Errors & Omissions: Sometimes just the simple facts will do – and no fatuous extras
Saturday 21 November 2009
If you try to tart up simple information with topical chat you risk turning fatuous. An article on Wednesday about design discussed the origins of the word "ergonomics": "Those who are irritated by composites like Brangelina or Jedward won't like this, but ergonomics is a portmanteau word too – a combination of the Greek ergos and nomos (work and natural laws)."
First, a factual error: the Greek word for "work" that supplies the first element of "ergonomics" is not ergos but ergon. Next, is there anybody who objects to portmanteau words as such? If there is, they will be using a severely restricted vocabulary. Such words abound. I noticed three others in this very article: psychology, altimeter, and aeroplane. Does the supposed anti-Brangelina faction hate them all? The only objection I have ever heard comes from purists who shudder when a portmanteau word combines elements of Greek and Latin. "Altimeter" is a familiar example; another is "television".
Finally, are people who shy at "Brangelina" really likely to object to "ergonomics"? Not in many cases, I should think. "Brangelina"is seen as a vulgar and silly excess of popular culture – not a charge that will stick to "ergonomics".
Failure: A news story on Wednesday began thus: "The partner of the sex-killing victim Rachel Nickell has complained to the Independent Police Complaints Commission over police failures that might have prevented her death." No police failures could have prevented the death. That should be "the failure of police to take action that might have prevented her death". Longer, but it makes sense.
Mystery: D Meldrum writes from Newcastle upon Tyne to draw my attention to this, from last Saturday's business pages: "An army of bigwigs congregated at a plush hotel in Delhi earlier this week. Ministers, their mandarins in tow, mingled with managers of vast multinationals, their lawyers, bankers and other finely suited antecedents."
"Antecedents" is a strange word to use here. It means things that go before, in time or order. Hence it signifies previous circumstances of one's life. It is sometimes used to mean family background or ancestors. I suppose it could mean people who go in front of a great personage clearing the way, like heralds or ushers, but I have never come across that. Does the writer think it is a posh word for hangers-on?
Cliché of the week: An arts feature last Saturday about Zaha Hadid was introduced by the following blurb: "This weekend the starchitect unveils her latest project, Maxxi, a museum of modern art. Jay Merrick gets a sneak preview – and is stunned."
The term "sneak preview" originated in the film business. A sneak preview is an advance showing of a film to gauge audience reaction. What Jay Merrick attended was a press view. The word "preview", it seems, cannot venture out of doors without its inseparable companion "sneak".
Let us hope "starchitect" will have only a brief vogue. Self-consciously clever without actually going so far as to be funny, it hopes to elicit from the reader not a laugh, not even a warm smile, but a knowing smirk.
Journalese: "Yossi Sarid, a former education minister, slammed the scheme," said a news story on Wednesday. No, he criticised it or attacked it.
Another news report, on Tuesday, offered this: "Erin, a father-of-two whose wife Lowri has vowed to stand by him, was found guilty of attempting to administer a poison." When did you last hear anybody say "I have vowed to go the supermarket for my wife" or "My brother is a father-of-two"? No, it's "I have promised" and "My brother has two children". Newspapers should be written in simple English, not a weird code.
Forward planning: A news report on Thursday told how the rowing lake at Eton is being thrown open to pupils from a local state school. It contained the startling information that their "sporting skills will be honed on the playing fields where the battle of Waterloo was reputedly first planned and won".
I don't think so. The Duke of Wellington is supposed to have said that the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton. All the remark means is that the victory was attributable to the manly qualities supposedly inculcated by school sport. Nobody planned the battle at Eton.
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