Errors & Omissions: The occasional verb wouldn't go amiss in a headline

The headline gremlins have been busy. On Tuesday this appeared on a news page: "Blair warned in 2000 Iraq war was illegal." Does that mean that Blair warned somebody that the war was illegal, or that he was warned?

Readers will work out eventually that "warned" is here not the past tense of "warn", but the past participle, with the auxiliary verb "was" omitted, as is permitted by the headlinese convention. But it is irritating to have to make the effort, and the problem could easily have been fixed: "Blair was told ..." would have fitted in the same space.

In the US, incidentally, the headline conventions are different. There you can omit the subject of a verb, something British headlines never do. An American headline might read: "Warned Blair in 2000 Iraq war was illegal", meaning "[Somebody] warned Blair ..."

If you thought that was confusing, what about this, from a news page on Thursday? To appreciate its horror, you have to see the original line breaks.

'Awesome':

air traffic

control's

take a child

to work day

What does it mean? The human brain does not know where to start. You need to know that the story is about an incident in which a father took his child to work in air-traffic control at JFK airport, New York. The kid was permitted to speak the words clearing an aircraft for takeoff, to which the pilot responded: "Awesome job." Once you know what the story says you can begin to understand the headline. But it's supposed to be the other way around.

The headline might just about have worked if the page layout had permitted it to be presented in one line, with the addition of a few hyphens:

'Awesome': air-traffic control's take-a-child-to-work day.

Cliché of the week: "US pours oil on troubled waters of Falklands row". That headline appeared on a news page on Wednesday. Since the row has been stirred up by drilling for oil, that well-worn line about oil on troubled waters must have appeared unbidden in the writer's mind. Unfortunately, as is the way with clichés, it has been misapplied by one who has forgotten its meaning.

Apparently, it really is possible to calm the waves of choppy water by pouring a film of oil on to the surface. Anyway that is what the phrase indicates. To pour oil on troubled waters is to attempt to calm things down. But that is not what the story said the US was doing. On the contrary, David Usborne's report said that Hillary Clinton's remarks had "sent another stiff squall though the Falkland Islands".

The trouble is that nobody pours oil on troubled waters in the literal sense these days. People think the metaphor has something to do with oil spills from tankers or burning petrol on the surface of the sea – both of which make things worse, not better. We should just drop this expression.

Slip and slide: With an election on the way, can we get one thing clear? The point about a landslide is that it changes the landscape. A large amount of rocks, earth and trees slides from one place to another, and afterwards everything looks different.

Let us have no more of this sort of thing (from a leading article on Monday): "Landslide victories tend to follow lifeless campaigns in which the party that knows it is about to taste office (again) sinks into complacency and arrogance." I take that to mean a campaign that produces a victory for the incumbent party. In other words, no change – and no landslide. A landslide, in political terms, is a dramatic result that gives power to a new government.

Oh, no, not again: Some errors are so frequent that pointing them out every time would be tedious. Perhaps they are in the process of becoming accepted usage, but let's not give up yet. Here are two that turned up again this week.

"The televised debates will dominate the election campaign ... in their sweaty, nerve-wracking, unpredictable significance" – commentary on Wednesday. That should be "nerve-racking". The nerves are being stretched, as on a rack.

"Former hippy who led California 30 years ago hopes to run embattled state again" – news blurb on Wednesday. Make that "hippie". "Yuppy" may be clipped and taut, but "hippie" needs to sprawl.

Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people'When I see people who look totally different, it brings me back to that time in my life'
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
News
Russell Brand has written a book of political analysis called Revolution
peopleFilm star says he is 'not interested in making money anymore'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites those Star Wars rumours
Sport
footballAccording to revelations from Sergio Aguero's new biography
News
news
News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Life and Style
Meow! ... Again, Kim Kardashian goes for a sexy Halloween costume, wrapping her body with a latex catsuit and high heeled knee boots
fashionFrom Heidi Klum to Kim Kardashian
News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

Extras
indybest
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge
booksChristmas comes early for wizard fans
Arts and Entertainment
filmsOculus Rift offers breathtakingly realistic simulation of zero gravity
Life and Style
tech

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

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:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

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?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker