Errors & Omissions: The bride-to-be who was very much not a bride-to-be
Saturday 21 May 2011
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.
Oscar Pistorius trial: Defence's own witness contradicts athlete's version of events
Oscar Pistorius trial: The case against Oscar Pistorius – and why the prosecution claims his story doesn't add up
Almost 40m gallons of drinking water discarded – because a man urinated in it
Peaches Geldof funeral: Private ceremony to be held at same place as her mother Paula Yates on Easter Monday
Shropshire criminals ‘using unmanned drones and infrared cameras to find illegal cannabis farms’ – and then steal from the growers
The food poverty scandal that shames Britain: Nearly 1m people rely on handouts to eat – and benefit reforms may be to blame
US Navy christens huge $3 billion destroyer ship USS Zumwalt that appears as a fishing boat on enemy radar
Scottish independence: It is the English who should be on their knees, begging the Scots to vote ‘No’
Nigel Farage fatigue? Half of voters ‘immune’ to Ukip’s appeal
Nigel Farage on Have I Got News For You: Ukip leader ridiculed over expenses and party 'fruitcakes'
Nigel Farage: I’m taking on the status quo, and the Establishment’s fighting back
- 1 Are you turning into your dad? The top ten signs you've embraced dad-ism revealed as survey says 38 is age men turn into their father
- 2 Overheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
- 3 Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'
- 4 24 people applied for the 'world's toughest job', here are their interviews
- 5 Grace Dent on TV: Game of Thrones has jumped the shark
£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...
£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...
£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...
£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...