Errors & Omissions: You don't have to know much about football – but it helps

This is from a news story published on Monday: "Downton Abbey [is] facing criticism for substituting dramatic credibility for soap-style pacing and plot twists." My thanks to Andrew Horsman, who drew attention to that.

To anyone no longer young and who doesn't follow football, that sentence is puzzling. Why would a television drama be criticised for abandoning soap-style pacing and plot twists and instead adopting dramatic credibility? For that is what that sentence means. The new thing is substituted for the old.

But not in football. When a substitution occurs it is the player going off the field who is said to have been substituted. I suppose the feeling is that his role is the passive one, which should be reflected by a passive verb. In recent decades the footballing usage has leaked into everyday language – to such an extent that different writers use the words in opposite senses. Not very satisfactory, but I expect the football usage will win in the end.

It won't be the first time that the application of a verb to its object has turned through 180 degrees. One instance is "advertise", which once applied to a person whose attention was being drawn to something. One might advertise the public about goods for sale. Now one may only advertise the goods to the public. And among the Shorter Oxford Dictionary's etymological arcana, illustrating the verb "substitute", we find: "A means of judging how far touch can substitute sight, 1855." Today's pedants would demand instead "how far touch can be substituted for sight". It looks as if the footballing usage of "substitute" is older than you might think.

Journalese: "Mystery chaos bid," as Peter Simple, one of the great satirical columnists, used to headline absurdist items of "news". Headline words need to be vivid and short. One of the most frequently used is "tragedy".

"Red Arrows pilot in ejector seat tragedy," said a headline published on Wednesday. "Tragedy" is useful. It maintains a respectful tone while telling the reader that someone has died in an accident that was worse than a "drama" but not bad enough to qualify as a "horror". And so it was. The pilot was killed when his ejector seat, through some unexplained malfunction, operated when the aircraft was stationary on the ground.

A classic journalese "tragedy", in fact – and what is wrong with that? Well, nothing, except that a mere accident, no matter how grievous, is not at all like the kind of play which, according to Aristotle, purges the emotions through pity and terror; a story of greatness brought low by malign fate, which brings us a deeper understanding of what it is to be human. That is what we really mean by "tragedy".

What was that? "Officers have contacted 450 people who were arrested, despite that many were never charged with any offence related to disturbances at last winter's protests," said a news story on Wednesday. "Despite that" is a new one. It looks as if the writer was desperate to avoid the familiar but monstrously clumsy "despite the fact that", and forgot about "although".

Whom was that? A Monday news story gave the following English version of a statement by Silvio Berlusconi: "Despite the defectors, whom I hope will return, we still have a majority." That should be "who". Consider these phrases: "the defectors, who will return" and "the defectors, whom I will flay alive". Both are correct – but you can't hope a defector.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
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
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
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: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea