Errors & Omissions: The combination of beauty and brains isn't that unusual, is it?


"Even its staunchest defenders would struggle to describe chess as sexy, but the growing stature of Magnus Carlson could change all that. Not only is the 20-year-old Norwegian the number two ranked chess player in the world, but he is also carving out a highly successful career in the world of fashion modelling."

That was the opening of an interview published on Monday. Everybody loves an opening paragraph that points up a contradiction, but the contradiction often turns out to be cooked up. In this case it rests on the assumption that fashion modelling is sexy. Discuss.

Further, is there really an inconsistency between chess and modelling? Chess depends on logical intelligence, fashion modelling on physical beauty and a striking presence. There is no reason in the world why all those qualities should not be found in the same person; the conjunction is rare merely because each is rare in itself.

One other point. To the long list of redundant phrases such as "a series of", "a basket of" and "the introduction of", we may add one more: "the world of". Strike it out.

Verbiage: As you enjoy a beautiful photograph spread over a full page, spare a thought for the poor sap who was ordered to write the caption. Beyond simply explaining what the picture shows, the words don't matter, but always there is that desperate need to find something to say.

So it was on Thursday, with a huge display of marching Russians. The caption began: "A close column of Russian naval infantry march wearing their distinctive uniform during a rehearsal yesterday for the Victory Day parade."

Distinctive uniform? All uniforms are distinctive. Their purpose is to distinguish members of a group from other people.

Spell check: Last week, commenting on the tiresome vogue for double and triple "whammies", we asked, "What is a whammy anyway?" Readers of this column do not leave such questions unanswered. I am therefore in a position to tell you that "whammy" is an American word for a spell or curse. It may have originated in the strip cartoon Li'l Abner.

Ian Mortenson writes that he still possesses an old record called "The Whammy" on which Screamin' Jay Hawkins tells the tragic tale of meeting a "big woman" with a "mojo bone" which she uses to "put the whammy" on him. Screaming Jay ends up "walking sideways, my mind in neutral".

This makes the whammy sound like some kind of Caribbean voodoo spell. Mr Mortenson concludes: "I presume a double whammy is a lot worse."

Rick Biddulph adds really arcane stuff about that lever that alters the pitch of an electric guitar. Apparently it is known as whammy bar (or wang bar).

Flood warning: Philip Hensher wrote last Saturday: "We might like to think of the people who make these objections as fairly antediluvian in attitude."

I'm always baffled when writers of comment pieces use qualifying adverbs such as "fairly". Why use such a strong adjective as "antediluvian" and then water it down again with "fairly"? Better, surely, to use a milder adjective in the first place (antiquated? outdated?).

And in any case, are there degrees of antediluvianness? A thing either dates from before the Flood or it doesn't.

Emergency case: "Ministers have been bruised by the resistance to the plans of the Royal College of Nursing, which last week passed a vote of no-confidence in the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, and the British Medical Association."

That sentence, from a news story published on Monday, is in need of life-saving surgery. It looks as if we are talking about "the plans of the Royal College of Nursing" and as if the RCN has passed a vote of no-confidence in the BMA. It is not at all difficult to fix: "Ministers have been bruised by the resistance to their plans from the British Medical Association and from the Royal College of Nursing, which last week passed a vote of no confidence in the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley."

Note in passing that we have dropped the hyphen from "no-confidence". That hyphen is needed only to weld the two words together when they are being used as an adjective. A no-confidence vote is a vote of no confidence.

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