Errors & Omissions: Take a peek at this pike from the peak – but leave the peke behind
Bryan Clarke writes from Dartford in Kent to draw attention to this, from a picture caption in last Saturday's magazine: "Take a peak at his rarely glimpsed later works." That should, of course, be "peek".
Step forward, the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. "Peek", meaning to look through a crevice, goes back to Middle English and is related to "peep", but is of unknown origin.
"Peak" means the pointed top of a mountain, and hence the highest value of a variable quantity, as well as the pointed end of anything. It is related to "pike", an Old English word for a pointy thing. "Pike" is familiar in modern English as a long spear-like weapon. It also survives in the names of some northern hills, such as Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England. "Pike" the fish is believed to have started life in the Middle Ages as "pikefish", in reference to its pointy snout. Another form of "pike", it further transpires, is "pick" – a pointy tool. We'd better leave it there before we go completely mad. One thing is for sure: neither "peek" nor "peak" has anything to do with "peke", which is a little dog.
Don't ask: "Term-time holidays? Why not?" That front-page puff was supposed to entice readers to turn to an opinion piece inside Monday's paper. A puff that asks a question takes the risk that readers will see an obvious answer, and lose interest. In this case, my reaction was: "Why not? Because taking children out of school for holidays in term time can only teach them a lesson you don't want them to learn – that pleasure is more important than duty. No need to read that article then."
Which was a pity, because the article was actually interesting – and it didn't, in fact, address the question "Why not?". It listed the advantages of taking holidays in term time, but didn't refute the objections.
Big mistake: On Thursday, an article about Australian politics reported thus: "Last weekend speculation about leadership tensions reached a crescendo." The writer meant to say that the speculation reached a climax. If anything can ever be said to reach a crescendo, it does so when at a low level.
Newspaper pedants like me have been ranting at their colleagues about the misuse of "crescendo" ever since anybody can remember. The point was no doubt covered in the style book of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. But let's say it again anyway. "Crescendo" is an Italian word meaning "increasing". It entered the English language through its use as a direction in musical scores: it tells the players to raise the volume of sound gradually. So a crescendo is a process of increase; the high level reached at the end of that process is a climax (or you could call it a peak – see above), not a crescendo.
It's easy to see how the confusion arises. A non-musical reader, seeing a reference to an agonising crescendo of terror, or suchlike, could easily go away with the idea that a crescendo is a state of high intensity. But professional writers should get it right.
Expert opinion: "Experts warn of huge increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria" – headline published on Monday. Well, I'm relieved to be told that this opinion comes from experts. Otherwise I would assume that the paper had taken the trouble to report the opinion of tyros. "Experts" is one of the worst words to start a headline with. The headline needs to be recast.
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