Errors & Omissions: Accidents do happen, but not necessarily in a certain Cold War comedy

By Guy Keleny


Many items of common knowledge turn out, on examination, to be wrong. Rupert Cornwell wrote on an opinion page on Monday: "You don't have to be a fan of Dr Strangelove to recognise that wars can start by accident."

Everybody knows that Stanley Kubrick's Cold War black comedy masterpiece is about a nuclear war starting by accident, right? Actually, no. The nuclear war in Dr Strangelove is started deliberately by a mad US Air Force general who believes fluoridation is a communist plot to pollute people's "bodily fluids".

Shirt tale: The Notes feature on the same page contained a list of "unwise things to do". They included wearing "a Goldman Sachs t-shirt".

I haven't seen "t-shirt" before, but "tee-shirt" is quite common. Why? This garment derives its name from the fact that if you lay it out flat with its short sleeves sticking out sideways it resembles a capital letter T. It is therefore called a T-shirt. What's difficult about that?

Pedantry corner: Thursday's paper yielded examples of two of those tiresome little points that keep popping up. Some people care about them a great deal; others do not.

One of them is the split infinitive, which doesn't worry me very much. This is from the Pandora column: "I felt it was only right to inquire when he was going to finally don the sombrero and take a well-earned holiday." Strictly speaking "was going to don" is not an infinitive, but the split infinitive police will be on the case none the less, demanding "was finally going to don". And it is best not to annoy the split infinitive police, since the editor of this newspaper is a senior officer in the force.

This, from a news report the same day, is in my view much more serious: "Running to an excessive 140 minutes, fans won't be insulted, but neither will they be entranced by a film that loses sight of its aims." Yes, it's the hanging participle, a bugbear familiar to readers of this column. The participle "running" is liable to attach itself to the nearest available noun or pronoun: in this case "fans". So the fans are running? No, of course not, but the words say they are.

I suppose some people don't even notice the discrepancy. "What does it matter?" they mumble in their oafish way. "We can see what the writer means."

To those who value language for the beauty of its form, not just for the information it conveys, the irritation resides in that very point – that we can see what the writer means. "If that is what he means," we demand through gritted teeth, "why has he said something completely different?"

Daft headline of the week: Somebody had a little snigger on a news page on Monday: "Filipinos pin hopes of new political era on balding bachelor."

Not only does Benigno Aquino have to wrestle with his country's many problems; he has to put up with jumped-up sub-editors in London calling him a balding bachelor. That this description of him was given in the text of the story does not justify pulling it out for the headline, as if this were the only important thing about him.

This headline exhibits crass bigotry in terms of both nationality and gender. We would certainly not feel free to insult a British political candidate in such a way. Nor is it conceivable that we would describe a woman, from no matter how distant a country, as, say, a scrawny spinster.

Flying high: A political story on Monday began thus: "David Cameron faces a momentous challenge to hold his troops together if he negotiates a deal with Nick Clegg, Tories from all wings of the party warned last night."

All wings? How many wings has the Tory party got? Armies have wings, one at each end of the fighting line, and political parties are similarly thought of as having a left and a right wing. The Liberal Democrats' yellow bird clearly conforms to the usual pattern. But what is the Tory party? An insect with four wings, perhaps; or even one of those angels from the Bible with six.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Housekeeper

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is the holding company of an expa...

Recruitment Genius: Network Engineer

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Setup, configure, troubleshoot,...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Consultant - Financial Services - OTE £65,000

£15000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Loan Underwriter

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future