Errors & Omissions: Redundant phrases that should not be used any time soon
Saturday 02 January 2010
Some people might dismiss this as a question of taste, which it undoubtedly is, but it is also a question of redundancy. There is never a need for the phrase "any time soon".
On Monday, Simon Calder, our travel editor, wrote about the consequences of the attempted bombing of the Detroit flight. These included body searches, "if you are male and flying to the US any time soon". This could be a borderline case, because he was talking about America and could argue that an American colloquialism was a clever cultural reference. But no, there is no call for it. There is no need even for "soon", which is implied anyway. Just highlight, and delete.
So-so: Similarly with any article starting with the word "So". As with all such tics, it was quirky and allusive once, but has suffered from overuse. Sad to report that the great Terence Blacker, a proper writer, opened his column on Tuesday with it. "So now we know how to get a reply from a dodgy banker or a beleaguered MP." (Send them flowers, apparently.) The article would have read better without it.
Venerably Bedable: Also on Tuesday, Chris Maume wrote a wonderful column in John Walsh's "Tales of the City" slot about the joys of setting quizzes. I have a quiz question for him: how do you spell beddable? Even Chambers, which can be a little po-faced, includes it, to mean "sexually attractive (colloq.)". The quality of being beddable is therefore beddability, rather than bedability, as Maume had it. I should explain that Maume was describing how quiz-setters never switch off. "You're like a pickup artist wandering through a crowd calculating the bedability of each half-decent female." You need the double d to make it clear that you are not talking about something to do with the Venerable Bede. Later, Maume risked confusing the reader again by referring to a ban on blackberries. If he had written BlackBerrys I would have known instantly that he did not mean the soft fruit. But it was brilliant column all the same, not least for the completely unboastful way that Maume claimed credit for the best quiz question of the season, which he wrote for The Independent on Sunday: "Name the 10 countries in the world with four-letter names."
Teeth on edge: A rare glitch in a feature about teeth in the Health and Families section on Tuesday: a discrepancy between an article and its furniture. Its what? "Furniture" is a sub-editing term for all the bits of presentation that surround an article: the headline, the standfirst (the introduction, between the headline and text), the illustrations, picture captions, graphics, text boxes and all the rest of it. The standfirst said that "dentists are now fighting tooth erosion, caused by fizzy drinks and fruit". The accompanying graphic, which had a photograph of a bunch of grapes, contained this advice: "Foods to go easy on include fruits, especially citrus, grapes and sour apples." This is a subject of some interest, as dental advice about fruit has long been confused. At last, it seemed, the cool sanity of Steve Connor, our science editor, was to be applied to the question. Sadly not. The article itself included two references to fruit juice (not great for teeth, apparently, but we knew that), and that was it. Well, thanks a bunch of sour grapes.
Slap in the kisser: Kim Sengupta, our diplomatic correspondent, reported on Wednesday that Manouchehr Mottaki, the Iranian foreign minister, said Britain will receive "a punch on the mouth" if it persisted in its criticism of the Iranian government's crackdown on protesters. This was such a good line that it was used in the first paragraph of Sengupta's front-page story, only this time it was a "punch in the mouth". A trivial difference, unlike the rendering of the words in the page two headline as "a punch on the nose". I have no idea whether the original Farsi phrase refers to the mouth, nose or just the face; other newspapers had slap instead of punch. All that is required of one newspaper is consistency.
Finally, a reader writes to commend me because in a recent article "you used 'quotation' as a noun, and not its much-used incorrect diminutive 'quote' which is of course a verb". She asks if there is any way I can persuade the relevant person to call our "Quotes of the Day" feature on the first Opinion and Debate page "Quotations of the Day". I suspect that may be one for my collection of Questions to Which the Answer is No.
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