Sample 1: “He is a man (who) over decades has been building relationships, touching lives, networking across the length and breath of this country.” (Asiwaju didn’t win election today…Opera News, 7 April, 2023) I draw readers’ attention to the structure: “across the length and breath of this country.” In particular, we note the expression: “length and breath.” The two words (length, breath) occurring together as they do here are an example of wrong collocation. Length and breadth, let us note, should occur together; breath and breathe have natural linguistic affinity.
First, we pay a close attention to the difference between length and breadth, both of which are nouns.
Now the usage of the word breadth is illustrated as follows: 1) We need to take an accurate measurement of the length and breadth of the cloth. 2) The breadth of this land is slightly shorter than that of the previous one. 3) The area of an object can be got by multiplying its length by its breadth. 4) Is it always the case that the length of an object is longer than its breadth? 5) The length of the land is ok, but it would appear that the breadth has been tampered with. 6) The bed measures seven feet in length and four feet in breadth.
As a way of contextualizing this discussion, let’s note the inappropriate way the word breathes is used in the following structure: “housemates will be holding their breathes as they face actual eviction.” The slot occupied by the form breathes actually belongs to a noun. What is the word class of the form breathes? Is it a noun or a verb? At once it looks like the third person singular form of the verb breathe and like the plural form of the noun breath, a plural form that does not exist in the English lexicon.
However, the question is: Is breathe a noun? It is definitely not. It is in fact a verb. We have drawn attention repeatedly in this place to the interaction between orthography and grammar, and especially the unpredictable character of the English spelling system. In English, a single letter is often enough to differentiate two words and the classes of the same word.
That is the case with breathe and breath, the former being the verb-form and the latter the noun form. Now read the following sentences: 1) When a man cannot breathe, it may be assumed that he is already in the valley of the shadow of death. 2) Tapping on the patient’s chest, the doctor asked him to breathe in and out gently three times. 3) He ran into the room, breathing heavily. 4) Is it always the case that an asthma patient cannot breathe without the help of an inhaler? 5 Vibrant and visionary, the new manager has been able to breathe a new life into the company. 6) Having left the polluted zone, we can now breathe freely.
Readers should please note the final –e in the verb breathe. Please note, in addition, that the letter –e does not feature in the –ing form of the verb: breathing. Now read the following sentences: 1) The dangerous chemical is leaking, and we may have to hold our breath for some seconds as we pass through the premises. 2) Please save your breath; I am beyond persuasion in this matter. 3) God breathed into man the breath of life and he became a living soul. 4) Decaying teeth produce bad breath. 5) He held his breath briefly and then continued his speech. 6) Difficult breath is often a symptom of unhealthy lungs.
Sample 2: “They urged firm action against people who have held Nigeria 20 million citizens down and perpetrated themselves in office through rigging…”(2023: Plot to sack INEC Chairman thickens, Opera News,15 October,2022)
We are interested in the word perpetrate which occurs in the context: “have…perpetrated themselves in office through rigging…” It should become obvious that the word perpetrate has been used in confusion with perpetuate. The confusion of identity stems partly from inaccurate pronunciation and partly from spelling liability on the part of the reporter. This kind of problem will continue to arise for as long as writers do not take up the challenge of getting thoroughly familiar with the “tools” of their trade – the words of the language. Crimes and other forms of misdeeds are said to be perpetrated. To perpetuate something, on the other hand, is to cause such a thing to continue.
Let’s illustrate their respective usage. First perpetrate: (1) Since the crime was perpetrated long before the law came into force, the offender cannot be successfully prosecuted now. (2) Poverty cannot be an excuse or justification for perpetrating crime. (3) Those who perpetrated the violent crime will be brought to justice speedily. (4) The human rights abuses perpetrated during the military era are still being collated. (5) The surprising thing is that the crime was perpetrated under the nose of the police. (6) Any crime perpetrated henceforth shall receive instant judgement. 7) Several murders have been perpetrated in the neighbourhood in recent times. 8) All over the world, great evils are perpetrated by the police in the name of keeping law and order. 9) The thugs on the payroll of politicians perpetrate more heinous crimes than [do] the much touted criminals being pursued by the police. 10) The nation has been subjected to far more danger by the crimes perpetrated by political and technocratic elites than those perpetrated by violent criminals. 11) Various forms of injustice are perpetrated by the police through taking of bribes and excessive use of force.
Now perpetuate: (1) The interesting thing about genes is that they are perpetuated for as long as new generations are brought into being. (2) Folk tales are the chief means through which values are perpetuated in traditional societies. (3) Church doctrines and practices are perpetuated through regular Bible teaching. (4) Chief executives usually seek to perpetuate their influence in office by replacing themselves with their lackeys. (5) Instead of perpetuating them, we should do everything we can to eliminate these pernicious habits. (6) By refusing to punish those misdeeds, we are not only condoning poor work habits, we are actually collaborating to perpetuate them, encouraging people to continue to indulge in them. 7) Experienced teachers should exercise leadership by not allowing inexperienced teachers to perpetuate incorrect information. 8) Education is the chief means through which values of previous generations are perpetuated. 9) Journalists have a great role to play in perpetuating the society’s positive values.
At any rate, the word perpetrate should replace perpetuate in the context under examination.
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