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Aug 27, 2016

Idiomatic Change in Nigeria

Idiomatic Change in Nigeria
In this article, I will be revealing to you some English idioms that have undergone morphological changes in Nigeria. One unique feature of idioms is that they don't change their forms. In other words, they remain the same in any context. For example, the idiom, 'a stitch in time saves nine' remains the same in any context irrespective of the tense that precedes it. However, Nigerians when making use of these idioms, add some inflections to some of the words. When this happens, the idiomatic recognition of such expressions is lost, thereby making them ordinary expressions with literal meanings.

The following are examples of Nigerian version of some English idioms. Please, take note of the underline words. 

1. 'My uncle's generosity is well known to all and sundries'

‘All and sundry’ means everybody, that is, all types of people. It does not take a plural marker ‘–s.'

2. 'The plan was not allowed to see the light of day'

The addition of article 'the', before 'day' is necessary. The idiom to the native speakers is, ‘The plan was not allowed to see the light of the day’.

3. 'The robbers did not know what the day held in stock for them'

The replacement of ‘store’ with ‘stock is unacceptable. The idiom is ‘hold in store’. ‘Stock’ as used here means the supply of something.

4. 'Your elevation is another feather to your cap’

‘A feather in one’s cap’ means an honour one has won or something to be proud of. The right arrangement is: “...another feather in your cap”

5. ‘President Obasanjo has been on the saddle for more than eight years’

The correct expression is: to be “in the saddle”.

6. 'By his refusal, he has bitten the finger that fed him’

“To bite the hand that fed one” is to act badly towards one’s benefactor. It is not substituted with ‘finger’.

7. ‘Those calling for national conference and yet want the government to provide social amenities are only trying to eat their cake and have it

This is a re-arrangement of idiom by Nigerians. To educated speakers, whether they are natives or bilinguals, this should be; ‘…have their cake and eat it’

8.‘There is a rumour making the rounds that the military wants to strike again’

The formal idiom is “to go the rounds”, meaning to be passed from person to person or place-to-place. ‘Making the rounds’ is a typical Nigerian deviation.

9. 'If the team wants to qualify they should gather their acts together'

‘Act’, as used in this context should not take is ‘–s’. It is fixed.

10. ‘The Abacha family is not ready to give up their “ill-gotten fortune

Standard English knows ‘ill-gotten gains or ‘wealth’ and not 'ill-gotten fortune'.

As stated earlier, idioms are fixed expressions that are peculiar to the culture of a given people hence shouldn't be tempered with. Any attempt to do otherwise will make such expressions lose their idiomatic recognition.
Thanks for reading! Hope you learnt something new?



Tammy Reuben Is A Graduate Of English And Literary Studies Whose Love For Teaching English As A Second Language And Providing Students With Useful Educational And Secular Information Resulted In The Creation Of This Blog.



  1. Hello Tamuno, I loved to read your this post. It's really interesting to know the Nigerian English usage of the English idioms.
    Truly idiomatic.
    Thank you,
    Lilly, UK

  2. You are welcome Lilly! More of this from me.