Errors & Omissions: Sometimes just the simple facts will do – and no fatuous extras

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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
peopleHere's what Stephen Fry would say
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Proust as Captain Laure Berthaud in 'Spiral'
tvReview: Gritty, engaging and well-acted - it’s a wonder France’s biggest TV export isn’t broadcast on a more mainstream channel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Carmichael in still from Madam Bovary trailer
film
News
i100
Sport
Serena Williams holds the Australian Open title
sportAustralia Open 2015 final report
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

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links