Errors & Omissions: Got carried away with words and forgot to make a clear point


Rhetoric is all very well, but let's remember what we are actually saying. This is from a comment piece published on Thursday: "Mr Cameron has a thousand domestic policies and his Big Society as a binding theme. In relation to events in the Middle East he had neither a policy let alone the international equivalent of a Big Society."

That should be either "He had neither a policy nor the international equivalent of a Big Society" or "He did not even have a policy, let alone the international equivalent of a Big Society". Either sentence will do (though they are not the same – the second emphasises the idea that a big theme is more difficult to construct than a mere policy). But the important thing is to choose one and stick to it.

Keep it simple: "Even today, there is a 20-mile 'exclusion zone' around the Chernobyl power plant where inhabitation is prohibited," said a news story on Monday.

One feels that the word "inhabitation" ought to exist. After all, the verb is "inhabit", and the people who do it are inhabitants. But, oddly perhaps, the abstract noun is still "habitation".

Why not avoid the whole problem – and get rid of that bureaucratic "exclusion zone" at the same time? Better to write: "Even today, people are not allowed to live within 20 miles of the Chernobyl power plant."

Favourite film: Our Tuesday news report about the Oscars said that The King's Speech "justified heavy favouritism to carry off four Academy Awards". I don't think the writer meant to say that the film benefited from an unfair advantage because of a personal relationship with those in a position to advance its fortunes. But that is what favouritism is – and, by definition, it could never be justified.

All that was meant was that the film had been a favourite in a betting sense. Most people imagined it would win. I don't think there is a name for the quality of being in that position; perhaps there should be, but it isn't "favouritism".

Deny everything: I know newspaper style pedants go on and on about "refute", but it is important. It is always important that readers know when the newspaper is reporting facts or statements by other people, and when it is making value judgements. An interview published on Monday began: "When a man the world takes to be ambitious writes a memoir flatly refuting his ambition, do we believe him?"

"Flatly denying" would be much better, on two grounds. "Deny" means simply to state that something is wrong. "Refute" goes further: it means to prove a proposition wrong, or to defeat it in argument. It follows that a refutation cannot be "flat"; to refute involves the elaboration of a case.

And further, "refute" implies that the case was made, that the antagonist has indeed been proved wrong. So when we use "refute" we are not merely reporting what the speaker has said; we are taking their side, stating that they won the argument.

And something more follows from that. In the passage above, the use of "refute" turns the question "Do we believe him?" into nonsense. Of course we do: if we didn't believe him we wouldn't assert that he had refuted the accusation against him, merely that he had denied it.

Cliché of the week: "You might be forgiven a sense of déjà vu. It is only 13 months since the original iPad was presented by the man in the black turtle-neck." So said a story on Thursday about the launch of the new iPad 2 by Steve Jobs, the Apple boss.

This "sense of déjà vu" keeps popping up, nearly always in the wrong context. Déjà vu is a psychological phenomenon in which you think that you have already experienced what you are experiencing now. After a few moments the feeling passes, and you realise it was an illusion. The people attending the launch of the iPad 2 had the feeling that they had experienced something similar in the past – for the very good reason that they really had. That was not déjà vu; it was just memory.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

Guru Careers: Creative Director / Head of Creative

£65K - £75K (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Creative Director...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Luxury Brand

£18000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global wholesaler and reta...

Recruitment Genius: Store Manager - Department Store

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This organization is one of the founding names...

Recruitment Genius: 2nd / 3rd Line IT Support Engineer - IT Managed Services

£30000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company are loo...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence