Errors & Omissions: Got carried away with words and forgot to make a clear point
Saturday 05 March 2011
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.
- 1 Reyhaneh Jabbari: Iran due to execute woman for murder of her alleged attempted rapist
- 2 Expert urges cat lovers to own just one animal each
- 3 Car tax disc changes: Two days to go - and they affect you much more than just not displaying a piece of paper
- 4 The Simpsons death: Creator Al Jean would 'kill himself' before character like Homer or Lisa
- 5 British man raped while urinating in bushes at Oktoberfest beer festival in Germany
Five-year-old Iris Grace is raising awareness of autism through her extraordinary paintings
Car tax disc changes: Two days to go - and they affect you much more than just not displaying a piece of paper
Isis an hour away from Baghdad - with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
The Aral Sea: Nasa pictures show how what was once the fourth largest lake in the world has become almost completely dry
British man raped while urinating in bushes at Oktoberfest beer festival in Germany
Isis, we are told, is a 'clear and dangerous threat to our way of life'. I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it
Exclusive: 'Putin's Russia has been my biggest regret,' says Nato's outgoing Secretary General
'Women, walk wherever you want' posters taken down in Stamford Hill following 'unacceptable' signs separating men and women
There’s no excuse for Dave Lee Travis’s behaviour, but we need to keep a sense of proportion
Mark Reckless becomes second Tory MP to defect to Ukip in a month
Should gay sex be illegal? 16% of Britons think so
- < Previous
- Next >
£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...
£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...
£27000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client who are...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Huxley Associates are currentl...