Errors & Omissions: The Second World War is long over, but still a source of confusion

 


Everybody gets it wrong about the Second World War. David Cameron and Tony Blair, for instance, are both on record as implying the United States was a belligerent in 1940.

Compared with that sort of thing, the following is a minor error, but it illustrates the pitfalls of quoting facts without understanding their context. It comes from a news story about Rommel: "Defeated by General Bernard Law Montgomery's 7th Armoured Division, the famed 'Desert Rats', at the decisive battle of El-Alamein in 1942, Field Marshal Rommel wrote that his campaign against the British was a chivalrous affair."

The reference to "Montgomery's 7th Armoured Division" is sort of right. Montgomery was in command of the British and allied army at Alamein, and the 7th Armoured took part in the battle. But it was only one of 10 British and British Empire divisions involved. So while all the facts are right they have been combined in a way that creates a wrong impression. Incidentally, that is the first time I have seen a British publication refer to "General Bernard Law Montgomery". Hitherto, "Montgomery" has been enough. As the war starts to fade from living memory, the writer is probably right to assume that some people will need to be told who Montgomery was.

Unreal: Ian Craine writes to point out a wonderfully dotty deployment of belt and braces in last Saturday's paper. A personal-finance feature about problems with electronic payments included this: "In a typical case, Mr J (not his real name) lost out on £300 after someone who sold him a faulty car stereo refused to give the money back."

So, "Mr J" is not his real name? It sounds as if he must be a rap artist or a James Bond villain. His real name is probably Mr Q or Mr Z. Having disguised the man's identity with an initial, there was no need to trot out the familiar disclaimer "not his real name".

And what does "lost out on £300" mean? Could it possibly be the same as "lost £300"?

Never explain: I hope you weren't left feeling too inadequate by this opening to a report published last Saturday: "Boris Johnson is no stranger to high-end mingling, but if he is to preside over the Olympic fashion showcase next year, he'll need to work on his style-set jargon.

"'What are you wearing, Boris?' one journalist demanded of him as he opened London Fashion Week at a ceremony yesterday.

"'A suit?' he replied, clearly baffled."

No explanation was offered, and I was just as baffled as Boris. What could "What are you wearing?" possibly mean? The first colleague (female) I asked had no idea. The second explained that it means: "What label – the work of what designer – are you wearing?"

I don't criticise this story. Sometimes you must amuse those who will understand, while ruthlessly ignoring those who won't. Jokes that depend on literary or historical allusions have to be presented in that way. To explain the point is to kill the joke. But it is sobering to be the outsider.

Mixed metaphor of the week: "Markets rattled as spectre of Greek default sparks sell-off," said a business headline on Tuesday.

Yes, it's our old friends "spectre" and "sparks", two overused headline words. A spectre is an apparition, usually of a grisly or terrifying nature, that is visible but has no solid substance. The word is derived from the Latin verb spectare, to look or watch, which also gives us "inspect" and "spectator". A spectre could, I suppose, rattle chains as well as markets, but I can't see how it could strike sparks.

Homophone horror: On Thursday we ran a news story on a forthcoming education report: "Government awaits his findings with baited breath." That should be "bated".

"Bait" comes from an old Norse root, meaning food – hence food used to lure quarry. "Bate" is just a version of "abate" – to lessen the force of something, as when you hold your breath. Why don't we drop this cliché about "bated breath"? It only causes trouble.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
health
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn