Errors & Omissions: The spirit of a long-dead friar is unwittingly kept alive

Here is a pub quiz question. Who was François Leclerc du Tremblay (1577-1638), also known as Father Joseph?

He was the Capuchin friar who was the confidant of Cardinal Richelieu. His Eminence the Cardinal was the all-powerful minister who ruled France under Louis XIII. The story goes that people around the court compared the modest friar in his dull habit to his red-robed master and dubbed him the "grey eminence". Yes, you guessed it: Tremblay was the original éminence grise.

I cannot see that he had very much in common with the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times, but the following appeared in an article on Wednesday about a controversial American film critic called Armond White: "Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, the éminence grise of American film criticism, first defended White in his blog, then retracted his defence."

An éminence grise is a person without an official position of power who runs things from behind the scenes by exercising influence on those in charge. Mr Ebert may be influential, which is no doubt all the writer meant to convey, but since his influence is exercised in public, and he has the official position to go with it, he does not qualify as an éminence grise.



Strange fruit: My esteemed colleague Johann Hari is the most urban person I know. For him, the world means the human race; wild nature disgusts and alarms him. So I was not surprised by a curious slip at the start of his essay, published on Tuesday, about the social significance of the internet.

"On the first day of the Noughties I sent my first email. I sent it from a different world – one in which spam was something my nan ate from a can [and] blackberries were fruit you picked from a tree."

I suspect that for him blackberries are a fruit you buy in a supermarket, packaged in a clean plastic box. No one who has actually picked blackberries would say that they grow on a tree. You might call the tangle of brambles a hedgerow, or even a bush, but never a tree.

Daft headline of the week: "Latest fatality takes Afghanistan death toll to 100." Having committed yourself to "death toll" as the object of the verb "takes", you have to find a synonym for "death" to be the subject. Step forward the slimy bureaucratic euphemism "fatality". And which fatality are we talking about? Why, the latest one, of course. Was there ever a duller opening to a headline than "Latest fatality"?

Mixed-up metaphor: "Were his story to get the Hollywood treatment, Matt Damon would be a shoe-in for the starring role," said the report of an interview with the chess player Magnus Carlsen, published on Tuesday. What can a shoe-in possibly be, you may ask.

The expression is actually "shoo-in". Its origins seem to lie on American racetracks early in the last century. If a race had been fixed, the horse that was going to win it was a shoo-in: it was going to be shooed past the winning post like some domestic beast being driven into an enclosure. Hence, a shoo-in is the certain and predestined winner of a contest.

That is the story, anyway. The moral: don't use a metaphorical expression if you don't know its literal meaning.

Grammar corner: Some English verbs indulge in a harmless eccentricity: they have two different forms of the past participle. The variant forms "strived" and "striven" were the subject of a lively debate in this column recently. Another such verb is "speed".

Hamish McRae, in his Wednesday essay on boom and bust in the Noughties, wrote: "The downturn, far from holding back the growth of these new giants [China and India], seems almost to have sped it up." I would have written "speeded it up".

It has to be confessed that my authoritative but ancient edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary recognises only "sped" as the past participle of "speed". So maybe "speeded" is a development of recent years. But I think it exists, and I think it is the right form when the verb is used transitively. Further, I think this distinction applies to the past tense as well. So, "He sped away", but "He speeded the message on its way".

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Life and Style
A general view during the 2014 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show at Earl's Court exhibition centre on 2 December, 2014 in London, England
fashionIt's not all about the catwalks: the big changes of the past year can be summed up in six clothing items
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: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?