Some English expressions Nigerians have succeeded in changing their meanings

Anyone who visits Nigeria for the first time will definitely misconstrue Nigerians because of the way they use certain English expressions. It is a common practice among Nigerians to use certain English expressions to mean the opposite of the surface or actual meaning of the expressions. What is really startling about this is that the addressee actually understands the statement of the speaker despite the contrary meaning attached to it.

These expressions seem very correct to its users, regardless of the contexts in which they are used. However, it is important to state here that context (i.e. the environment or situation) plays a vital role in the analysis of an utterance. It determines the acceptability, unacceptability, correctness and ungrammaticality of utterances.

Nigerians often use certain English expressions to mean the opposite of what the expressions imply in the following contexts:

1. In a situation where you ask a Nigerian "where are you going?", and he tells you "he is coming" (whereas he is leaving) to mean "he will be back soon". 99% are guilty of this crime. Why would you tell me you are coming when you are actually going? Contextually, it is wrong; the correct way to answer this question is "I am going to get something close by. I will be back soon" or just tell the person "I'll be back soon" if you don't feel like telling him or her where you are going.

2. In a situation where a Nigerian mom tells her crying child to shut up and tell her what's wrong. This really amazes me. How can you shut a child up and still expects him to tell you what's wrong?  Surprisingly, the child understands that his mom wants him to keep calm and explain to her what's wrong. You could just say to the child, "dear, it's okay; come tell me what's wrong".

3. In Nigeria, it is a common practice for a Nigerian to ask you "are you back?" instead of telling you "welcome" on your arrival from your place of work. Even when it is obvious the person is back from work, he will still be asked this silly question. The funniest part is that the addressee understands what the speaker actually means by that question. It means "welcome" to him. Very funny! This will really look strange to a native speaker.

4. In a situation where you ask a Nigerian, "are you okay?", and he tells you "it is well" to either mean he is okay, he is not okay, or an expression of hope. But should this be the correct answer to the question? I doubt! I am trying to figure out how "it is well" answers a polar question (a yes or no question) like "are you okay?".

From the instances given above, it is crystal clear that Nigerian users of the English language have succeeded in tampering with the actual meanings of certain English expressions. Since these expressions are understood by only Nigerian users of English, it will no doubt pose a comprehension problem among native speakers and Nigerian speakers of English. Therefore, for the sake of mutual intelligibility, the status quo should be maintained.

What other English expression do you think Nigerians have changed its meaning? Kindly use the comment box to state it.

Tamuno Reuben

Those who seek knowledge seek power because the pen is mightier than the sword.


  1. lol 9ja for life. Thanks.

  2. let me come and be going lol

  3. Tanks for this tammy

  4. In Nigeria, we mostly answer questions using question. it's been a culture in Nigeria.

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