Errors & Omissions: Can't have measures without a package, apparently
Saturday 25 July 2009
Politics and business are the two subjects most prone to metaphors, and so require care to avoid a clash of mental pictures.
Andrew Grice had fun on Monday with his report of the "package of measures" that would be "drawn up by the Cabinet" later in the week to deal with youth unemployment. Already, we have a vision of Yvette Cooper, Gordon Brown and several other ministers in a room, dividers and rulers in hands, drawing on a plan, which they then wrap up in a package, seal with tape and hand to Alan Johnson.
It got worse in the next paragraph, as Cooper sternly warned her assembled cabinet colleagues that progress "could be reversed without a drive to help 18- to 24-year-olds get a foot on the jobs ladder". That's the trouble with the youth of today – yes Ed Miliband, she was looking at you – they need to be given a lift in their parents' car (or possibly golf buggy), after it has reversed out of the recession, to the jobs ladder so that they can step straight from the vehicle on to the bottom rung. With a package of measures under their arm.
Double word score: According to Hamish McRae on Wednesday, "the Government is borrowing double as much this year as it did last". I like it. I like it double as much as the boring old-fashioned "twice".
On an unnecessary basis: In a picture caption on Thursday, we said that Pakistanis were taking to the streets to protest against "power cuts that are causing disruption on a daily basis". That could be daily disruption, or even just daily power cuts, as most people know that power cuts cause disruption. At least the report itself spoke of "daily power cuts", although some of the figures were a little imprecise. The cuts "last up to 18 hours", we were told, but how long do they usually last? Do they actually happen every day, or nearly every day?
Still, I was going to complain that the report was also guilty of imprecise and exaggerated figures for the summer heat in Pakistan, which has apparently triggered the protests. It says that temperatures have been ranging from 40 to 50C, which sounds too high, but the BBC's weather figures for Karachi include a record high of 48C, and for Jacobabad in the desert south of 53C. Blimey.
Star struck out: Also on Monday, John Lichfield reported that Carla Bruni, wife of the French president, had sung at a "star-studded concert" for Nelson Mandela. Well, "star-studded" is not only a crashing cliché unworthy of such a fine writer, but it was not quite right. The brightest star of them all, Mandela himself, was not present. This was made clear in the headline, "Carla Bruni serenades an absent Mandela", but not explained in the story itself. You had to read until the end of the fourth paragraph before you discover that his doctors had advised him not to travel.
Victimhood: The letters home written by Cyrus Thatcher, the 19-year-old rifleman who was killed in Afghanistan last month, which we published on Monday, were affecting. Fortunately, the effect was independent of an introduction that described him as "one of the youngest victims" of the Afghan war. Everything about those five words is misconceived. "One of the youngest" is meaningless, but all the more so because we had been told that he was 19, and most people know that 18 is the lower limit for combat service. He wasn't a victim; he was a soldier. And the whole phrase unconsciously excluded hundreds of Afghan casualties of the war, many of them children, who really were victims.
Wild claims: Headline writers need to beware words that can be nouns and verbs. On Monday, the subheading under "Clash of the oligarchs" read: "A mysterious lunch date at the Lanesborough, the Russian mafia claims and the disputed £2bn debt." I stumbled over it, because it looked as if the Russian mafia was claiming that a lunch date was mysterious.
The call of the sea: On Saturday we carried a news story headlined, "Huge jellyfish lured to UK beaches by warm seas." A little dramatic licence is allowed, but luring is something done on purpose; "drawn" would have been a better word, as it was the jellyfish rather than the seas off north-west Scotland that were the actors in this drama.
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