Errors & Omissions: We seem to have considerably more heroes around nowadays

The debasement of the word "hero" is sad, not to say unpleasant. Any citizen who upholds the law is a "have-a-go hero".

A charity set up to help ex-service people is called Help for Heroes. What happened to the idea that a hero is a person of outstanding bravery? Last Saturday's personal finance section ran a story about pensioners who are not poor and have given up their winter fuel allowance to those who are. The headline: "War hero gives winter fuel allowance to needy." I have no desire to disparage this man's war record. For all I know, he really is a hero. But I don't know, because no details are given. I suspect that the writer simply calls anybody who has served in the armed forces a "hero".

Number crunching: "If tales of human endurance and triumph over adversity is what the American television networks love best, ABC hit gold with its interview." That is from a news story, published on Wednesday about the recovery of Gabrielle Giffords, the American politician shot in the head in January. It illustrates a strange failure to distinguish between singular and plural verbs.

The writer here seems to regard "tales of human endurance and triumph over adversity" as an undifferentiated splurge of stuff, like bread or poetry or data. In English grammar, that is called an uncountable, and takes a singular verb – in this case "is". But the true subject of the verb here is the plural noun "tales", and obviously tales are. People seem to forget that the logic of grammar is about words, not about the things they signify.

Journalese: "Under the changes the traditional break could be slashed from six to just four weeks in both primaries and secondaries." Thus, breathless with excitement, we reported on Wednesday a plan to reorganise the school year. The reader, apparently, is a desperate thrill-seeker. The mere facts will not do. The break must be not cut but "slashed"; and not to four weeks but "just four weeks". Was the writer consciously trying to play on the feelings of the reader, or did he use the words "slashed" and "just" out of mere habit? In the latter case, what would he do if he really wanted to inject a sense of drama?

If you've got it, flout it: "Ms Merkel said that automatic sanctions were necessary for countries that flaunted debt ceilings." That is from a news report on Tuesday. That should be "flouted" – defied and held in contempt – not "flaunted" – displayed with pride. The two are often confused, but a further question arises. You can certainly flaunt a ceiling – drawing attention to the magnificent plasterwork – but can you flout one, even a metaphorically financial one? The ceiling is a mere index. You would be flouting not the ceiling itself but the authority that set it.

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