Errors & Omissions: Like the disease itself, the 'battle with cancer' can always recur

 

This week the radio presenter Jenni Murray, in a terrific article in this newspaper, commented on the cliché that has patients fighting a "battle with cancer". As she and I, and I imagine every other cancer survivor, know perfectly well, there is no "battle". You have an illness; the doctors treat it. With luck you live, or you don't. That's it. Cancer is not an ogre, and you can't do anything to "fight" it.

I suspect that the "battle with cancer" arises from the same source as the Diana conspiracy theories – the human mind is reluctant to think that the momentous question of life and death can be governed by mere blind chance. There has to be a drama going on.

In a news story in yesterday's paper, the "battle with cancer" broke out anew: "The campaign to give Vega the wedding day of her dreams took off after she told a newspaper about her battle with cancer." In this case, however, there was not only no "battle", but there was also no cancer. Now a penitent Jessica Vega of New York is paying back the well-wishers she cheated.

So the idea of a "battle with cancer" can open the way to fraud. It is good to have a little bit of evidence that we pedants are not just obsessive order-freaks, that upholding clarity of language really matters.

Homophone horror (1): A film review published on Thursday told us: "He's helped by the fact that his character has a proper ark, and goes from being the social butterfly to the loner." "Ark" is an old English word, probably from the Latin arca, a chest. It means a covered chest, bin or basket, as well as a ship or boat. It is pretty well archaic now, surviving only in certain specific cases such as the biblical Noah's Ark and Ark of the Covenant, and the naval ship name Ark Royal.

What the film character has is not an ark but an arc (Middle English, from Old French, from the Latin arcus, a bow). That is, a part of a circle, the path of a heavenly body, and hence the path of a character's personal development or fate.

Homophone horror (2): This is from a feature article, published on Thursday, about the planning for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee river parade: "The first thing they will hear as the flotilla approaches from the west will be the peel of eight mighty church bells."

Bells have no peel, and peeling doesn't make much sound anyway. What bells do is peal – at least they do in England; we won't go into the deplorable continental habit of making bells play tunes.

Not fair: According to the report of an interview, published on Tuesday, the playwright Laura Wade has "long blonde hair".

As usual, writers of English struggle to cope with French gender. Blond is a French adjective meaning the colour of fair hair or golden sands. A woman with fair colouring is une blonde – and it is in that feminine form that the word entered the English language. But there is no need to use the feminine form in English except when applied to a woman. A blonde has blond hair.

(It is not strictly relevant, but it does happen to be the case that the French word for hair is masculine – a person with fair hair has les cheveux blonds not blondes.)

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
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

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?