No Gree.

Mark Liberman has a Log post about a Nigerian slogan, quoting Toyin Falola, “No Gree for Anybody!” (HeartOfArts 1/12/2024):

I am writing this piece from Lagos. “No Gree” is what you now hear at every moment, every corner. […]

No Gree for Anybody seems to be a personal avowal to not compromise or concede and to maintain unwavering determination against factors and people that could impede one’s aspirations or thwart the pursuit of one’s desires.

He has various relevant links and a video, but what I want to highlight is this excellent comment by JPL:

“No gri foh [“person”]NP”, here an expression from Nigerian Pidgin, is indeed a participant in the West African Creole English continuum, where ‘gri’ is indeed based on the English lexeme ‘agree’, but the sense of “gri foh”, as opposed to “gri” or “gri wit” (where “gri” is a stative verb with the sense of “be in agreement (with)”, e.g., in the context of argumentation), is more like that of the English expressions “go along with”, or “give in to”, and is used to refer to an addressee’s response to coercive pressure to adopt or conform to a course of action that benefits the speaker, and is not necessarily in the best interests of the addressee. So “gri foh” is a dynamic use of this verb, in the same way as the use of the English verb ‘agree’ in, e.g., “I agreed to do it”; but the pattern with a nominal oblique object, as opposed to an infinitival complement, has no English counterpart. (‘foh’ in the English creoles often functions like the infinitival complementizer ‘to’, so this usage is probably extended from that use.)

A typical established use of “gri foh [person]” would be in the context where a man is trying to win a woman’s love (or mainly for sex) by making importunate pleadings or “game-runnings”: if the woman gives in, someone might say, disapprovingly, “i gri for am”.

In the political context this idea has an important role in pushing back at, e.g., attempts by government or social convention to make people/citizens give up expectations that rights will be respected or aspirations acknowledged.

I love that kind of careful analysis of both morphology and semantics. (I have incorporated a minor correction made in a follow-up comment.) A later comment clarified:

In case it’s not evident from context (upon looking at the comment today, it occurred to me that it might not be evident), in the example in the next to last paragraph (“i gri for am”), “i” is a third person singular subj, pronoun, “am” a third person singular obj. pronoun, and “gri” is perfective aspect with past time reference.


  1. David Eddyshaw says

    A no go giri, mɛk a no tɔk!

    (Obasanjo tried. Didn’t work …)

  2. it’s extraordinarily inconvenient (for me) that “i” and “am” are being used as third person pronouns, but now that I’ve wrapped my head around it, I think I get it.

    My cluelessness at parsing this kind of thing reminds me that I used to think “No woman, no cry” was analogous to “no pain, no gain”.

  3. Yes, I’m glad JPL added the clarification; I figured out what “i gri for am” must mean, but I have a background in linguistics. And I think most of us Babylonians interpreted “No woman, no cry” that way on first acquaintance.

  4. It is permissible in Jamaican English not set off a direct address (as in “No, woman, no cry”) with commas? That seems to be the reason the title gets misinterpreted.

  5. I am interested by the use of enjoyment in the video by Josh2funny Extra that was linked to on Language Log. Is this sort of sense what is already found, for example, in Fela Kuti’s “Shuffering and shmiling” (1978):

    Suffer, suffer for world
    Enjoy for Heaven
    Christians go dey yab
    “In Spiritum Heavinus”
    Muslims go dey call
    “Allahu Akbar”
    Open you eye everywhere
    Archbishop na miliki
    Pope na enjoyment
    Imam na gbaladun

    Archbishop dey enjoy
    Pope self dey enjoy
    Imam self dey enjoy
    My brother wetin you say?
    My brother wetin you say?

    It would form the clear semantic link in the derivation of French s’enjailler, from Nouchi (discussed here), from English enjoy, enjoyment. I wonder among which varieties of African English and English creoles a very low and unrounded realization of an /ɔj/ diphthong might be typical, so that /ɔj/ could be borrowed as /aj/.

  6. PlasticPaddy says

    Maybe I am missing something, but I thought 18C realisation of the diphthong in English “enjoy” was commonly /aj/ (compare spellings like pizen). Apart from “pirate” speech, you can still hear this realisation in older Dublin accents (maybe also current Cork accents, as in “Boy”)

  7. David Marjanović says

    The opposite of Stage Oirish?

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