Errors & Omissions: Take a perfectly good image, misuse it endlessly and watch it crumble


A comment piece on Thursday, about love affairs, said: "One person only has to slip in their resolve for 10 minutes and the whole thing crumbles like a pack of cards."

You can try this at home. Place a pack of cards on a table. Now wait for it to crumble, or fall over. You will have a long wait, even if you prod it. For of course the exemplary precarious structure, liable to collapse at any moment, is a house of cards, not a pack.

You can be certain that an image has died and turned into a cliché when people frequently quote it wrongly, as they do with the "pack of cards". The mistake reveals that they are just parroting the words, without trying to form the image in their imagination. In this case we may speculate that the image has died for a very good reason – that, in the age of the Xbox, children no longer while away long afternoons building and demolishing card houses.

Crashing bore: Last Saturday we published a big picture of waves breaking on the seashore. Turning to the accompanying words, the reader came first to this headline: "Storms crash across northern Britain." Next, the picture caption: "Waves crash over the promenade in Blackpool yesterday as severe gales and rain hit the west coast." Finally, the first paragraph of the story: "The waves came crashing in on Blackpool yesterday as high winds gusted across northern Britain."

This kind of thing can easily happen when, in the hurly-burly of news production, caption and headline are written by different people.

In a presentation of this kind, the words should offer an attractive variety of imaginative effect, but the facts should be consistent. Here it was the other way round. Amid the repetitive crashing of the waves, there are two conflicting accounts of how strong the wind was. Was it a severe gale (force 9 on the Beaufort scale) or a storm (force 10)?

I don't believe it: "Paul McMullen, whose memorandum from October was published by the Home Affairs Select Committee yesterday, claimed that Andy Coulson, the Prime Minister's former communications director, was aware of the hacking while in senior roles at News International". So said a news report published last Saturday.

Why "claimed"? Are we trying to suggest that McMullen's statement may not be true? For that is what the word "claim" implies. In a court case the plaintiff may make a claim for damages; a usurper may claim the throne; a gold prospector stakes out his claim. In every case the claim defies a possible challenge. On the other hand, nobody ever "claimed" that the sun rises in the east, for that is a fact.

"Alleged" carries a similar burden of scepticism. On the other side, there are equally tendentious terms suggesting that a statement is true: revealed, disclosed, made clear, pointed out. (The tiresome, moralistic adverb "rightly" is often put in for the same purpose.)

Why not stick to "said", and leave the reader to decide how reliable the statement is?

Bear necessities: Brian Clarke writes in from Kent to point out the following, from a travel piece in last Saturday's Magazine, about San Diego, California: "It can trace the growth which turned it into America's eighth-largest city to the Second World War, when a generation of young men passed through its port en route to the grizzly theatre of the Pacific."

That should be "grisly". The words are pronounced the same, but their origins and meanings are different. Grisly means causing fear and horror. Grizzly means grey – as in grizzled hair. It is rarely encountered except as the name of the fierce bear of North America.

Cinematic illusion: Another travel piece in the Magazine, this time about the Vienna of The Third Man, refers to "alleys glistening with rain" and "death-haunted chiaroscuro of night and rainy streets". This a tribute to cinema's power to create visual impressions that are stronger than facts. For it never rains in The Third Man, though in some scenes the pavements are wet.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Financial Trading Training Advisor - OTE £30,000

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's leading CV writing com...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an intermediate help de...

Recruitment Genius: Personal Injury Fee Earners

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist personal injury...

Recruitment Genius: New Business Sales Executive / Business Development

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Join a fast growing, UK based I...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen