In their desperation to get rich instantly, some people now steal women’s underwear, which they hand over to ritual doctors. Note that I did not say underwears, because the term is an uncountable noun. The extent to which the strange practice is spreading has made it a source of worry in different quarters. Unfortunately, once a particular subject or issue trends, it exposes the linguistic contradictions associated with it.
As far as the crime is concerned, the police are poised for more than a fight. Just about two days ago, police public relations officer, Dolapo Badmus, issued a threat that they might have to be charging anyone caught stealing underclothes with attempt to murder. Her reason is that victims of the backward and wicked act often lose their lives.
While the ugly development should concern everyone, it is the English of the matter that concerns us more here. In reporting and discussing the menace in connection with the police intention, some common errors have been playing up. For instance, here is the headline of a story from a popular Nigerian blog:
Police To Charge Pant Thieves For Murder
That is the snag. The headline brings to the fore two contagious errors. Interestingly, the blogger is not the only person in the celebration of blunders. Even the most popular blog in the country today and some newspapers often display similar problems.
Can I confidently believe that no senior member of this English class will commit the indicated errors? This is based on the fact that, last year, we thrashed the issues involved in the foul usage. Or, by the way, can we all identify the blunders in the statement, Police To Charge Pant Thieves For Murder?
Between pant and pants
Almost everyone wears pants from the time they are born and, in many cases, till they move to the world beyond. So popular are pants that it is possible that some people wear two or more pairs at a time – for different reasons. Infants, children, youths adults – male and female, black and white – wear them, yet most of us fail to master the grammar involved. Because we know that a single book is simply a book and a single cap is a cap, we think a single pant is also a pant. This is wrong because words for leggy items of clothing, which generally have two separate holes for both legs, are considered plural. As a result, what we have is pants and not pant.
Jumble, wear your pant before you go out! (Wrong)
Jumble, wear your pants before you go out! (Correct)
Where is my pant, mummy? (Wrong)
Where are my pants, mummy? (Correct – despite the fact that the person is talking about a single unit of it, the one he/she wants to wear now.)
I am going to the market to buy a pant. (Wrong)
I am going to the market to buy pants. (Correct)
I am going to the market to buy a pair of pants. (Correct)
I am going to the market to buy five pairs of pants. (Correct)
The police arrested the man who stole my pant. (Wrong)
The police arrested the man who stole my pants. (Correct)
As I noted during one of our earlier lessons, the principle we are trying to establish with pants applies to other garments we wear, with two openings or branches through which we drive our legs. They include trousers, knickers, shorts, shoes, sandals and snickers. They are all to be regarded as plural words, meaning that you do not throw the ‘s’ that ends them away:
Where is your trouser? (Wrong)
Where are your trousers? (Correct)
Where is my knicker? (Wrong)
Where are my knickers? (Correct, still referring to the only one you want to wear now.) Can you quickly wear your shoe? (Wrong)
Can you quickly wear your shoes? (Correct)
The short you are wearing is blue, mine is yellow. (Wrong)
The shorts you are wearing are blue, mine are yellow. (Correct)
Note that you either call what you are wearing ‘shorts’ or ‘knickers’ – not short knickers. Besides, the same plural rule applies to goggles, glasses and a tool such as scissors:
The glass you are wearing is fine. (Wrong)
The glasses you are wearing are fine. (Correct)
The scissor is no more on the table. (Wrong)
The scissors are no more on the table. (Correct)
If we thus go back to the first headline – Police to charge pant thieves for murder – we discover that the choice of ‘pant’ is wrong. It should be ‘pants’.
To charge for or charge with?
The notion that many of us have is that once you know the offence or crime for which a person is being arrested by the police and is being charged to court, we conclude that he is being charged ‘for’ that misdeed. Ordinarily, it sounds sensible, but it is grammatically wrong. Remember that common sense does not always work in the grammar world, especially with prepositions. When you are supposed to say ‘I prefer this to that’, you are in trouble if you say ‘I prefer this than that’.
The second error in the headlines under study has to do with the use of ‘for’ with ‘charge’. The correct preposition for ‘charge’, in the context of arresting or suing someone, is ‘with’ – not for:
Police to charge pants thieves for murder. (Wrong)
Police to charge pants thieves with murder. (Correct)
What offence will the police charge Melaye for? At least, they can’t charge him for slumping! (Wrong)
What offence will the police charge Melaye with? At least, they can’t charge him with slumping! (Correct)
Meanwhile, note the choice of prepositions in the following too: arrest for, accuse of, jailed for, convicted of.