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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Recruitment Genius: PA

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A PA is required to join a leading provider of...

Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - Franchised Main Dealer

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - London - £43,000

£35000 - £43000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior IT Support Analyst...

Recruitment Genius: Technical SEO Specialist

£24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness