Of potable water and portable bag

Before considering another excerpt for analysis today, let’s pay attention to one or two issues yet to be discussed in the excerpt that has served us in the past three weeks or so. Let’s take that excerpt 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)

The expression that interests us is at the detriment of which occurs in the following context: “The preferential treatment got by Tompolo, Atake…at the detriment of ‘Commander’ …’ Let us note the particle at immediately preceding the expressionthe detriment of.Some Nigerians habitually attach the particle at to the word detriment in confusion with the usage of the word expense. It is proper to allow the particle at to collocate with expense, but it is certainly wrong to attach that particle to detriment. The following sentences involving the use of the word detriment are erroneous precisely because the particle at is attached to that noun in each of them: (1) He spends many hours reading during the night *at the detriment of his health. (2) Huge sums of money are stashed away in foreign banks *at the detriment of the Nigerian economy. (3) Many youths take drugs *at the detriment of their health. (4) Some workers were sacked *at the detriment of the company. (5) Dangerous fumes are being released *at the detriment of our health. (6) Justice is both delayed and denied *at the detriment of the society.

Of course the particle to should replace at in the context in which the word detriment appears. In addition, in each of the sentences, the word expense could conveniently replace detriment: (1) (b) He spends many hours reading during the night to the detriment of his health. Or: (1) (c) He spends many hours reading during the night at the expense of his health. (2) (b) Huge sums of money are stashed away in foreign banks to the detriment of the Nigerian economy. Or: (2) (c) Huge sums of money are stashed away in foreign banks at the expense of the Nigerian economy. (3) (b) Many youths take drugs to the detriment of their health. Or: (3) (c) Many youths take drugs at the expense of their health. (4) (b) Some workers were sacked to the detriment of the company. Or: (4) (c) Some workers were sacked at the expense of the company. (5) (b) Dangerous fumes are being released to the detriment of our health. Or: (5) (c) Dangerous fumes are being released at the expense of our health.

Next we consider the phrase: portable drinking water. There are two issues with this phrase. The first has to do with the word portable. Given the fact that this word collocates with drinking water, it should be noted that a wrong word has been selected here.

There is a major difference between the words portable (please note the letter r) and potable, both of which are adjectives. The confusion is obviously facilitated by similarities in spellings and pronunciations. The adjective portable is used to qualify nouns with the meaning: easy to be carried from place to place; of the size that can be easily carried or transported.

Portable phones are now widely used by Nigerians at all levels. 2) I need not just a portable Bible but a pocket-sized one. 3) Portable computers are fast replacing the bigger ones used by sedentary workers. 4) All students, particularly users of English as a second language, should have and use portable dictionaries. 5) Portable bags of all types are now available in the market. 6) Portable blackboards are used for educating nomads. 7) Referring jocularly to the diminutive size of his wife, he told the audience that his wife was portable. 8) Stethoscope and allied medical instruments are portable. 9) The idea of a portable radio set was unknown in the country until many decades after the novelty was introduced. 10) What you need at this level is a portable fridge and not a family-sized one.

When we use the adjective potable to qualify water, we mean the water in question is drinkable. Please read the following sentences: 1) It is paradoxical that, although we are surrounded by water, we lack potable water. 2) Governments at all levels should endeavour to make potable water available to all the citizens. 3) Non-availability of potable water is the bane of our rural areas. 4) The best way to ward off water-borne diseases is to make potable water available in abundance. 5) There are big hospitals in this country without regular supply of potable water. 6) Food should be prepared with potable water. 7) The challenge of provision of potable water can be as severe in the littoral regions as it is in the deserts. 8) Billions of naira borrowed for the purpose of providing potable water allegedly went into private pockets. 9) The public and private sectors should collaborate in providing potable water for Nigerians. 10) Like other utilities the provision of potable water requires huge investments.

We are back to the phrase that prompted the discussion so far:portable drinking water. Following the discussion, we now have: potable drinking water. Even this phrase, as it stands, has a problem. One of the two modifiers, potable and drinking, should be deleted since they are synonymous. We should have either: potable water or drinking water.

Sample 2: “Although all efforts to get official military confirmation were unsuccessful, a very reliable military source in Delta confirmed that seven suspects were arrested in the early-hour operation, adding that recovery of explosives, arms and ammunition were also made.”(Pipeline Bombings: Tompolo on Fire,Sunday Sun, May 29, 2016)

Let’s examine the grammatical status of the verb-form were which occurs in the following stretch: “recovery of explosives, arms and ammunition were also made.” The verb (were) is obviously in the plural (its singular past form being was). We need to find out the noun whose plural status has influenced the reporter’s choice of the plural verb-form. Of course there are three nouns to the immediate left of the verb slot which almost certainly influenced the reporter’s decision. The nouns are: explosives, arms and ammunition. On the strength of the noun explosives alone, if these nouns were relevant to the conjugation of the verb, the verb could be considered for inflection for plurality. Unfortunately, these nouns, severally and/or collectively, have no influence on the status of the verb—singular or plural.

Guided by good grammar and sound logic, we feel compelled to look in the direction of the noun recovery for the word that should influence grammatical agreement. Please look at that structure again and tell me if you disagree with the idea that recovery is the key word for the purpose of concord. That noun being singular, the verb should be changed to its singular form: was.

It seems the reporter has been misled by the long distance between the noun discovery and the verb slot on the one hand and the short distance between the nouns he has wrongly allowed to influence the conjugation of the verb and the verb slot on the other. A good writer must know more than that…

 

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