The military have washed their hands off Lekki shootings?

 

Two weeks ago, a question thoroughly defeated most of those who participated in the week’s homework. It was (and it is) supposed to be a very cheap one but it turned out to be more

dangerous than I envisaged. Here is the question:


You should wash your hands … the matter.


Among other options to choose from, the most conflicting were ‘off’ and ‘of’, with almost everyone believing that the correct answer is ‘off’. After all, there are hands off, keep off, stave off etc. So, what is the big deal in asking someone to wash their hands off a matter?



I am sure many people reading this piece, but who did not participate in the October 20 assignment, will also understandably feel tempted to say ‘wash hands off something’. The big deal, however, is that the correct expression is ‘wash hands of’ a matter, not off it. If considered literally, the statement – which means to intentionally stop being involved in (or connected to) something that one was previously responsible for or involved in – sparks the tendency to say or write ‘wash hands off’. But it is a matter of grammar, one of those situations that even common sense must sound stupid. You should thus always double-check whenever you are in doubt. For the purpose of emphasis, you wash your hands of something, not off it:



The military have washed their hands off the Lekki shootings. (Wrong)


The military have washed their hands of Lekki shootings. (Correct)


The minister wants to wash his hands off the rot in the agency. (Wrong)


The minister wants to wash his hands of the rot in the agency. (Correct)


As an adverb, preposition or adjective, ‘off’ has its many uses, only that it is not just suitable for the ‘wash of your hand’ expression. As an adverb, for instance, it can mean moving away from a place or position, the removal of something or a warning not to get to a place:



The boy ran off with my phone.


The button may come off soon.


He said I should keep off the garden.


Remember!


You should remember another popular context in which many of us wrongly use ‘off’ instead of ‘of’: dispose of.


Can you help me dispose off the materials? (Wrong)



Can you help me dispose of the materials? (Correct)


Recently, I called the attention of the class to the other common error of using ‘off’ as a verb. The lesson was inspired by the ‘Off the mic’ slogan that the much-noise-less-result probing of the Niger Delta Development Commission (by the House of Representatives) bequeathed to Nigerians. Remember the lawmaker who kept shouting ‘Off the mic’ arguably when he felt that the Niger Delta Development Commission Minister, Godswill Akpabio, was revealing what seemed to be too much about the dark contractual practices in the hallowed chamber. Off course, even before the lawmakers released the ‘off the mic’ single, a lot of people had been (and many keep doing so) treating ‘off’ as a verb. Here are examples of such wrong sayings:



Off the light.


Off the generator.


Off the mic.


When dealing with machines or electrical devices, you can switch or turn the television, engine, light on. You can also switch or turn any of them off. But it is not correct to arbitrarily or casually use ‘off’ in any of the circumstances without the verb it should work with. Consider these:


Switch/Turnoff the mic.



Please, turn off the engine.


Has he turned off the generator?


A governor and ‘wreck havoc’


Back to the linguistic vandalism greeting the recent looting and destruction of properties in the country, may I call your attention to the fact that what the vandals have done is ‘wreak havoc’, not wreck it.


When one of our governors was, about five days ago, speaking on the destruction unleashed on his state, he said the hoodlums really wrecked havoc there. No! Although what they did remains bad and could wreck the economy, all they did was wreak havoc, not wreck havoc. Please, never forget. The idiom, (meaning to cause great damage) is wreak havoc, not wreck havoc.

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