Errors & Omissions: In search of the final word on how to use prepositions properly

 

Prepositions can provoke violent loyalty and outrage. John Rentoul has been taken to task by another colleague in the office for having written in this space last week that it "does not matter much" whether you write "different from" or "different to". There are those who think "different to" is awful.

I tend to agree with Rentoul about that, though we should remember that the verb is always "differ from", so "different to" introduces an inconsistency. But then again, as Oscar Wilde said, consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.

Anyway, here is a new example in the same vein, from a theatre review on Monday: "She portrays Lotte, a lonely graphic designer who embarks on a surreal odyssey across contemporary Germany in a fruitless search of some form of connection with old friends."

If you cut out the words "a fruitless" it reads all right. But except in the phrase "in search of", "search" needs to be followed by "for" – "She embarked on a search for some form of connection with old friends." So, does the intrusion of "a fruitless" between "in" and "search" mean we have to switch from "of" to "for"? For my money, yes, but some will no doubt disagree.

Just for show: "Boubou Flaring has been nominated as best actress in the tedious and shameful Binkie Beaumont awards." That is a sentence you will never see in print.

So why, in a news story on Wednesday, did we print this? – "Justin Parker's co-writing contribution to 'Video Games' was yesterday recognised with a nomination for the prestigious Ivor Novello awards." "Prestigious" is one of those words that should be struck out on sight. All awards of this kind are intended to confer prestige, and we wouldn't think it worthwhile to report on one that didn't.

Opinion: The following is from our reporting on Tuesday of the Breivik trial: "Norway's mass murderer sat in Oslo's court 250 at the opening of his trial for the slaughter of 77 people yesterday looking impassive and chillingly defiant. Sometimes he even smirked."

What is the difference between a smile and a smirk? I suspect that if you showed people a series of photos of facial expressions, there would be no agreement about which were smiles and which were smirks. A smirk, like a leer or a simper, is a smile on the face of someone the speaker dislikes or disapproves of.

If I am right about that, then Breivik's "smirk" is not something the reporter has observed, like his impassive and defiant look, but a piece of tendentious language expressing revulsion at his crimes. As such, it was out of place in a news report. I wish we had stuck to the facts and reported that Breivik smiled.

Cliché of the week: Still with Breivik, a front-page puff on Monday promised an insight into "the mind of a serial killer". Breivik is not a serial killer, but a mass murderer. He killed a number of people, all on the same occasion. A serial killer carries out the murders one at a time.

Mixed metaphor of the week: This is from a news story published on Wednesday: "A cocktail of plummeting house prices, a remorselessly unfavourable exchange rate and a Spanish economy in ruins has dealt a knockout blow to the economic welfare of the many Britons living in Spain."

A cocktail dealing a knockout blow sounds like something that might have felled Bertie Wooster, requiring Jeeves's most potent morning-after pick-me-up. On reflection, perhaps that is exactly what the distressed expats need.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones