Tuesday Column By VICTORIA NGOZI IKEANO
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“How time flies; times have changed; children of nowadays; during our time; in those days…”
These are some of the common phrases used these days to denote that there is a big gulf between happenings today and those of bygone years. And in uttering these words there is a tinge of sombriety in our voice, a hankering for the halcyon days as we try to bring to memory, ‘the good old days’. But in truth nothing has changed as such, only the forms. There is only a new form, a new name for the same old thing. All of the things we bitterly complain of and denounce in today’s world were also present in yesterday’s world but isolated. Now, however, in line with the changing times, they have taken on a new form, gone digital if you like, and become hydra headed and also become seemingly overwhelming. There is a multiplicity of happenings in quick succession, hitting us from left, right and centre.
Thus in line with the 21st century nomenclatures, Tailors are no longer so called, they now call themselves Fashion Designers. Yet, whether a Tailor or Fashion Designer, they do essentially the same thing – cut and sew – is it not? Their primary function is making clothes; except that the word ‘fashion designer’ is more fashionable and more importantly, in this era when paper qualification is more or less worshipped, you can obtain a degree in Fashion Designing, it is a University course. Not so for Tailoring? Whether you learn the art of sewing through apprenticeship or at the Ivory Tower, fundamentally you are a Tailor; it is just that the name has been transformed to a more ‘dignifying’ one, to command the respect and applause of today’s modern society.
Similarly, the good old Typist of yore is no longer to be found. They literally disappeared with the 20th century. In truth they did not disappear or die altogether, they only resurrected and transformed themselves, wearing a new apparel and epaulette. They are now Computer Operators. What a high sounding word, you would say. That is the distinguishing mark of today’s world, big words, jaw-breaking, Greek- sounding and dead Latin words rule the day.
Ask the doctors as they write their prescriptions or the Lawyers as they speak Latin in court, a language that died a natural death centuries ago. Does anybody or country still speak Latin today, no. Oh, just remembered, latin songs and liturgy are still being chorused in catholic churches, memorized phrases which we rarely understood. We can forgive the church, for it is old fashioned itself and still clinging to Victorian era modes. And what do we make of the Bar and Bench (lawyers and judges) worldwide which still employ this dead Latin language as their lingua franca?
Yet beneath those verbose words lie their very simple equivalent. But alas, simple words are considered too simple for today’s complicated world. Hence the more complicated the words, phrase and language, the more applause they receive from us. And so, even though a computer operator is essentially a Typist, typing away on a keyboard, he/she frowns at being called a Typist, preferring the more sophisticated name, ‘Computer Operator’. You can obtain a degree in Computer Operations but not in Typing?
The word, ‘Secretary’ is also becoming an endangered species. A secretary is fundamentally a typist, one who types letters, documents, etc., for his/her boss whether a manager, minister or head of state. Alas, that name appears not to be honourable enough any longer; so they are changing the nomenclature to Personal Assistant or Special Assistant to the Oga or Madam. I presume you know there are no longer Messengers in our offices. They are now known as Office Assistants, appropriately dressed for the elevated name. In truth however, they remain errand boys or girls no matter what they are called. Do we still have clerks in offices? I suppose they will want to be called Executive Assistants. Yesterday’s Goldsmith will now regard his trade as archaic. He certainly will hanker for a new level that is commensurate with the new time and I guess the name Jewellery Engineer may come in handy.
Why not? After all, all those who repair gadgets now go by the title Engineer with its numerous branches. Therefore, the mechanic now calls himself an Engineer or more specifically, Auto Engineer; the electrician, Electrical Engineer; the mobile phone repairer, Handset Engineer and the computer repairer, Computer Engineer. Indeed, it is not impossible that some foreigners from western and Asian countries who come here to work as information, communication and technology (ICT) experts carting away huge salaries, are no more than phone repairers in their home countries. A mechanic is a mechanic, whether he/she has a first, second and third degrees or not. Ditto an electrician, etc. A Builder now also goes by the name Engineer – Building Engineer. But pray, what is the difference when they both build houses. The Building Engineer would give himself some air of importance by arguing that he can build skyscrapers which the ‘ordinary’ builder cannot. Really?
The Bricklayer is now a Mason, the former having been jettisoned as being old-fashioned. Even this name is considered somehow conservative. I bet the mason would soon add a title to his name too to conform to the jet age. Of course, the good old carpenter is graduating to a furniture maker, being a carpenter is considered rather demeaning and looked down upon. I guess in future they may call themselves Interior Designers or the like. Ditto today’s numerous new nomenclatures; they may yet take on a more glamorous title in years to come.
Institutions too are changing with the times, as for instance, Post Offices. Today, you may no longer recognise Post Offices that used to be beehive of activities, dotting every nook and cranny of Nigeria. They used to be places where you go to post letters, and to send and receive money via postal orders. Does anybody still remember postal orders? It is the old, ‘crude’ way of sending and receiving cash. Now that ‘analogue’ format has been replaced with the digital mode of money transfers, enter ATMs and mobile money apps on phones. Long hand format of writing letters is replaced with electronic format, viz, email, rendering our post offices somewhat redundant and shorn of the crowd associated with them. In order not to be wiped off completely from our consciousness, Post Offices have recreated themselves. They are now modern day Business Centres rendering services like (computer) checking of JAMB and other results, online registration for various kinds of exams, mobile banking agents and so on.