Guy Keleny's Errors & Omissions column has been one of the best things in The Independent for more than a decade

Errors and Omissions - A comedy of errors

Eleven years ago, Guy Keleny began the column that would become Errors and Omissions. Now, 600 editions down the line, John Rentoul presents a selection of his finest pedantry.

Errors & Omissions: Those sparks get everywhere – even under the paws of a lion

A strange mythological scene arose before the mind's eye upon reading the start of a headline on Monday: "Report of lion on loose sparks …" What could this lion on loose sparks be? A glorious, terrible apocalyptic beast, evidently, with flame and sparks flashing from under its feet. Then I read the rest of the headline "… sparks armed police hunt". The vision faded. It was just a noun-verb ambiguity brought on by the overused headline word "sparks". In Headlineland nothing is ever provoked, occasioned or simply caused, but always "sparked".

Errors & Omissions: An unintentional detour into the land of Camelot

Reverse order: A news story published on Monday began thus: "The public's lingering appetite for all things Olympic…" Where does this tiresome tic come from? I can only guess that perhaps it refers to the old hymn "All Things Bright and Beautiful".

Errors & omissions: Anything goes for theatre managers, but not headline writers

On a December evening in, I think, 1973, the junior reporter and occasional theatre critic in the Sunderland branch office of The Northern Echo sat down to compose his opinion of the local civic theatre's latest show.

Melvyn Bragg & The South Bank Show

On 20 May 2012 we published an interview with Melvyn Bragg ("Melvyn Bragg: Good to be back?") to mark the return of The South Bank Show on Sky Arts.

Errors & Omissions: An odyssey won't take you to the Holy Grail

Legends cluster around the name of Katherine Grainger, it seems. Last Saturday we reported on the British rower: "Ever since she secured her first silver in the double sculls at the Sydney Games in 2000, the 36-year-old rower has been painfully honest about her quest for what she called the Holy Grail – Olympic gold. That odyssey came to a euphoric close yesterday on Dorney Lake when she and her partner Anna Watkins powered to first place in the double sculls."

Errors & Omissions: What's in a name? Unintentional sexism, for a start

Olympic successes have made this a big week for women's sport. Cyclist Lizzie Armitstead won Britain's first medal, swimmer Rebecca Adlington its second, and rowers Heather Stanning and Helen Glover the country's first gold of the Olympic Games. But these triumphs have led to a debate about sexism in sport, and I wondered if, in a small way, a headline we carried in Monday's newspaper underlined the problem.

Errors and omissions: Are you better at mathematics than Jeremy Clarkson?

Extra care is required when one of our writers makes fun of someone for getting things wrong. On Monday, we mocked Jeremy Clarkson's grasp of averages. "The average adult sends 200 texts a month," the sage of The Sun had written. "Plainly, they never spoke to my eldest daughter about this." Our columnist explained: "If your eldest daughter sends 1,900 texts per month while nine non-relatives each send just 100, the average is not 1,900 but 200." Except that it is not. As Laura Newton, a reader, pointed out, if they "each" send 100 that makes 900, plus 1,900, which is 2,800. So the average is 280. The point is awarded to Clarkson.

Errors & Omissions: Who, whom, that, which – they're not interchangeable

Who and its related words often snag writers. In a feature about the housing for Olympic athletes, we wrote on Wednesday: "In all, 203 countries have teams staying in the village, many of whom's animosity towards one another extends far beyond the synchronised swimming pool." What a mess. That "whom's" should be "whose". Like him and her, which become his and hers, the possessive form of these pronouns loses its apostrophe and the word changes form. Whatever the word should be, it had also become separated from the "countries" to which it refers, as the teams themselves are presumably not all hostile to each other outside the sporting arena. (The "synchronised" was an attempted comic effect too far, as synchronised swimming takes place in the same Aquatics Centre as other pool-based so-called sports.) Finally, and not surprisingly in such a sentence, we lost track of "many countries" being plural, perhaps partly because of the use of "one another". The sentence could have read: "In all, 203 countries, many of whose animosities towards each other extend far beyond sporting competition, have teams staying in the village."

Errors & Omissions: Needless extensions need preventive, not preventative, measures

Affecting/affectating: "There are limits to how long this game can be played," said a comment article about House of Lords reform on Tuesday: "all three parties affectating support for reform, but then no reform." Curbing the needless extension of words requires constant vigilance. Orientate, preventative and disassociate are already too prevalent. Let us kill affectate before this new knotweed takes root. It should have been "affecting".

Errors & Omissions: Square brackets [like these ones] really don't help the reader

Square brackets are an elegant device to indicate matter inserted by an editor into a quoted passage. They let the reader know who is speaking. But don't overuse them – that way madness lies. The following is from a sport report published on Wednesday:

Israel Perry

On 18 March 2012 we published an article entitled "Israeli fraudster fights UK attempt to seize assets". Readers might have thought it suggested that Mr Perry's pension scheme had targeted Holocaust survivors, although that was not our intention. An Israeli court has made it clear that while there are such people among the pension plan's clients, the fraudulent scheme did not specifically target Holocaust survivors. We are happy to make this position clear and have amended our online version of the original story accordingly.

Israel Perry

On 18 March 2012, we published an article entitled "Israeli fraudster fights UK attempt to seize assets".

Errors & Omissions: The sordid world of newspaper story introductions

A news story published on Thursday began like this: “Sarah Tressler, a 30-year-old stripper who worked the gentlemen's clubs of Houston, had a guilty secret: she earned a second income in the sordid world of newspaper journalism.”

Errors & Omissions: A lesson learnt from the misuse of definite articles

Last week I indulged in a grumpy denunciation of foreigners who try to tell us English speakers what to call their cities and countries in our language.

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