Errors & Omissions: Insure yourself against the strange use of the term 'third party'

 

This is not exactly an error, just a very odd usage that seems to have become universal. Throughout the Gareth Williams inquest, everybody, including the coroner, has been referring to the possibility that the MI6 man was killed and zipped up into a holdall by a "third party".

There are normally two parties to a dispute or an agreement, and someone else who becomes involved will be a third party. The most familiar instance is the third-party insurance that all motorists must carry. In this case, the two parties to the agreement are the insurer and the insured motorist. Another person who makes a claim after suffering damage in an accident will be a third party.

"Third party" seems to have become a general term for anyone who comes into a situation uninvited or mysteriously. Fair enough, but should we not be taking care to avoid numerical absurdities. In the "spy in the bag" affair, the unfortunate Mr Williams may be assumed to be the first party; if his killer was the third party, who was the second?

Mixed metaphor of the week: "Standoff over Chinese dissident threatens to derail US summit," proclaimed a headline on Tuesday. How the top of a mountain can be pushed off the rails is a bit of mystery. I don't think even a confrontation between gunfighters could manage it.

Note, by the way, how "summit" has been devalued over the years. A summit meeting, as the name suggests, is a meeting, in person, between heads of government, at the "summit" of power. The term dates back at least to the Cold War. But this latest "summit" is a mere visit to Beijing by the US Secretary of State.

Cliché of the week: Here is another headline, from a news page on Monday: "Taliban link to brutal murder of aid worker." The well-worn phrase "brutal murder" is here perfectly consonant with the facts. The trouble is that the eye just slides over it, registering no more than would have been conveyed by just "murder", without the familiar "brutal".

Journalese: The Monday interview was accompanied by a box of facts about the subject, including: "A father of four, he lives with his third wife, Karen." Have you ever described anybody you know as a father of four, a mother of three, or whatever? I haven't. You would just say, "He has four children."

This "father of four" business appears only in newspapers, where it caters to the eternal journalistic urge to put people into the right boxes. A father of four, it seems, is a particular kind of person, with a character distinct from that of a father of three, or of five.

Where was that? A news item on Monday reported on the sale of some photographs by David Bailey: "They are due to fetch £2,500 each at auction in Vienna, Austria."

We all make fun of the American habit of specifying "Paris, France" or "Rome, Italy", but it isn't really so daft to make sure you avoid a confusion with Paris, Illinois, or Rome, Georgia. And I suppose US readers might imagine we were talking about Vienna, Virginia. But no such danger threatens the British readers for whom The Independent is intended. Just plain Vienna will do, and indeed to write "Vienna, Austria" is almost an insult, suggesting as it does that some of them might perhaps not know the first thing about one of the great cities of the world.

Suggested Topics
News
In this photo illustration, the Twitter logo and hashtag '#Ring!' is displayed on a mobile device as the company announced its initial public offering and debut on the New York Stock Exchange on November 7, 2013 in London, England. Twitter went public on the NYSE opening at USD 26 per share, valuing the company's worth at an estimated USD 18 billion.
news

Arts and Entertainment
Australia singer Iggy Azalea has been attacked by Eminem in a new rap
music

Singer was ordered not to 'blow her rape whistle' in song 'Vegas'

News
news

Arts and Entertainment
'Africa' will be Angelina Jolie's fifth film as a director
film

Mr and Mrs Smith star admits she's 'never been comfortable on-screen'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
Myleene Klass
people
Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
News
Ashton Kutcher speaking at Human Rights Watch's Voices For Justice dinner in November 2013
people'What is so wrong about digging up dirt on shady journalist?'
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch as John Watson and Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock
tv

Co-creator Mark Gatiss dropped some very intriguing hints ahead of the BBC drama's return next year

Life and Style
Jane Merrick rides on a Micro Scooter through St James's Park, on November 18, 2014 in London, United Kingdom.
life
Arts and Entertainment
Babysitter Katie and Paul have terse words in the park
tvReview: The strength of the writing keeps viewers glued to their seats
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was driven to a miserable death. His story is to be told in film
Sport
Qatar has very little football history

It is a crazy place to play in summer, writes Paul Scholes

Life and Style
Make-up artists prepare contestants for last year’s Miss World, held in Budapest
fashion
News
Actor Dave Prowse in his role as the Green Cross Code Man in 1982
peopleStar Wars actor to reprise his other role - as the Green Cross Man
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Brit Marling as PR woman Liz Garvey
tv

It was all about Liz’s cocaine-fuelled brainwave, 'The Metwork'

Voices
The Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad and Russia’s deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov flank Fifa president Sepp Blatter
voices
Life and Style
tech
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

Argyll Scott International: Senior Perl Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits : Argyll Scott International: Senior Perl...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property / Planning - Bristol

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - A VERY HIGH QUALITY FIRM - A high qu...

Recruitment Genius: Solar Field Sales Executive

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Content / Copy Writer

£18000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has bec...

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines