Errors & Omissions: Spare me a thought when you dither at the beginning of a story

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The Independent Online

The drop intro has its place in the reporter's armoury, though it can easily look like the artifice it is.

It is the device of starting the story with something other than the main point. You know the sort of thing: "Vladimir Smith seemed like an ordinary householder. But little did his neighbours know that he was a werewolf."

Recently, however, we have been seeing a fashion for a kind of drop intro that tells the reader nothing at all about the specifics of the story. It merely prefaces the report with a relevant but banal observation about life in general. This was published last Saturday.

"For most couples, getting guests, caterers and flowers to a wedding venue on dry land is challenge enough. Spare a thought then for Simon Goode and Lucy Brentnall, who spent 10 days camping with puffins to secure the right to tie the knot on one of Britain's more remote islands and then shipped 136 guests to their big day on a cargo boat for a glittering wedding reception in a lambing shed."

The reader learns nothing from the opening sentence of this story. That is a waste of an opening sentence. Two further observations. The reference to "dry land" is misplaced. An island is dry land: the couple are not getting married on a boat. And why should we "spare a thought" for them? They are not the victims of a misfortune – whatever difficulties they face arise from their own charmingly barmy decision to marry on the island of Lundy.

Under fire: "Plenty of multi-millionaire executives, in offices far better appointed than her's, are happy to let her take the flack," said an article about Angela Knight of the British Bankers' Association, published on Monday.

Two errors here. First, there is no apostrophe in "hers". If you are not interested in grammar, skip now to the next paragraph. The possessive forms of nouns carry an apostrophe. But "hers" is a possessive pronoun. Like adjectives, these pronouns can be used either attributively ("her book") or predicatively ("That book is hers"). You will notice that in the case of her/hers the attributive and predicative forms are different. But that is not the case with possessive pronouns of all persons, numbers and genders. The full set is as follows: my/mine; your/yours; his/his; her/hers; its/its; our/ours; their/theirs.

Welcome back to the real world. From the dusty pages of ancient grammar books, we turn to the war-torn skies over Nazi Germany. The Allied bomber offensive of the Second World War faced desperate opposition from German fighter aircraft and ground-based anti-aircraft guns. The German for anti-aircraft gun is Fliegerabwehrkanone, which yields the German acronym "Flak". Hence bombers subjected to anti-aircraft fire were said to be "taking flak", and hence to take flak became a metaphor for having a hard time, especially from strongly expressed criticism. There is no c in "flak".

That's her: Our great "Who he?" campaign appears to be having some success. We have only one example this week of the same pronoun signifying two different people in the same sentence, brought to my attention by an email from Henry Peacock. It comes from Wednesday's obituary of Claire Rayner: "Her storytelling ability was phenomenal, and many is the sneering reader who picked up one of her novels only to find herself propping her eyelids open at three in the morning to reach the end."

There have been worse examples than that, though it is confusing that the second "her" is still Rayner, even after the appearance of the "sneering reader". So change "one of her novels" to "a Rayner novel".

Bit of a drag: The Thursday essay was about fertility treatment. The introductory blurb said: "Those who can afford it pay up to £10,000 for IVF, but a gentler technique, priced at just £174, could soon be available to all. So why are the experts dragging their heels?"

If somebody is trying to pull you in a direction you don't want to go, you may dig in your heels. If you are proceeding slowly and reluctantly, you drag your feet.

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