In junior and senior high school, teachers were very strict about rooting out Pidgin English from the student populace. Most student handbooks spoke extensively on the non-allowance of this grammar simplified form of communication. If you were ever caught saying “charle I dey go chop”, you were more than likely going to get 6 strokes of lashes on your back. Or a huge demarcation of land bursting at its boundaries with weeds, sometimes as large as half of a football pitch, mapped out for you to weed out.
This stern attitude towards the non-compliance of a “No Pidgin English Allowed” rule was probably a vestige of the old colonial educational system or a legitimate concern to ensure that students did not find themselves writing “Secof” instead of “because” in a WASSCE examination. But Pidgin English thrived when I was in school, it thrived when my dad was probably toasting a classmate back in whatever era he had his high school education and it will more likely than not thrive when your grandkids go to school. In Nigeria, Pidgin is lingua franca between the educated and non-educated/semi educated. Its relevance in both countries is so entrenched, BBC recently created a Pidgin English section of its news broadcasting and online reporting.
Pidgin English in its totality might not be going anywhere any time soon but its vocabularies are in a constant flux. Words my father used while speaking Pidgin English might be out of fashion today in some younger circles. For instance, na you sabi is not as popular among younger crowds as only you you nor ( as you can glean from the latter phrase, the two are direct translation from local languages that have the expression “you are the only one who knows” which is a way of either expressing doubt over something said or calling out someone for something they said albeit in a more benign manner).
One word which has always been around yet still enjoys a wide appeal is Distin! It is no different from the unadulterated “This Thing” in non-pidgin English. However, Distin means way much more and has a deeper utility in Ghanaian Pidgin English than it does everywhere else.
I cannot put a finger on when the use of Distin gained wide appeal but pinning it on Kejetia v. Makola seems quite fair. In the show Ntim, the lawyer “trained” at the fictitious Kejetia Law School makes repeated use of the word Distin whenever he struggles to find the appropriate word to describe a situation or entity. “Your honor, my crient said that the distin is why he couldn’t do the distin” or a variation of it is a familiar sentence to anyone who has seen an episode of the show. But even if that is not where the word gained its mass appeal from, it is still fair to say the show has helped catalyzed it into an almost viral phenomenon. The question now is “how do we explain what Distin is to an outsider looking in”?
When You Just Want to Be Funny: Owing to how Lawyer Ntim uses “The Distin” in his conversations in the hit series, people tend to resort to the word whenever they want to drop a wisecrack. When Liverpool loses a match like they have been doing consistently this season, you will read something along the lines of Your hona, the distin that Klopp said he will do, he has not done it, so charge him with the distin and take the distin club away from him. When the Free SHS policy was rolled out “The president said he will do the Free SHS distin but the NDC people say that he cannot do the distin”
As a Euphemistic Way of Saying Something Vile/Graphic: Staying guarded in social media conversations is a lost art. Most people just say whatever it is they want without any filters. These days, Distin, has marginally reduced the graphic words we come across on our timelines. This weather is good for four legs and the Distin is a coded way of saying the weather is conducive for sex.
When Asking For Something Politely: Asking for something can be challenging sometimes. You do not want to come across as a beggar Distin can help you achieve that. When you tell someone I want the Distin you are using, he or she knows that you are begging for it but the use of “The Distin” almost trivializes the fact that you are begging.
Actually Not Knowing What It Is You Want to Say: Sometimes, we are flat out short of words and cannot find the right vocabulary for the situation. The Distin comes in very handy in such situations. The next time you forget that fastidious is an appropriate word for a situation you are speaking about, insert Distin. Simply say I wrote a three page essay on the assignment but she was being Distin about it and asked me to write the whole thing again.