Errors & Omissions: The stars of today would make Cary and Marlene turn in their graves


To take pleasure in watching people making fools of themselves is a form of cruelty akin to those 18th-century outings to Bedlam to laugh at the lunatics.

So I never watch Big Brother, and perhaps I am in no position to judge, but surely there is something wrong with a picture caption, published on Wednesday, which said: "Big Brother star Darryn Lyons has undergone surgery to get a washboard stomach."

A star is a performer whose name appears on the posters above, not below, the title of the play or film. The name is at the top because the management thinks that the performer will bring people in to the theatre regardless of what the show may be.

I suppose in a grisly sense that is true of the people who appear on "reality" TV: since there is no show, the performers are the only attraction. So you could say they are all stars. But remember that Mr Lyons' fame rests in no small measure on the cosmetic surgery that makes the fat on his stomach resemble the "six pack" of a muscled torso. Should he really be accorded an honour once given to the likes of Cary Grant and Marlene Dietrich?

Provincial: On Thursday we ran a feature article about Welsh food. The headline: "Get to know the cuisine next door." Next door to where? England, obviously. So the reader is in England, presumably. What readers in Wales made of that, I don't know. I suppose if you live more than 100 miles from London, you must get wearily used to the national media's unthinking assumption that the only real world is the one seen from within the M25.

Bad humour: This is from a comment piece published last Saturday: "Starkey was identifying the same phenomenon [white youngsters aping 'black' speech and manners] but without Ali G's flair, good humouredness and even affection for the patois." Start with a perfectly good noun, say "humour". It has an associated adjective, "humoured". That's all you need, isn't it? Apparently not. No one can resist the urge to create new abstract nouns by tacking "-ness" on to the ends of adjectives. So we get "good humouredness". How does that differ from "good humour"? Search me.

And here we go again. This is from a comment piece on Tuesday: "Alan Davidson ... had been the most lethal swing bowler of the era and a fielder of such prehensile predatoriness that he was known to one and all as 'The Claw'." You cannot object to "predatoriness" as being redundant: it is not the same thing as "predation", but it is still an ugly coinage. As so often in English, things can be improved by getting rid of an abstract noun: "... and as a fielder he was such a prehensile predator that ...".

Who they? On Tuesday a news report said: "The coalition, including Britain, France and Italy, has also funded hi-tech equipment used by rebel fighters to communicate their position to Nato commanders as they plot the air strikes that have helped to tilt the balance against Colonel Gaddafi's demoralised military forces." So, "their position" refers to the rebel fighters, but six words later "they" are the Nato commanders. It is not difficult to work out who is who, but the reader has to pause to sort it out. Saving the effort is easy – just write: "... Nato commanders who plot ...".

Verbiage: From a news story on Monday: "The latest microfossils have been subjected to an exhaustive series of tests which have confirmed that they were once living cells." There are worse things in the world than words that carry no meaning, but why not get rid of them anyway? "A series of" is almost always redundant.

Cliché of the week: "Blood pressure testers not fit for purpose," said a news headline on Wednesday. "Not fit for purpose" has crept up on us in recent years, until we weary of the sight of it. Self-consciously "tough" ministers in the last government loved it for its air of brisk managerial ruthlessness. I declare it no longer fit for purpose.

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