Errors & Omissions: Every picture tells a story, but sometimes it's the wrong one


On Monday, 14 February, we naturally had an article about declarations of love. John Walsh wrote about love letters. The article was illustrated with pictures of the writers Denis Diderot, John Keats, Victor Hugo and James Joyce – and what looked like a Victorian etching of a soppy-looking medieval monk, captioned thus: "St Valentine, a martyr for love."

But something was wrong. Careful inspection of this absurd picture revealed under the figure's hand a piece of paper – and written on it, in spiky Gothic script, the word "Heloïse". Clearly this was meant to be a picture of Peter Abelard, the 12th-century scholar whose forbidden love for the fair Heloïse led him to a fate you don't want to read about over breakfast.

It is impossible to know, by looking at the page, whether the picture desk was asked for St Valentine and mistakenly supplied a picture of Abelard, or whether the picture was meant to be Abelard – who would fit in with the other four writers of love letters – but was miscaptioned as Valentine by an inattentive sub-editor.

However, in a sense, none of it matters. Valentine is a legendary figure, traditionally supposed to have been a third-century Roman martyr. Nobody knows anything much about him – certainly not what he looked like. Abelard is a historical person; his writings survive. But I know of no authentic surviving portrait of him. In fact, a photograph of your Uncle Bert would be as good a picture of either of them as any 19th-century print. Why we so often try to pass these ridiculous things off as authentic portraits of figures from the past has always baffled me.

Last Saturday, it was even worse. Among the illustrations used in a picture spread about footballers' tattoos were a series of portraits of Viking monarchs, including such colourful characters as Harald Bluetooth and Sweyn Forkbeard. The representation of Sweyn was not even the usual Victorian etching, but a picture of an actor in costume. Pull the other one.

Kiss goodbye: Still on the theme of love, Monday's Digital Digest opined: "Over the course of the history of art one topic has recurred more than any other: the kiss."

Eh? More than the Madonna and Child? More than the formal portrait? More than the still life of objects on a table? It is frighteningly easy for statements like this, which sound credible but are in fact tosh, to creep into print.

Shrinking away: Here is Steve Richards, writing on Tuesday: "He genuinely believed that if the state shrunk, other more efficient providers would fill the gap." That should be "shrank".

Over recent years "shrunk", the past participle of "shrink", has been taking over the role of past tense also, driving out "shrank". The Society for the Preservation of English Irregular Verbs has placed "shrank" on its endangered list (along with "sank", "rang" and "striven" ). Use it or lose it. I think the title of the 1989 comedy film Honey, I Shrunk The Kids has a good deal to answer for. Maybe US usage is to blame for the decay of "shrank". But let's not be snooty about it; remember that stalwart America preserves "gotten" and "dove", where British English prefers the dull "got" and "dived".

Wrong word: Perhaps the spirit of Mrs Malaprop hovers over the land just now, with Penelope Keith portraying her so beguilingly on the London stage. Three of the most sadly familiar verbal misfires turned up this week.

Miles Howard writes in from Braintree to draw attention to this, from a leading article on Wednesday about elderly NHS patients: "Impersonal structures mitigate against the development of real bonds between staff and patients." That should be "militate" (fight), not "mitigate" (make mild). On the same day a film review said: "Miranda July hones in on throwaway details." Make that "homes", like a homing pigeon, not "hones", like sharpening a knife. And an article on last Saturday's personal finance pages mentioned "the flutter of excitement that an anonymous billet doux can illicit." No, "illicit" is an adjective, meaning not allowed. What was wanted was the verb "elicit", meaning to draw out.

News
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Life and Style
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
tv
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
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

Technical Project Manager - Software and Infrastructure - Government Experience

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Central Lon...

Head of Business Studies

Negotiable: Randstad Education Reading: Head of Business Studies needed for a ...

Teaching Assistant in secondary school Manchester

£11280 - £14400 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Teaching a...

Primary teaching roles in Ipswich

£21552 - £31588 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education re...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits