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Washy: A Controversial Tradition

Elevated compliments have become part of social interactions for undergraduates. “Washy” is the name of this controversial culture. GILBERT ALASA writes that the practice is manipulative.
It was the beginning of the second semester at the Nigeria French Village, a language centre for inter-universities studies in Badagry. Expectedly, students were on their way to catch up with an early class that morning. As if on cue, a young man walked past this reporter hurriedly. Approaching his target, he prostrated. And then, in a playful rebuff, the student who was being “worshipped” veered off in swift escape. “That’s “washy” at its exciting best”, muted another student.
Washy is an age-long tradition among undergraduates in Nigeria. Although its origin remains unclear as no one can recall when it started. Investigations, however, reveal that it is a form of “wish-wash.” “Washy” is the act of flattering someone in an elevated language and use of excessive compliments for the purpose of ingratiating oneself with the subject. It is also called wheel greasing or apple polishing.
How is the ritual observed? A student could be strolling towards a crowd of people. Suddenly, a group of students appear from nowhere and immediately fall on their faces to the ground in “worship” of their target. Aside the use of hyped compliments, “Washy” could take the form of using big names and titles for a person. A person could be tagged with names as “Goddess, G.O (General Overseer) Chairman, Boss, Presido, Alhaji, Powerful, Small G (small god) and so on. It is believed that such false compliment makes people let down their guard, allowing the flatterer to swim his way into the heart of his target. “Most people just “washy” you just to get something from you. It is manipulative. That’s why I don’t like it,” said Jemima Udoh, a student of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, (LAUTECH).
Asserting the historical perspective of the practice, Randy Ikechukwu of the University of Benin said: “recall the era of troubadours who wrote poetry to serenade prominent people? People desire compliments because it creates a momentary escape from our insecurities.”
Studies revealed that over the ages, philosophers and historians have identified flattering as an ethical problem. But during the Renaissance, it was a standard form of communication wherein writers cajoled reigning monarchs as William Shakespeare flattered King James 1 in Macbeth. Edmund Spenser also flattered Queen Elizabeth 1 in The Faerie Queene. Julius Caesar was noted for his flattery prowess.
Erasmus Desiderius commended flattery saying “it (flattery) raises downcast spirits, comforts the sad, rouses the apathetic, stirs up the stolid, cheers the sick, restrains the headstrong, brings lovers together and keeps them united.” But Dante condemned the practice, equating it (flattery) with human excrement.
“For many respondents, washy” is simply a fun way of keeping social interactions animated. “I relish it. It’s fun and helps me to express my real feelings in a light-hearted way. Personally, I find it difficult telling people how I feel about them in a strong way. “Washy” brings me out of my shell”, he said.
Blessing Ejere, a student of the University of Jos (UNIJOS) believes flattering is healthy for humans, especially women. “It’s a known fact that one can win a woman’s heart through the use of compliments. We just love to hear men overwhelm us with sweet talks. A good dose of flattery can make my day. In fact, it makes me feel like a real woman when I hear someone tell me such things.”
Checks revealed that female students are the primary victim of this culture of washy. It is believed that their covert desire to be sweet talked often lands them in the hands of “players” in their romantic relationships. This is the assertion of a 200 level Insurance student of the University of Lagos. He noted “Sadly, girls love lies and compliments. If you tell them the truth, they lose interest easily. Feed them with all the lies and you are on your way to getting whatever you want. In my first year in the university, a girl broke up with me because I just didn’t know how to lie to win her. Later, she got involved with a serious player on campus. So, I learnt my lesson the hard way.”
But for President of the Nigeria French Language Village Christian Fellowship (NFLVCF) Fola Alabi and student of University of Ibadan, such culture of overrated compliments often sends the wrong messages. “It’s not cool to say what we don’t mean to people. Adulating someone for fun’s sake is manipulating. Again, a girl who is not used to receiving compliments could go overboard and do crazy things with a man who tells her such bloated lies. Above all, the Bible charged us believers to be sincere with our words.”
Anavhe Donald said “washy” gets an all-time high during students’ union elections on campus. “During elections, student politicians employ what Robert Greene , author of The 48 Laws of Power called the power of the thumbscrew. Flattering bloats the human ego and opens a hole in their armor; thus giving the flatterer the power to seduce at will.”
A students’ leader at the University of Benin said: “One of the traits of a powerful politician is the ability to influence people through the use of language. Man, he added, naturally hates the truth especially when it’s not pleasant. And sometimes, due to our backgrounds of battered self-esteem, we gravitate easily to people who seem to boost our self-confidence. So, flattering people is a powerful way to get students on your boat during campaigns.”

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