Trite

Trite:
–adjective, trit·er, trit·est. 

1. lacking in freshness or effectiveness because of constant use or excessive repetition; hackneyed; stale: the trite phrases in his letter.
2. characterized by hackneyed expressions, ideas, etc.: The commencement address was trite and endlessly long.
3. Archaic . rubbed or worn by use.

Gukira was recently featured in a section of the Daily Nation, as a blog to read. Perhaps, in addition to the five friends who read me, I will get one more reader.

However, I object, very much, to how Gukira was (mis)characterized:

Macharia writes in trite, minimalist prose, as an astute student of language should.

I respect that a wide variety of people read me in a wide range of ways. My students have taught me that even works I consider beyond critique, as instantly lovable, Jean Toomer’s Cane, for instance, can be disliked or hated.

I do not like my writing being described as “trite,” but I can understand it as one reaction to my style.

I object very strongly to the idea that “astute students of language” should use “trite” prose. I am horrified that the word “trite” is (mis)understood as complimentary. I am even more horrified that the writer did not have an editor who a) knew the meaning of the word trite or b) had the good sense to look it up.

Even more terrifying is the prospect that triteness is espoused as a literary value. Dear Kenyan Writers, Write Trite Prose!

Readers of a certain generation of African writing will recognize the long-running joke about Africans who use words they don’t understand. This is not Dickensian malapropisms. Instead, read generously, one may enter Afro-modernity by performing learnedness, especially by using words one’s audience does not understand.

Knowing the words becomes more significant than using them correctly.

To be sure, “trite” does not have the same value (I assume) as “heteronormativity” or “ideological” or “heterosynchronicity,” specialized words with multiple syllables. Yet, this one-syllable word is now a minefield in the Daily Nation, in the hands of one who did not bother to look it up. Or, bothered and misunderstood it.

While I do think Philip Ochieng, Kenya’s William Safire, can be persnickety,  and, despite my profession, I have little patience with the language police, those who understand language use as a straitjacket. I hew to the model that one should mis-use words strategically.

One of my favorite examples: poet Kathleen Fraser has an amazing piece called “boundayr.” The piece, she explains, was meant to be called “boundary,” but the error caught her, held her, spoke to her, and was adopted.

It is dangerous when those with the power to distribute language and shape its usage–in English-speaking Kenya, this is still traditional print media–do not respect their mission. As a “student of language,” I am troubled.

I hope that those who read the Daily Nation and come across this description of Gukira and do not know the meaning of “trite” will look it up.

Being educated, as some have argued, is the ability to figure out how to use available resources.