Errors & Omissions: Animals aren't human, much as we like to pretend otherwise

There is nothing wrong with a striking opening, but the attempt to grab the attention of the supposedly somnolent reader can become silly. Here is the opening of a news story published on Wednesday: "The common toad may be ugly, warty and squat, but it is blessed with an extraordinary gift. It has an uncanny ability to predict earthquakes several days before they occur."

The giveaway is the word "but". Would you seriously have a problem with the idea that an animal that looks ugly to us might have some perceptual ability that science cannot yet understand? Obviously not. The use of "but" makes sense only to a reader who, as in the story of the Frog Prince, sees the ugly toad as horrid and threatening, and is pleased and surprised to find that it has some admirable qualities. What is this story supposed to be about, zoology or fairy tales?

Verbiage: That wasn't the only trouble with anthropomorphised animals on Wednesday's news pages. Here is the opening of a picture caption: "Brown hares rear up on their hind legs and land blows on each other with their front paws in a boxing match with a difference."

Yes, there certainly is a difference. In your usual boxing match the combatants are muscular humans wearing padded leather gloves. In this one, as can be clearly seen in the picture, they are herbivorous mammals of the family Leporidae. Well spotted.

The "boxing match with a difference" recalls the kind of daft nature film, circa 1958, whose commentary called vultures "nature's garbage collectors" and could not observe a mouse threatened by a hawk without exclaiming: "Uh-oh, something seems to have spooked the little feller!"

"With a difference" is like "in style": you just bung it in when you can't think of anything else.

Type-cast: Monday's Life section greeted the coming televised election debates between the party leaders with a spread celebrating great debates of the past. They included the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, which laid the scene for the American Civil War by setting out the arguments over slavery and the rights of black people. The article reported: "Newspapers sent shorthand typists to take down every word." I think they were shorthand writers. The typewriter did not become common until later in the century – and in any case you wouldn't take one to a political meeting.

Unfair trade: A feature article on Tuesday told how a film-maker called Ross Ching made an unauthorised video for the song "Little Bribes" by Death Cab for Cutie, and put it on the internet. "Within days Ching was contacted by Atlantic records, Death Cab's label. They had no truck with his copyright infringement; in fact, they wanted to buy Ching's work and make it the official video."

The writer seems to think "had no truck with" means "had no quarrel with" or "no problem with". Not so. It means "had no dealings with" – which is pretty well the opposite of what was meant.

"Truck" as used here is a fine example of a fossil – a word that is obsolete except for its use in some particular idiom. It has nothing to do with "truck" meaning a wheeled vehicle for carrying heavy goods. The "truck" you do not have is derived from the French verb troquer, meaning to exchange or barter. So "no truck" means no trade.

The word pops up in one other familiar context: the Truck Acts, variously in force from the 18th century to the late 20th, which gave workers the right to be paid in cash rather than in tokens exchangeable for goods at a company store, the latter practice being open to gross abuses.

Out of place: A story on Thursday about protests that greeted a concert in London by the Jerusalem Quartet included this strange information: "The Quartet pointed out that only one of their four is now a native Israeli, with one living in Portugal and another in Berlin."

You are a native of the place where you were born, and that cannot change. I think the writer meant "a resident Israeli".

Daft headline of the week: "Russia fears return to wave of terrorism" appeared on a news page on Tuesday. You cannot return to a wave: it passes over and is gone. There may be a new wave of something, but you will be going forward in time to meet it, not returning to it.

News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Arts and Entertainment
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint)
newsBloomsbury unveils new covers for JK Rowling's wizarding series
News
scienceScientists try to explain the moon's funny shape
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
As Loki in The Avengers (2012)
filmRead Tom Hiddleston's email to Joss Whedon on prospect of playing Loki
Voices
voices In defence of the charcoal-furred feline, by Felicity Morse
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Education Recruitment Consultant- Learning Support

£18000 - £30000 per annum + Generous commission scheme: AER Teachers: Thames T...

All Primary NQT's

£100 - £120 per day + per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Description Calling a...

DT Teacher - Food Technology

£100 - £145 per day + Pension and travel: Randstad Education Maidstone: SUPPLY...

Supply Teachers Needed in Thetford

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Supply teachers neede...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star