The art of “mis-yarning” is as old as language itself. From biblical examples (Moses took credit for a miracle and was subsequently prevented by God from entering Canaan) to historical accounts and even to the stuff of Roman legends.
In Greek mythology, Cassiopeia the queen of Argos mis-yarned by bragging that her daughter Andromeda was more beautiful than a goddess and was punished when the goddess sent them a Kraken (a sea monster, not a type of Danish cookie) to torment their island kingdom.
Nigerians love to talk – we babble on our smart phones in traffic at risk to our own safety, we reluctantly switch off our handsets ready for air take off, only to turn them back on as soon as the plane’s tires touch terra firma. Some also talk in the cinema, spoiling the enjoyment of more serious movie-lovers.
I mean who would be more interested in Angelina Jolie’s hair-do or hair-color, than in following the intriguing plot of the movie she is starring in? I was at Goldenfowl Cinema in Victoria Island recently to watch Salt, and a teenage girl in front of me kept talking during the movie, about Ms. Jolie’s hair. Someone on her row got fed-up with the distraction and asked her to hush. The girl got upset and started mouthing off, ruining the movie for us all. Now that is adding Salt to injury. Ok bad joke.
Way back at University in England, the librarian almost put up a “Not More Than One Nigerian Allowed” sign after he got tired of breaking up gatherings of shouting Nigerians camped outside the school library, chatting on top of their voices and shouting without a care. Our compatriots simply moved to the law library to continue.
So we are a bit chatty, but so are many people of Latin or Negro descent.
We also sabi mis-yarn well well.
Definition of mis-yarn from the Revised Pidgin English Dictionary (2010 Edition). To mis-yarn; to speak nonsense (verb), or any form of absurd or foolish talk (noun), informal or empty talk or opinion (noun), nonsense. See also bosh, opata.
Ok let me totally rephrase – we Nigerians can talk smack.
How many times has someone commented on your personal business or choice of fashion or any lifestyle choice of yours in a public place, and to the hearing of all not even originally privy to the conversation? Ah Alex, what is this? You have added (weight). See your bele.
Or chei! See big pimples on your face. Stop eating gra-nut.
It would interest you that I am actually allergic to nuts.
The above are little examples.
Or the guest who told the bride on her wedding day that he had not had a bite to eat since he came. Well, he didn’t exactly tell the bride, he sort of shouted it out to the audience at the reception including the enemies of the couple, and the bride and groom heard too.
Miffed at being overlooked by people who were serving only those they knew or were related to or those wearing aso-ebi, he cursed aloud “I have not been served anything since I came. Not even a grain of rice or a drop of water. Everyone sitting around me is eating and drinking. This is not a wedding, it is a funeral!”
Someone should have told him that actually funerals these days are like banquets for kings. So much food, so little tears for the deceased.
The funny thing is that sometimes this mis-yarn happens on live TV too. In 1988 American folk songstress called Tracy Chapman (a bit like Asa) released a single called “Baby Can I Hold You Tonight” which became a hit around the world.
Some years later, a little known Nigerian by the name of Eddie Salt (not real name) recorded a cover of the same song and shot a video for it. Eddie Salt was like your typical late 80s to early 90s Nigerian singer – he had very wet Jeri Curls, he wore costumes that glittered and he looked like the sort of dude who adds “pretty’ or “prince” in front of his government name.
In an interview on national TV, Eddie was asked what inspired him to record a cover of the song. The look on his face was as if he didn’t know what the interviewer was talking about. The person interviewing then asked Eddie if he was aware that song had been recorded by a popular American artiste called Tracy Chapman.
With a face as straight as 12 O’clock, Eddie said he had never heard of Tracy Chapman and that he was not aware that she had recorded “Baby Can I Hold You Tonight”. He further claimed ridiculously, that someone had hinted him recently that someone may have copied his song, and that infact he could not wait to see or meet this Tracy Chapman if it were her!
To be fair, Tracy Chapman had probably never heard of Eddie either.
But what gets my goat as well is when Nigerians do not take the environment or circumstances into consideration before they mis-yarn. I mean, there is a time and place for everything, right?
Some years back, I had to travel to Aba in Abia State around Christmas time with my niece. I decided to go by luxury bus, so I took XYZ from Jibowu which was going to Aba via Owerri. The journey was smooth enough and we got to Owerri around 5.30pm. About 85 per cent of the passengers dropped at Owerri, and the driver decided to wait for about 45 minutes to refuel the bus and to eat.
By the time we left Owerri, it was really getting dark and the bus had about 20 passengers onboard. We got to a place about 30 minutes from Aba, when the bus started having problems. The driver would start it and when he tried to accelerate, the bus engine would stall and quit. He would try to restart it and the car would refuse.
It was dark outside, and to make matters worse, we were in an area which was notorious in the past for armed robbers. There was no street lighting, the road was deserted save for a few cars passing by and we were surrounded by thick forests and owls hooting. Think Road Trip meets Tales by Moonlight. Oh my days.
It was very dark because the bus’s lighting was also failing. Some kids started crying because they were hungry and exhausted from travelling all day. A toddler threw up on a passenger a row beside me. The toddler’s mum blamed XYZ. The passenger’s smart agbada was covered in Cerelac. I was worried about my niece’s safety.
Then to front row of the bus, stepped up a man dressed in yellow polyester short -sleeved suit. He started preaching and talking about his ministry. In a thick Ibo accent, he relayed a story about how a year back, a bus carrying passengers to Port Harcourt got involved in an incident: “Just as the bus was approaching the hamlet of Isiala-Ngwa, the devil struck 20 yards from the toll gate. BOOM! The vehicle ran into a petrol tanker, and everyone on board the motor perished! Their families did not celebrate Christmas that year again!”
Everyone’s mouths were agape with terror. Even kids too young to fully comprehend started crying aloud. And I am like dude, of all the times and places to tell this story! The man ceased the moment by handing our fliers and pamphlets advertising his church and ministry. Let’s just say he ran out of fliers.
To be fair though, there are sometimes when your mis-yarn occurred because you meant to say something but it came out with another meaning. There was time I interviewed for a position with an oil service firm in VI. The chap doing the interview was a French middle-aged man whose English wasn’t so good. We had already discussed my professional and academic experiences as well as what the role entailed.
To break the ice a bit, he asked me what my interests were. I also asked him what part of France he came from, and what sport he was into. I was hoping that he was into football so I could talk about French football clubs I knew about like PSG, Marseille and Monaco. He however said he was into rugby and used to play rugby back in college.
In a spot of madness, I said “Rugby is a physical game, you have to be fit to play.” I didn’t know why then, but the guy looked at me in a weird manner and laughed uneasily. What I meant was that rugby was a tough sport and playing it generally required top physical fitness. The guy obviously thought that I meant that there was no way he could have ever played rugby because of his large gut. Talk about the phrase “pardon my French.” Sacre blue!
Needless to say, I never got that job. I did receive an email thanking me for my interest…
But seriously, there are levels of mis-yarn where the mis-yarner has done so out of lack of exposure or out of complete ignorance.
I was at a wedding once where the MC was a 40 something year old chap who was dressed in a red suit made out of linen, white snake skin shoes, suspenders and a bowler hat, all in 60 degree weather. The guy talked in a loud voice and was very brash.
After “Item No 7” on the menu, it was time for the couple to cut their wedding cake. The MC called out the couple and the baker of the cake. He then announced that he needed about a dozen girls from the audience who were virgins. I kid you not. These were his words “Please finally all I need are 11 or 12 single virgins. I am giving you 5 minutes, come and witness the cutting of the cake”
Well, no girls came out and I don’t think it is just because they were shy. Maybe12 is a lot to ask for.
Mis-yarning also occurs in customer service situations. I was once at a “Miss Little” branch in Aba, behind a man and a woman who had come on a date. When it was time to order, the woman started going through a verbal rundown of items on the menu board one by one.
She asked cashier, “How much is your chicken pie?” Getting irritated, the cashier replied “ The price is on the menu board, but it is N200.”
Pointing to the menu board again, she asked “What is tasty fiesta?”
The cashier visibly expatiated said “It is made out of eggs.”
She replied “Oh it is akwa. Interesting. I can see salad. Is it ugba?”
The cashier replied dryly “No it is oyibo salad made out of lettuce and carrots and not cassava and palm-oil. Please make your order. People are on the queue.”
She was about to order when something on the menu board caught her attention “Which one is Ice Cream Sunday (sundae). I doesn’t know about it. Is it because today is Sunday?”
Cashier: “It is ordinary ice-cream. Please let me take your order.”
The woman’s date just looked on quietly. He looked like he was calculating the bill in his mind, and praying that she wouldn’t do anything rash with her order.
Stubbornly, the woman continued “Mba, I want to know what is in that ice-cream sunday. What is in that ice cream sunday?” pointing with her finger to the menu board which had a picture of the item.
The cashier replied smartly “It is a trade secret.”
I couldn’t hold it in when I heard that, and I laughed out loud. I agree that a customer needs to know what is in a product, though not necessarily how it is made but the cashier’s answer was funny.
The lady eyed me maliciously, but that seems to have shut her up as she made her order and freed up the queue.
Sometime in the mid to late 90s, there was a popular night program on DBN called “The Night Shift” where callers could make a request from a list of movies in a line-up. The movie with the most votes was shown to the public. It was a hit program because they showed the latest movies. Oh, the sweet days before Silverbird, eh?
There was this nice looking lady anchoring the program then. She used to get hit on by male callers. She once had a chap ask her for her phone number on live TV to which she declined politely even though she looked a bit embarrassed. These were the days before GSM mobile services, so she would have had to give out her home number. All of the male audience were waiting.
On another occasion after reading out the line-up of available movies, she told a male caller to make his choice. He said “You.”
At least, he knew what he wanted.
What about when the mis-yarn is directed at your loved one?
A lady brought her 4 year old son to cut his hair at a salon close to where I live. The child was shouting and thrashing about, clearing terrified of the sound of the hair clipper. The barber could not get him to sit still and the kid kept on pushing the clipper blade away.
The child’s mum couldn’t get him to calm down and gave up.
The fed-up barber screamed down the kid’s ears “Shut up or I will barb you gorimakpa!! Then rub your head with palm-oil.”
Everyone in the salon went quiet with surprise. Even the child’s mother was too weak to say anything.
Maybe she thought that the threat was also directed at her perfect Brazilian lace -front wig.
“Zip up your lip before your lips zip you up”
E-40 (Record Haters, 1996)