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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
Life and Style
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate / Junior C# Developer

£18000 - £25000 Per Annum + bonus and benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

IT Project manager - Web E-commerce

£65000 Per Annum Benefits + bonus: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: If you are...

Junior/Trainee Buiness Intelligence (BI) Consultant

£30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Junior/Trainee Business Intelligen...

Teaching Assistants needed in Flintshire

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: Teaching Assistants needed in Flintshi...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits