Errors & Omissions: The bride-to-be who was very much not a bride-to-be

Connoisseurs of classical journalese were delighted to see this headline on a news page on Thursday: "Bride-to-be saved from death leap."

Vintage stuff. As long ago as 1938, Evelyn Waugh's Fleet Street satire Scoop has a genial, bone-headed reporter remarking: "On Monday afternoon I was in East Sheen breaking the news to a widow of her husband's death leap with a champion girl cyclist." Brides-to-be have no doubt been with us as long as death leaps. And of course if all goes well after the "happy day" they soon turn into mums-to-be.

Thursday's story, however, turned out differently. This unfortunate young Chinese woman had been jilted by her fiancé. Wearing her wedding dress, she tried to jump from a high window, but was pulled to safety. So she wasn't a bride-to-be at all, but a bride-not-to-be. The headline was not only journalese but wrong.

Memories are made of this: Another good old journalistic tradition was on show in the opening of a news story on Wednesday: "The luxury that he is accustomed to was already a fading memory yesterday for Dominique Strauss-Kahn as he pondered his new circumstances at Rikers Island jail."

The tradition to which I refer is that of making things up if they sound likely and vivid. Maybe there is evidence to back up this wistful picture of DSK's mental state, but if so it is not given. The "fading memory" of luxury looks to me like one of those things reporters just say. Is it not just as likely that he is tormented by cruelly unfading memories of luxury?

Broken English: "If it ain't broken Nick, don't try to fix it." That headline, which appeared over a comment piece on Monday, gives out a dull clunk, the sound of different registers clashing. The original saying is "If it ain't broke, don't fix it.". That is vernacular speech, I think American. You could translate it into the Queen's English if you like, though there is no reason to: you would then have "If it isn't broken...". But don't mix the two.

Cliché of the week: "Mr Daley may be leaving something of a poisoned chalice in Mr Emanuel's hands." So said a news story on Monday, reporting on the new Mayor of Chicago. Once again, the dreaded "something of" reveals a writer using strong, dramatic language and immediately qualifying it – an exercise in futility. By that logic, a setback is "something of a disaster", a murder is "something of a massacre" and five is "something of 10". Much better to use a word of the required strength in the first place. But much easier to bring out the old poisoned chalice.

Words of war: Two weeks ago this column commented on a story about some British soldiers of fortune who had been captured in Africa. The report had called them "contractors". And on Monday we reported on a plan by the man who founded Blackwater to recruit an 800-strong battalion, including Colombians and South Africans, for service with the rulers of Abu Dhabi. They will uphold their employers' interests if confronted with any of that "Arab Spring" nonsense. We called them "a paramilitary force of foreign mercenaries".

So there you have it. Soldiers recruited for pay through "security" companies are "contractors" if good chaps, "mercenaries" if bad chaps. How can we refer to these people in language that conveys facts, with no moral spin, as a news report ought to? "Soldiers of fortune" is too fancifully romantic. Is it perhaps time to revive the word "freelance" in its original meaning?

By George! A feature article about architecture, published on Wednesday, referred in passing to "the Georgian poet Alexander Pope". It is true that Pope's career spanned the reigns of Anne and George I, but it is confusing to call him a Georgian poet. While Georgian architecture dates from the 18th century, the term "Georgian poets" usually refers to a group who were active during the reign of George V.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there