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28.01.2021 Feature Article

English Grammar, COVID-19 Deaths, Funerals And Funeral Discourses

English Grammar, COVID-19 Deaths, Funerals And Funeral Discourses
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“Of all the wonders that I have heard, It seems to me most strange that men should fear; Seeing death, a necessary end, Will come when it will come.” Julius Caesar (Act II Sc 2) - William Shakespeare

IF WE WERE TO LEARN SOMETHING HIGHER THAN MASTER OF ARTS IN CONTEMPORARY ENGLISH, our direction would be a research into the grammar on deaths, funerals and funeral discourses. Remember what Michelangelo, the famed Italian artist said at the age of 87 in 1574: “Ancora Imparo” (“I am still learning”). Do not forget what Mahatma Ghandi said about “learning” (in the 1940s): “Live as if you were to die tomorrow, learn as if you were to live forever”. Be fascinated by what Eleanor Roosevelt (US First Lady 1933-45) observed: “Do what you feel in your heart to be right, for you'll be criticised any way. You'll be damned if you do and damned if you don't.”

And I. K. Gyasi who is only 82 cannot rest and enjoy his retirement without sharing with us his thoughts on a diplomatic faux pas… from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration. Unless it is declared “fake news”, the unheaded circular PR/CIR dated January 8, 2021 set the occipital lobes of our cranium working. A circular letter without a heading? Was it an invitation to the diplomatic community to view the body of Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings, lying-in-state at the Foyer of the Accra International Conference Centre? And without anyone identifying himself or herself as the author? And with very clumsy grammatical construction…? And for a Ministry writing: “Laying in state from 24th to 26th January, 2021 at the Foyer of the Accra International Conference Centre (AICC) from 9:00am to 5pM (sic) daily”? If this is not an international gaffe, then we are yet to be told what it is.

We have, for several years, written copiously about “lying-in-state”, pointing out that this is a fixed idiom (fixed and immutable); the body “lies in state” (present tense) even though some people “lay” him there. In the US, for example, ever since Henry Clay lay in state in the Capitol in 1852, the Capitol has been used as a place for paying tribute to distinguished citizens, usually on the catafalque draped in black cloth. Top American officials (including 12 US Presidents, judges, military leaders) have lain in state there, and Congress has granted the use of the Rotunda for their caskets to lie in honour. (For the records, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who died in September, 2020, was the first woman to be accorded such respect.)

Ever heard “lying in repose”? This is what happens when a “simple” man dies and is laid on a simple bed for viewing. When a simple farmer dies in a village, one would expect to see him “…lying in repose” without guards and military honour … So, until the person who dies is given a full recognition, it will be better to use the expression: “…lying in repose”. If the body is taken to some “worthy” place for viewing, you may use the expression “…lying in honour”. Thus, you may reserve “lying in state” for a very grand occasion like one at the Foyer of the Accra International Conference Centre, with military guards, et cetera, as in the case of Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings. (NOT: “…is/was laid in state”; BUT “…lay in state”; NOT: “… will be laid in state” BUT: “…will lie in state”; NOT: “…has been laid in state” BUT “…has lain in state”).

Some of our press houses have a format containing those WRONG expressions, and if one leaves one's funeral announcement with them, one should not be surprised to see such worrisomely ERRATIC funeral expression like Obituary (instead of 'funeral announcement'); Wake-Keeping (instead of 'wake'); Internment (instead of 'interment'); Thanksgiving service (instead of 'memorial service'). One could probe further referring to p64-68 of Annor Nimako's book: “Mind Your Language”, or p51-54 of Africanus Owusu-Ansah's book “Contemporary English”.

Talking about “funerals”, one can hardly skip those affecting very close friends and cronies. Take the case of Nana Yaw Owusu, Otumfuo's Mpaboahene whose mother, would open her kitchen to us, children at NA 100, Asafo. Hopefully, the 4 Garrison Officers Mess Squash Club, led by the affable Lawyer Kofie will be among the mourners who will troop to Akosombo (near Yabi) to partake of the “One-week” observation. We shall all be there in our numbers! Nana was a product of Balham and Tooting College of Commerce, London, and had been in the oil industry for well over 20 years. A Board Chair of Kumasi Technical Institute, he was once a Vice-Chairman of Ghana Football Association.

Nor can we forget Dr. Amoako Tufour, a senior lecturer at KNUST, Kumasi, and a staunch NPP politician who passed on last week. He will be remembered for the case of Tufour v Attorney General in which he sought, before the Supreme Court, a declaration that the nomination by the President of Justice Apaloo, his subsequent vetting and his rejection by Parliament was null and void. Interestingly, Dr. Amoako Tufour's lawyers were the present President, Nana Akufo-Addo and Tsatsu Tsikata, while the state was represented by Joe Reindorf and A. L. Djabatey.

Neither can we fail to discuss the passing of Nanabenyin Pratt, the elder brother of renowned outspoken political guru, Kwesi Pratt. He was a Public Relations expert, and lecturer at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA). He was once a Managing Director of the New Times Corporation.

And, of course, the funeral of the late military dictator-turned-civilian President, Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings is passing off. He, who had denied others like Kutu Acheampong, Akwasi Amankwaa Afrifa, Fred Akuffo, Joy Amedume, Kotei, Felli… the right to a peaceful repose, is going home as a hero. Why grieve over those hapless souls, someone would ask, unmoved by the plight of the children of these men who had no opportunity to be cuddled to sleep with fatherly lullabies? In defence, people would say every human being has his/her faults… and “to err is human, to forgive divine.” Has this mortal world been fair to all alike? But life must go on…

We are not doctors to tell whether these deaths occurred as a result of COVID-19. The simple fact remains that they all died during the time of COVID-19. Perhaps, they were luckier to have dodged the lockdown; others were not so lucky, and got trapped by the lockdown. We say to all the departed souls, Rest in Peace, but to Nana Yaw Owusu, we say: “With teardrops running down our faces, we bid you farewell. May you find everlasting rest in the bosom of the Lord.”

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From Africanus Owusu – Ansah