By Akeem Lasisi
The word, ‘bastard’, has been trending in Nigeria for two weeks. This is courtesy of Port Harcourt-based pastor, David Ibiyeomie, who called Lagos-based broadcaster, Daddy Freeze, a bastard. The description has since sparked the kind of negative emotions often associated with the term.
Our culture so much frowns upon being dubbed an illegitimate child that there have been occasions the person so called grabbed a cutlass and began to pursue the speaker. It is an insult that many parents encourage their children to fight squarely. No wonder, the identities of the broadcaster’s parents not only surfaced immediately, he has also gone ahead to threaten Ibiyeomie with a legal action.
Interestingly, there are other meanings of ‘bastard’ that many of us might not know. It is true that the first thing that comes to mind in many cases it is uttered is ‘an illegitimate child’, in terms of one born to parents who did not get or have not got married to each other. Yes, that seems to be what the pastor has in mind as he goes on in the controversial sermon to say Freeze must be from Somalia, while challenging him to produce his parents. Yet, there are other meanings and uses of the word.
As a matter of fact, big dictionaries such as the Cambridge and Oxford insist that the child-out-of-wedlock meaning is an old usage, with the latter noting that, legally, the bastard concept is no more relevant. A meaning that both and other dictionaries primarily acknowledge is ‘an unpleasant person’, indicating that the term is not defined by parentage alone but also by attitude or behaviour. Here is the Cambridge’s example in this regard:
He was a bastard to his wife.
You lied to me, you bastard
It further notes that it can be used in a humorous way:
You won again? You lucky bastard!
Yet, the word can be used for non-humans too:
This crossword’s a bastard!
In all of the examples, ‘bastard’ is used as a noun. But it can also function as an adjective:
I learnt he was the bastard daughter of the lawyer.
In terms of pronunciation, there is also something to watch with the expression. In British English, the ‘a’ after ‘b’ constitutes a long vowel while it is short in American English. So, while the Briton (and Nigerian) would say bAAstard, the American would say bAstard and move on. Yet, there is a common mistake most of us make while articulating the word. The ‘ar’ in ‘bastard’ is not a long vowel (not /æ:/ as we have in star, hard or laugh.) Rather, it is the short and low sound we have in sister, later and anger. Do some pronunciation work online to understand the point better.
I will end the lesson by making two further observations. First, as I noted about two weeks ago while discussing Femi Fani-Kayode’s verbal assault on a journalist, I advised that there is the need to always be cautious when angry because, as a Yoruba proverb goes, eyin lo’hun, fifo nii fo, meaning – as my mentor and ace poet, Prof. Niyi Osundare, would put it – the word is an egg. As soon as the raw egg lands on the ground, it crashes into irreparable pieces. The moment of anger is not the time to launch an endless verbal attack, as this might backfire, in terms of the heat the pastor and Fani-Kayode have been experiencing. In the lesson, I suggested that even if you must abuse someone, concepts such as sarcasm and euphemism can help you do so, thus avoid being too direct.
The second matter is that although we have established in this lesson that ‘bastard’ does not always mean an illegitimate child, you should always be careful about how, where and when you use it based on the heavily negative meaning that a lot of people have always attributed to it.