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Of PhDs, Gamatox and Zimbabwean big words

This is Zimbabwe, we have the highest literacy level in Africa and a proclivity for the utilisation of gargantuan articulatory conduits. Why couldn’t he just say ‘we like using big words’?! That’s what we’re talking about today, our love for big words.

“Avian specimen of duplicate plumage habitually perambulate in proximate conglomeration,” said a madman my mother worried I would become, who lived under a bridge with his manuscripts, a typewriter and tweed jacket. What he meant was ‘birds of a feather flock together’. No, it wasn’t Marechera, but they were peers so it was definitely a mad time, when AIDS was a myth and an acronym for American Ideas to Destroy Sex. How Mungoshi and Eppel survived beats me!

If madmen talk like that imagine our PhDs? This is Zimbabwe, we have the highest literacy level in Africa and a proclivity for the utilisation of gargantuan articulatory conduits. Why couldn’t he just say ‘we like using big words’?! No wonder everyone we allow to speak on the news has the prefix ‘Comrade’ on their name, like Trevor Noah’s cadres who don’t walk but ‘mobilise lower limbs’.

I remember back in 2008, shit was so bad I was rolling paw-paw leaves in money because we had the money but there was nothing to buy, not even cigarettes. Only salt (the irony!) in the supermarkets. But the ‘black market’ had everything, as soon as you saw a queue you would just join it with no idea what they would be selling as soon as the truck arrived. Not only did one queue in advance, how much stuff one could buy was also rationed. Being in a queue was actually a job, some guys used to sell positions in queues for a living. They were idiots if you ask me, what do you do with money when you can’t even find loose cigarettes on street corners?

Naturally under such circumstances stuff becomes overpriced, because market forces say I am the only guy with mealie-meal so pay what I want, or eat shit and shit nothing. Boy did I hear phrases during that time! There was inflation, then runaway inflation, galloping inflation and fuck-it, “Gono remove nine more zeroes so we can pronounce this money”. Eventually no one would take Zimbabwean currency in Zimbabwe and the government had no choice but to officially declare us an international flea-market, or multi-currency economy if you like being polite.

Things were overpriced, the government tried to step in but that’s why it’s called the black market: it doesn’t give a shit about your white-collar rules. When they intervened they couldn’t just call it ‘subsidised food’. No, that’s too mundane for a nation of our intellectual acclimatisation. You see those Americans, they are not creative, USAID, that’s what they call an aid programme from the US. We use acronyms like BACOSSI. That’s Basic Commodities Supply Subsistence Initiative. We just had to throw ‘Initiative’ into the mix.

Elections, 2013. ZANU(PF) is in a tight corner, back against the ropes, even if Bob wins he is likely to die at any moment…any moment now…No, the Chinese upgraded him to a Core i7. RIP SATA! In all honesty we expected them to lose but I suppose if some Palestinian can walk on water and turn it alcoholic then certainly a career badass like Bob can win an election. The world is not normal! While I am more inclined to believe he cheated, he will tell you he did it vintage Zimbabwean style: with just one acronym, ZIMASSET. Yes, that’s an acronym and it means Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation. Or as I like to call it, ZIM-ASSED. It’s anal rape if you ask me. But that’s another story, today we are talking about big words.

Like Gamatox.

© Philani A Nyoni
© Philani A Nyoni

So Her Royal Highness (I pronounce that like heinous, which I sometimes pronounce like anus) shows up in my good old city and does her speaky-speaky thing. Why people abuse themselves by attending, especially if she goes on the podium in Lupane and speaks in tongues I will need a PhD to understand. I listened to her the other day on the radio going on about transpiration and stuff, I lost two IQ points quicker than I could say WTF.

Apparently “Dr” Grace is also a prophet, not only because she had her lowest attendance in her home area but because the Holy Spirit fell upon her while she was speaking in Bulawayo. Sometime during her speech the people come to their senses and start walking out, then the sprit falls upon her…can I get an amen? I said the Spirit fell upon her…amen? hallelujah, rika-limama-shika-rihanna-kushi-khokhokho…I said the SPIRIT fell upon her and she saw, with her spiritual eyes, that the people of Bulawayo had an evil spirit within them, which caused them to walk away when Amai, Mother, was speaking. Not just any spirit but a gamatox spirit. Put a mirror on the screen, that’s exactly what my brow looked like when I read that. Gamatox, that’s a PhD word right there, it’s so PhD know-it-all hippie Google has no blooming idea what the fruit it means! That’s my new favourite hashtag, #Gamatox, I take it as meaning f***ing wicked!

But we understand man, this is Zimbabwe. We have a government department called the Ministry of Psychomotor. If you don’t know what the portfolio entails you are not alone; having occupied the office for a month the minister had no idea either. I think now he has a rough idea. The rest of us will need PHDs (Pretty-Hard-Drinks), lots of them. I think it’s a dope word for dope though. I could totally make it work in a rap song: “Chilling in the hood we got no vodka/ But Godknows got a joint of psychomotor…”

We are not alone though, it’s a second-language thing, probably because as a non-native speaker you read more than speak the language so you end up using literary phrases in real life. My favourite cinematic portrayal of the second-language-big-word phenomenon was Dr Shultz (another PhD), from Tarantino’s Django. He doesn’t speak to people, he parleys with them. And Wole Soyinka got a Nobel for writing the most unreadable book ever: The Interpreters. That’s the book I lend to people I don’t like. Just playing, Soyinka, sexy-snowy-afro wearing you!

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