A typical courtroom scene. The judge is seated high up behind the bench, glowering down at the accused, his advocate, and the prosecutor alike. “What do we have here, then?” he barks.
“The Crown vs. Nigeria, my lord!” the prosecutor announces with a flourish.
The judge looks unimpressed. “What’s the charge?”
“Murder, my lord!”
There are a few audible gasps in the courtroom. Murder cases always offer intrigue. The judge glances at the accused with renewed interest. He’s middle aged, early fifties. He’s seen better days. He looks intelligent, but slightly shifty. According to court documents, he’s filthy rich. Something to do with oil, apparently. However, his obscene wealth isn’t obvious just from looking at him.
“How does the defendant plead?”
“Not guilty, my lord!” The advocate for the accused is a short, pot-bellied, greasy man who somehow manages to look even shiftier than his client.
The judge sighs. A simple admission of guilt would have made his job so much easier. Oh well. He sits back in his chair. “Begin.”
The prosecutor explodes into life, all gestures and finger-pointing. “Nigeria! You, Sir, stand accused of recklessly and callously murdering the English Language! This is the same language you swore to protect when you adopted it as your official language! I shall proceed to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that you have in fact conspired to murder this language!”
The accused looks as if he’s struggling to stifle his laughter. He’s been in similar situations several times before. He knows this is just a show for the public. The charges always go away eventually, or at worst he gets a N750,000 fine. Big deal. He has already instructed his people to find out the judge’s bank account details.
“The evidence against you is copious and overwhelming,” the prosecutor continues, “and we will not have enough time to submit everything to this case.” He stops and theatrically wipes his forehead with a handkerchief, even though it’s cool in the courtroom and so he could not possibly be sweating.
“Therefore we will forego the mountain of lesser but damning evidence we have against you, and concentrate on four exhibits – four heinous indicators of your crime which you had cleverly convinced everyone were perfectly legal, so that you could continue to employ them in your murderous ploy! It is my intention today to expose the illegality of these constructs, here in a court of law!”
He produces a voice-recording device from within his robe and shows it to the courtroom. He plays it for a few seconds and the defendant’s voice can be clearly heard. The defendant begins to look uncomfortable for the first time.
“Exhibit A!” the prosecutor bellows, and plays the device again.
The defendant’s voice continues, “Aside the obvious reason, there are also many other reasons for…” The prosecutor stops the device and looks triumphant. Everyone in court looks at one another. ‘So what?’ they wonder. What’s wrong with that?
The prosecutor swivels to face the court clerk, who has a humungous leather-bound book open in front of her. “Patricia?”
“Please tell us what the book says about the word ‘Aside’.”
Patricia adjusts her glasses and clears her throat.
“Aside, when used as a preposition, is never used by itself. It must be followed by the word ‘from’. It is only acceptable without ‘from’ when used as an adverb, e.g. Step aside. If you find yourself too lazy or too tired to include the word ‘from’, then feel free to use the alternative version, ‘Besides…’
Proper use: Aside from the obvious reason… or Besides the obvious reason… Never, ever, Aside the obvious reason…”
Patricia stops reading and looks up. The prosecutor looks as if he has just won an American visa lottery. The advocate for the defence glares at the junior lawyer that has accompanied him to court, who scrambles to find another copy of the leather-bound book for them to examine.
“Exhibit B!!” the prosecutor roars, and plays the recording device again.
The defendant’s voice is heard clearly again. “You can be rest assured that we will…”
The prosecutor stops the recorder and shakes his head slowly, his eyes closed. “Heinous,” he says, his voice barely above a whisper. “How can you be rest assured?” He shakes his head again. “Patricia?”
Patricia flips back and forth through the book, and finally shakes her head. “There’s nothing like that in here, Sir.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, Sir. I see ‘You can rest assured that…’ and ‘You can be assured that…’, but there’s definitely no such thing as ‘You can be rest assured…’ At least not in this book.”
“Thank you, Patricia.”
At this stage, the accused is no longer looking smug. He’s looking questioningly at his lawyer, who is avoiding his eyes and pretending to concentrate on the copy of leather-bound book his junior lawyer has placed in front of him.
“And now, Ladies and Gentlemen, to the most atrocious crime of them all.” The prosecutor is now enjoying himself immensely. “Exhibit C!”
The defendant’s voice is heard once again, sounding angry. “I called you severally yesterday, but you didn’t pick the call.”
The prosecutor snaps off the device and looks solemnly around the courtroom. “Ladies and Gentlemen, this was what finally killed off the English Language. I have no words. Patricia, please elaborate.”
Patricia flips through a few pages and finally finds the entry for ‘Severally’.
“Contrary to popular belief, ‘severally’, does NOT mean several times. It actually means ‘individually’, ‘separately’ or ‘one-by-one’, as opposed to collectively or jointly.
Example of proper use: When the company went bankrupt, I thought it would be better to tell my workers severally instead of just announcing the bad news to all of them at the next meeting.
Another example: Even though I’d already given the village elders a cow to share, they still demanded that I settle them severally (as in individually, one-by-one).
‘I called you severally’ or ‘I told him severally’ has absolutely no meaning in English, and so is complete and utter nonsense.” Patricia stops reading and looks up, using her index finger to push her glasses back up the bridge of her nose.
“Complete and utter nonsense…” the prosecutor echoes, for emphasis. He looks almost sad. “Ladies and Gentlemen, I believe that these three exhibits are enough grounds to convict the defendant unequivocally. But just to complete what I started, I have to submit Exhibit D.”
The defendant’s voice comes on once more. “You don’t believe me? Goggle it, now!”
A few titters can be heard around the courtroom.
“Exactly,” says the prosecutor. “We don’t even need the book for this one. To goggle is to stare at something with wide eyes. The search engine? That’s Google. One has two ‘g’s and two ‘o’s while the other has three ‘g’s and only one ‘o’. Take a closer look. And so the next time someone tells you to goggle something, tell them you’d rather Google it. And with that, Ladies and Gentlemen, I hereby rest my case.” He sits back down.
The judge looks as if his mind is already made up. It’s an open and shut case. But the defence still needs to be heard.
The advocate for the accused gets up to make his case. “My client is being unfairly targeted,” he announces. “Why should he be held to such high standards? After all, English is not his mother-tongue.”
“Really?” says the Judge. “What is?”
“He speaks over 500 languages, my lord. Three extremely well.”
“Interesting. And admirable. However, the records show that he adopted English as his official language over 50 years ago, right?”
“Correct, my lord.”
“And the defendant is an educated man, is he not?”
“He is, my lord.”
“Of course he is. Only an educated man would attempt to use the word ‘severally’. I’m afraid, Counsel, that your argument about mother-tongue holds no water. The defendant adopted English as his official language, and then proceeded to murder it in the most heinous way possible. Because of that and the overwhelming evidence presented against him today, I have no choice but to find him…”
The judge stops in mid-sentence and reaches into his robe. His body is behind the bench, and only his head and shoulders are visible to the rest of the court. He pulls out his mobile phone and looks at the message that just came in. It’s an alert from his bank. He nearly passes out. He has never seen so many zeros in his life.
He looks in shock at the defendant, who smiles at him. It is only a half-smile, and only lasts for a fleeting second. But it’s enough confirmation.
The judge re-pockets his phone and continues his speech. “As I was saying, due to the circumstantial nature of the evidence presented against the defendant today, I have no choice but to find him NOT GUILTY. Court dismissed!”