Errors & Omissions: Always confusing when you wake up and think you're 15 'again'

Did Columbus discover America? It is true that he discovered certain islands that we now know to be in the Americas, but he believed that they were off the coast of Asia.

In what sense can he be said to have "discovered" a continent whose existence he never acknowledged? A similar question is posed by the following introduction to a feature article on Tuesday, about a woman who suffered amnesia: "Naomi Jacobs went to bed a 34-year-old mother – but the next morning was convinced she was 15 again."

The use of "again" here reminds us that words like "discovered" and "convinced" can be ambiguous. Do they refer to the facts as seen by the writer, or as seen by the person whose experience is being reported? "She was 15 again" is Naomi's situation as seen by the writer. But it didn't look like that to her. She didn't imagine that she had been transported back in time and was 15 "again". She had simply forgotten everything that had happened since she was 15, woke up believing she was still 15 and was bewildered by her suddenly aged appearance and her unfamiliar surroundings.

This is not an error or omission; merely a puzzle. The words "the next morning she was convinced ..." read to me as introducing a description of how things looked to Naomi, not to the writer – which is as it should be. But the word "again" takes us back into the mind of the writer.

Guilt trap: Sebastian Robinson writes to point out an error in an article about Ernest Hemingway in last Saturday's magazine: "He was pursued, for the rest of his life, by a colossal death wish – either to join his late father or to expatiate his guilt at his late father's death." That should be "expiate" – to lay to rest by atonement, not "expatiate" – to talk at length. Here we have two words of unconnected meaning whose forms have converged, laying a trap for the unwary. "Expiate" comes from the Latin piare, meaning to propitiate or cleanse, "expatiate" from spatium, meaning space, or length of time.

Figure it out: On Monday we carried a picture of a boat race in Venice. The caption contained this tortured sentence: "Depending on the fitness of the rower, the course can take between 2-5 hours or more to complete." Three problems here. Figures below 10 we spell out as words, so that should be "two" and "five". Second, a hyphen between two figures stands for the word "to": "between two to five" makes no sense; it should be "between two and five" or just "two to five". And what does "two to five or more" mean? Is it between two and five or more than five? How about this: "The fittest crews complete the course in two hours, but some can take more than five." That makes sense and is three words shorter.

Pope-a-Catholic shock: A news-in-brief item on Thursday told us of the discovery, in Sussex, of a hitherto unknown species of dinosaur. "The dinosaur has been identified as coming from the Mesozoic era, which began about 250 million years ago." The danger in writing about scientific topics is not getting the facts wrong but mistaking their significance – or in this case lack of it. All dinosaurs (except the ones we call birds) come from the Mesozoic era. It is not worth mentioning.

Gone West: "A famous building in London's West End caught fire yesterday," said a news story on Wednesday. The building in question is on the corner of Aldwych and the Strand, near Somerset House. We Londoners know how difficult it can be to fix the boundaries of districts, but surely nothing east of Charing Cross can be called the West End. Notice also two notorious journalese usages. "London's West End" is found only in mass media; real people call it either just "the West End", or "the west End of London". And "famous" is, as usual, simply untrue. The building is apparently called Marconi House. I've never heard of it.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Floyd Mayweather will relinquish his five world titles after beating Manny Pacquiao
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
Tottenham legend Jimmy Greaves has defended fans use of the word 'Yid'
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Florence Welch from Florence + the Machine
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
Arts and Entertainment
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living