Errors & Omissions: Call them what you like, but you can't change the nature of nuclear weapons
Saturday 07 August 2010
When did you last read about the danger that Iran or North Korea will acquire a nuclear deterrent, or about worries that Israel might one day use its undeclared nuclear deterrent? No, you never have.
Just as in Evelyn Waugh's Scoop, the enigmatic Mr Baldwin declared that where other countries use "force", we Britons alone employ "might", so it is today that where lesser breeds have nuclear "weapons", we Britons alone enjoy the ethical superiority that comes with possession of a "deterrent".
So it was on Monday's front page, where an opinion piece was puffed with the words "We need to think laterally about our nuclear deterrent". Of course, the word "deterrent" is not strictly wrong; nobody imagines that this country intends to use its nuclear weapons aggressively. But shouldn't we just cut out the cant and call a weapon a weapon? The endless repetition of the word "deterrent" creates a weird impression that our nuclear weapons are somehow less nasty than other people's.
Journalese: Thursday's arts page carried an interview with the novelist J P Donleavy. The first paragraph mentioned his "trademark elegantly tailored three-piece suits". Only two paragraphs farther down came this: "His trademark beard now completely white, and his eyes shaded by brown-tinted spectacles ..."
("Warning: This beard (hereinunder known as 'the beard') and all parts thereof, whether white or grizzled or of whatsoever colour, including the moustache and side-whisker areas, constitute a registered trademark under relevant legislation. Any infringement of the owner's intellectual property rights will ...")
We should be grateful that Donleavy has not been wearing glasses all his life, or they would no doubt be a trademark as well.
I think I'll have the bomb: A news story on Monday, about Mr Cameron's Pakistan terrorism gaffe, remarked: "Despite the British and Afghan troops enjoying an element of surprise, the insurgents have been able to lay down belts of IEDs, their weapon of choice, which have taken a lethal toll in the campaign." The modish jargon phrase "of choice" has become seriously annoying. And in this case it is untrue. If the Taliban could get hold of heavy artillery, that is what they would use. They use improvised explosive devices because they have nothing deadlier. It is not a matter of choice.
Cliché of the week: A report on Thursday about wartime UFO sightings informed us that: "A senior British military aide claimed to have witnessed the cigar-chomping Prime Minister discuss the incident with General Dwight Eisenhower."
"Chomp", according to the Oxford dictionary, is a variation ("US and dial.") of "champ", which dates back to the 16th century and means to chew with a violent and noisy action of the jaws. These days both these verbs are pretty well fossilised. "Champ" is found only in the phrase "champ at the bit", which is apparently what horses do when eager for action. I wouldn't know, and neither would most of the people who employ this desperately hackneyed image. As for "chomp", nobody seems to chomp anything much except cigars. And can you imagine Churchill biting violently on his cigar in the manner of some Hollywood hoodlum?
Inconvenient fact: "Hundreds turn out for Raoul Moat service," declared a headline on Tuesday. It was immediately belied by the opening sentence of the story: "More than 150 people attended the funeral of Raoul Moat yesterday." It is the job of a headline to make the story sound as interesting as possible, but I'm afraid "hundreds" needs to be at least 200. One and a half hundreds won't do.
Capital crime: Some people have little patience with the Bridesheadesque arcana of Oxford and Cambridge usage, but we still ought to get them right. A news story on Wednesday referred to "the sandstone quads of Oxford's Christ Church College".
That should have been "Christ Church college". Christ Church is a college, but the word "college" is not part of its name.
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