Errors & Omissions: Double whammy of the wrong conjunction and a dreadful cliché


Here is the first paragraph of a news story published on Monday: "He shot to fame by taking unusual objects – notably dead animals such as horses and cows – encasing them in glass and displaying them in galleries as art. But when Damien Hirst discovered that his own diary, containing intimate declarations of love, was going to appear as an exhibit in an east London art show, he had no hesitation in contacting the police."

What is the word "but" doing at the start of the second sentence? There is no contradiction between exhibiting dead animals in art galleries and wanting to protect the privacy of your personal life. News stories love the drama of a contradiction. If we were talking about an artist like Tracey Emin, whose art specialises in personal revelations, there might be one. But in Hirst's case there just isn't. Also, notice the dreadful cliché "shot to fame". Take it out and shoot it.

Foreign invasion: There are tiny common errors that don't matter very much, but newspapers should still avoid them, because each one will annoy somebody. Here is one such, from a story on Monday about domestic servants: "Today the tens of thousands that make their living cooking, cleaning, driving or keeping house for others are more likely to come from overseas and work for ex-pat families than from our own homegrown working class."

"Expat" is an abbreviation of "expatriate". Where did the hyphen come from?

Who he? The campaign for discipline in the use of personal pronouns clearly has some way to go. Alan Hendry writes in from Inverness to draw attention to this, from a sports page article last Saturday about the career of Malcolm Allison: "Bobby Moore's devotion was as strong on the day he died as when, as a young contender at West Ham who one day would take his place in the team and surpass every football dream of a young Englishman, he trailed after him like a faithful spaniel, weighing every word – and laughing at every joke."

It seems that the first he is Moore; his is Allison; the second he is Moore (again); and him is Allison. But it is not certain. A reader not familiar with the details of the two men's careers has no way of knowing whether Moore simply took his place in the team, in the sense of joining it, or whether he took Allison's place.

Leaning sideways: A report on Thursday about the Supreme Court ruling on prenuptial agreements said: "Yesterday Lady Hale leant partial support to her fellow judges." We are used to seeing "lead" when it should be "led", but "leant" for "lent" is rarer. In neither case will the spell-checker save you. For the avoidance of all doubt: the past tense of "lend" is "lent", and the past tense of "lean" is "leant" or "leaned".

Say that again: Thursday's news report on the wedding plans of Russell Brand and Katy Perry began stylishly: "When Barbara Brand gave birth to her only child in a dingy Essex hospital, she probably never imagined that, 35 years later, she would watch him arrive on a white horse at a maharajah's palace before joining guests for a bit of wild-tiger spotting."

The reader, however, was assumed to have a short memory. The third paragraph began: "Brand, 35, and 25-year-old Perry . . ."

I also have a suspicion about that word "dingy". It is possible that the reporter has verified the decorative condition of the hospital in which Brand was born, in which case I apologise. But that "dingy" looks like the sort of thing people feel free to put in for poetic effect. After all, everybody knows that hospitals in Essex in 1975 were pretty dingy.

Old age: Another odd reference to someone's age appeared on the same day in a story about the trial in Belgium of a woman who disposed of a love rival by sabotaging her parachute. The fatal descent was described: "Mrs Van Doren, then 38, jumped that day – with 11 other parachutists – from a small plane flying at 30,000 feet." Why "then" 38? She never got any older.

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