to country. 7) Do characteristics of verbs differ from language to language or are they universal? 8) Her attitude to money differs remarkably from mine. 9) Does men’s attitude to life differ essentially from women’s? 10) Members of the cat family have very similar characteristics but also differ from each other in some important respects

The meaning of the verb differ in each of those sentences is related to the meaning of the noun different. But the verb differ has yet another meaning. The following sentences illustrate this: 1) Scholars differ on the date Oduduwa, the legendary father of the Yoruba race, moved to Ile-Ife. 2) Opinions differ even up till today on the cause of General Sanna Abacha’s death.  3) Medical experts differ on the origin and cause of Ebola. 4) The president seems to differwith national assembly on how to tackle and defeat the Boko Haram insurgency. 5) We are close friends, but we differ sometimes on fundamental issues. 6) In life, we should agree to differ. 7) Members of the cabinet differ on certain budget details. 8) We may differ on how to tackle the problem of violent crime, but we should all agree that violent crime is an evil that should be attacked frontally.

At any rate, the appropriate word for the context is defer.