Errors & Omissions: Disgusted of Downing Street makes a schoolboy error

You almost had to feel sorry for Gordon Brown this week, frozen into silence by the question whether he approved of the decision to release the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing.

He compounded the impression of hapless impotence by committing a common error of usage. Mr Brown declared himself "both angry and repulsed" at the jubilant reception the freed man received in Libya. The Prime Minister was not repulsed but repelled.

The two words are derived from different parts of the same Latin verb, repellere, meaning to push back. The English words have diverged in meaning. "Repulse" is found in military contexts, meaning to drive back by force. If you mean affect with disgust or aversion, the right word is "repel".

***

Power of suggestion: On Tuesday we reported on a scientific study which found evidence that women with high levels of testosterone may tend to pursue high-risk careers in business. The report was accompanied by some photographs of high-achieving business women. One of the captions read: "Carol Bartz, 60, CEO of Yahoo. Known as a 'tough operator', in 1992 she survived a bout of breast cancer."

No sane person would ever write: "This woman survived cancer because of her tough personality." State it outright and anybody can see how ludicrous the idea is, and how likely to annoy cancer patients. But this caption keeps a straight face while implying it.

***

Hands off: People often refer vaguely to any document of great age as a manuscript. M M Deyes writes in from London SW5 to draw attention to this, from a news story published last Saturday: "The missing volume, printed in 1623, was among a number of manuscripts taken from Durham in the raid."

If it was printed, it isn't a manuscript. The Latin derivation of the word could not be clearer: manu – by hand; scriptus – written. A manuscript is a document written by hand.

***

Cliché of the week: If it's got palm trees and sandy beaches bordering the Caribbean Sea, it must be an island paradise, right? That seems to have been the thinking of those responsible for the headings and picture caption that accompanied a report yesterday about Lord Ashcroft, the Tory donor, who lives in Belize.

"Paradise in Belize turns sour for Ashcroft," declared the main headline, though the story offered no evidence that the country is anything like Paradise. And a picture caption identified the Prime Minister of Belize "who has accused Michael Ashcroft of subjecting the island to 'new-age slavery'". That appeared directly above a map showing that the former British colony is, in fact, a small piece of Central America, firmly anchored to Guatemala and Mexico.

***

True enough? Headlines are supposed to be as interesting as possible, but still true. You are not allowed to make up the best headline you can think of that would fit the facts if the facts fitted the headline.

Last Saturday we ran the story that Ken Livingstone, the former Mayor of London, is to marry in a ceremony at the Mappin Pavilion, a function space at London Zoo. Readers were reminded that Livingstone is an animal-lover, once known for keeping newts. They were told that the Mappin Pavilion is next to the reptile house.

The headline was "'King Newt' Ken to marry at the reptile house". Two problems: newts are not reptiles, so the relevance is obscure; and the words "marry at the reptile house" mean that the ceremony will take place in the reptile house itself, not in a building next door. So the headline, unfortunately, is just not true. All-but-true doesn't cut it, I'm afraid.

***

Rough estimate: Whenever you write "overestimate" or "underestimate", pause for a moment to make sure you have picked the right one. Thursday's Big Question was about Wikipedia. "And given that it is one of the most popular websites in the world its utility is difficult to underestimate."

The bigger a thing is the easier it is to underestimate, because more of the available likely-sounding estimates of its size will be underestimates. Compare, say, a man five feet tall with a man six feet tall. All figures between five and six feet will be overestimates of the shorter man's height and underestimates of the taller man's. So it is easier to underestimate the height of the taller man.

Suggested Topics
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
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

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering