Sunday, March 12, 2006

On gisting

Gisting is quite a phenomenon in Nigeria. It deserves a whole phallanx of linguists from across the world to come study, as with pidgin (especially its Wafi variant). Gisting is a kind of phatic communion (a linguistic term for initial speech interaction based on establishing sociality, rather than being based on the transfer of information). Gisting is a subset of gossiping. It is usually done at high speed. When done in English, the outsider cannot keep up with the blistering pace of the words. Gisting sounds a bit like Coltrane in his heyday - a sheet of sound cascading between mouths. It is more a form of verbal music than information exchange.

While gisting as a form of sonorous behaviour is fascinating and, as I say, deserves to be studied, I'm on the whole against it. Ok, good gisters have a masterful conversational memory which means they can remember step by step each element of discourse - he said she said etc. However, gisting seems to me to be a lazy form of communication on the whole. As with the German philosopher Martin Heidegger's critique of what he called Das Man (equating ultimately to Idle Talk) in Being and Time, I find gisting to be mostly vacuous. The narrative genius of agile gisters is not enough. What is required is that rare thing in Nigeria: analysis. Gisting is such a waste of time when one can simply get to the point and break down speech and meaning into its constituent parts. Gisting takes up many hours which could otherwise be spent plotting the revolution. What we need is a device which converts a minimum of say 10% of gisting energy into revolutionary thought processes. I'm currently conducting a thorough search of the wildest margins of Google to find a mad scientist who will turn this theoretical device into a working tool.


Anonymous,  11:58 pm  

Nawa o, so make we no gist again? I don't blame you, na your wife wey dey give you mouth abi? We Nigerians no fit analyse abi wetin you talk inside your post sef? Anyway sha na you sabi, make I go fone my friend make I gist am about this were oyinbo man we dey yarn nonsense...sheeoour

Funke,  3:38 am  

On a totally different subject. Is your love for all things Naija because of your wife, or would you have moved there regardless of who you fell in love with? Also are there many European guys married to Nigerian women in Abuja/Lagos? In the Seventies (when I grew up in Lagos) there were lots of English women married to Nigerian men, but I don't ever recall it the other way around. I am asking because of research I'm doing for a paper on mixed race children of Nigerian/British descent. Also have you noticed many mixed race returnees to Naija?

Anonymous,  5:42 am  

jeremy ahn ahn! you for don kill me here oh! pls id rather waste five solid hrs gisting with my friends than getting drunk in some random club/bar...bsides they are on the east coast and im on the west coast...but really though, we dedicate as much time to discussing how our generation is going to

Anonymous,  10:13 am  

I returned to Nigeria just over 6 months ago and I find the culture of gisting quite mindless. I came across several cvs where people state gisting as their hobby. This was quite interesting to me - how can gisting be a hobby?

When people are gisting (men and women alike), they go on and on and never get to the point of the discussion (perhaps the point is that there is no point). But this culture of gisting have negative impact when you're in meetings where time is your enemy and people just pontificate about nonsense. The culture of gisting gets carried over into the work arena. No attempt at analysising let alone synthesis.

Nigerians can talk and much of the talk I find mostly meaningless and mindless, but perhaps theraputic. However, I have found a group of people where discussion pushes me to think beyond myself. But I guess there is a place for gisting. Just like there is a place for Nollywood and all the other 'woods. Gisting is not just to my liking.


grace,  11:30 am  

"Gisting takes up many hours which could otherwise be spent plotting the revolution"

You cannot be serious! Though I agree with the part about analysis.

Kemi,  1:20 pm  

Morayo said:
This was quite interesting to me - how can gisting be a hobby?

I'm not surprised.

You think that's bad?
On Nigerian CVs, you also find reading, eating, watching TV and "hanging out with friends" as hobbies.

Many of them have never sat down and analysed "Why do people want to know my hobbies?"

It's not to find out what you enjoy, but what other skills you might bring to the job e.g. demonstration of leadership, creativity, selflessness, etc.

No doubt "having sex" will soon join the list of Nigerian "hobbies".

I wouldn't complain though. If somebody puts "gisting" as a hobby then that is almost conclusive evidence that the person is an idiot on some level and should not be offered the job.

Alaye Scoro 1:33 pm  

People who put "gisting" down as hobbies are idiots on a slightly lower level than those who put down "hanging out with friends", "watching tv", "Listening to music", etc.

I think its hard to place a blanket criticism on gisting without appreciating what the subject of said gist is. Gisting that I would classify as pointless and annoying is the gossipy "have you heard what so so and so has done" etc. I for one enjoy listening to Nigerians talk about Nigerian politics and the wider world in general.

Akin 1:49 pm  

Hmmm Jeremy,

There is need for critical and objective analysis of societal traits and norms, through study and observation; in that, you are very right.

However, let us examine your first paragraph.

Remember, first, you are an observer not a participant.

Every society has a form of phatic communication and the analogy I would draw would be the difference between grooming (gisting) and having a plunge in a pool for a wash (precise information).

Not all communication has to be the transfer of information. I remember an earlier blog where the discussion centred on the elaborate greetings between people - the questions, the answers the belly laughs and conviviality - all part of establishing protocols of intimacy - very much like "establishing sociality"

Even though gossip is view in the most negative context, I read with interest that gossip also pertains to intimacy of relationships like a godparent, companion or crony.

Basically, getting the information on which gossip is based at times comes from a bonding between the source and the disperser of the information.

Having not been in Nigeria for a very long time, I could imagine that some forms of communication would be alien if not vacuous to me.

I find myself interjecting to cut to the thrust, but if gisting is a phenomenon that is now part of Nigerian fabric, then it has become an evolving way of life regardless of how much of an outsider you think you are to that exchange.

I can imagine the frustration of language in the Netherlands where a good few speak English but are very direct and we English are more circumspect and discreet.

To the Dutch, I am sometimes not passing on information, but to an Englishman, I am loud and clear.

My point; if gisting is verbal music, there are many brought up in that tradition that would dance to it and outsiders who would call it noise.

For you, gisting might become the battle; an earnest desire to belong and be fully integrated or remain the sojourner with campaign furniture.

I can draw inference from another comment - it is a form of social interaction, but not as you know it or like it.

Beware that your abilities to observe and analyse do not condemn you to a "holier than thou" persona. It is important that your analysis stem from curiosity to appreciation than deprecation to prejudice.

You might just have questioned an aspect of societal cohesion which is a good as any therapy you will get in the West.

NB: You need to enable trackbacks, some of your copy excites a lot of commentary and I am not good with being precise. :-)



Anonymous,  4:54 pm  

Akin, thanks for your eloquent commmentary. Jeremy, your mindless dribble is another person's therapy - in a culture where paying for the talking cure is out of the question, gisting can become the only form of therapy.

Yes, I do agree that analysis is often missing in many a speech act here in Nigeria and this can be quite frustrating, but this is not to disparage the value of gisting itself for the gisters.

be mindful that you don't become 'I too know' or 'holier than thou' in your attempt at providing analysis and critique of your Nigerian experience.

I have come across a few cvs with 'gisting', 'dancing' and 'hanging with friends' as examples of hobbies. I was in an interview recently and I asked the interviewee if she could expand on her gisting hobby. To which she responded: 'I just like gisting with my friend sha!' and there was no hint of irony in her voice. Perhaps for her gisting is a kind of art form in itself that has relevance in the work place. Of course, I fail to see the relevance. This new social phenomenon should be explored.

Kemi,  5:27 pm  

Jeremy, your mindless dribble is another person's therapy -

Anyone reading that sentence would be forgiven for thinking that anonymous was calling Jeremy's post mindless dribble. Talk about clumsy wording!

Jeremy, I think you should write a post about commenting. How on earth are we to tell the difference between all these anonymice?

A lot of people don't realise that they can select 'other'when choosing an identity and pick an anonymous moniker that still enables us to differentiate between several speakers on a thread.

It is too confusing.

Anonymous Kemi,  6:00 pm  

I agree with the other not so anonymous Kemi

BABA SALA,  6:36 pm  

Dear Fellow Nigerians,

I disagree with those of you who feel JW is simply an observer. I believe he is a perticipant. He is also married to one of us. Unless BB would prefer to be an oyinbo pepe! Please let us not insult JW.
JW is very welcome. No need to let him have a taste of his so called ignorant racist oyimbo medecine. He come Naija come think say im get sense or sabi pass us.

Akin 8:26 pm  

Dear Baba Sala,

I disagree with those of you who feel JW is simply an observer. I believe he is a perticipant. He is also married to one of us.

I can only speak for myself. I can trace my ancestry back in Ijebuland up 8 generations.

I had the good fortune of having a great grandmother up to my twenties.

Though I was born in England, I grew up in Nigeria till I left literally 20 years after we returned at 25, my own people still referred to me as "Omo ilu oyinbo".

I lived and breathed Nigeria, speaking Yoruba and Hausa and still I was considered an outsider.

In the context of his write up, he is an observer irked by the practise. Nowhere in my comment should the observer/outsider tag be construed as an insult either directly or inferred.

I sometimes find "gisting" irksome too, but as I am not in Nigeria the diatribe continues till I find I need to extract what I am looking for.

However, this looks more like a "When in Rome, do as ..." scenario than a missionary civilising natives issue.

Anonymously anonymous

As for the use of the anonymous moniker, I am not sure of what configuration would disable that, but it is difficult to adopt an anonymous profile and then have a name :-)

I think the trackbacks needs to be enabled and probably there is an option to enable Blogger and Other only.

However, please do not restrict the ability to comment to Bloggers only.



Akin 2:27 am  

Hello Jeremy,

On trackbacks

I just found out that Bloger does not natively support trackbacks which is strange considering the popularity of the service.

However, you can find here 2 ways to enable the feature - from Blogger and a user.

I think enabling Backlinks/Trackbacks would greatly enrich your already popular and engaging blog.

1: Bloggers drift on trackbacks or backlinks
2: Enabling Trackbacks - User



Akin 2:32 am  

Sorry, I posted too soon.

Haloscan is a plugin you can install to enable trackbacks as part of the commenting system.

So, 3 options for you to play with.



Jeremy 8:44 am  

Hi Akin

The confusion about trackbacks is semantic only - Blogger doe not use the terminology, but DOES use the feature. The blogger version of trackback is the "links to this post" link. This feature is enabled on my blog, as you can see. So, you use it as you use trackback on any other non-Blogger trackback-enabled blog:

1. click on Links to this post
2. use the url you are taken to as your trackback link
3. Then, back on my blog, if you click on links to this post, you will see the link you have created + snippet.
please try and have a go so we can see it working (its been done before on this blog).

Akin 11:46 pm  

Hi Jeremy,

Thanks for your advice. Blogger calls "trackbacks" backlinks, but they are not like the stndard trackbacks.

However, when I put that link in the trackback URL helper on my blog host and it says the link cannot handle trackbacks.

Anyway, I would continue to contribute here as time and space allows.



Adaure 4:58 am  

why are some of you hating on GISTING. Just because you are not dramatic enough to be a good gister does not mean you should send the art to damnation. I mean there was a time RAP was considered detrimental to society, but look at it now. Not to say that GISTING is potentially a form of art and expression and gisters, the new griots. However, lets not get carried away by the grammatically incorrect term which is just a PC word for gossiping, chatting and conversing (it's a noun not a verb). But that's the beauty of Naija for you sha we operate with a different dictionary.

By the way blogging in the sense of it is 'HI-TECH GISTING' so Jeremy you my dear are a 21st CENTURY GISTER

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