Errors & Omissions: Three is the magic number – but not always for women


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The Independent Online

The introductory blurb to a fashion feature published on Monday began like this: "A triumvirate of designers shone in Paris last week – and these ladies all had very different ideas." I know this is pure pedantry, and Latin pedantry at that, but you really can't have a triumvirate of women (or even "ladies").

Vir means man. Man, that is, as opposed to woman. Man in the sense of human being is homo. From vir. English derives the words "virile" and "virility". A triumvirate is a group of three men. In Rome in the first century BC there were a First Triumvirate of Pompey, Caesar and Crassus and a Second Triumvirate of Antony, Octavian and Lepidus. All chaps, you see, so the equivalent word for women does not exist. Perhaps we should coin one: who's for "triumfeminate"?

In the meantime, you may have a trio, a triad or even a trinity of women, but not a triumvirate – it just looks absurd.

Now see here: This headline appeared on a business page on Wednesday: "Remortgaging sees sharp 30 per cent rise in August". Things with no eyes are "seeing" more and more these days.

In the course of the past 20 years, "see" has been ousted by "perceive" in sentences such as "I perceive this change as stupid". Now poor old "see" has found a new figurative use. Here is another example, from a news story on Thursday: "The FBI yesterday arrested a man as part of its investigation into the alleged hacking of Hollywood celebrities' phones and email accounts which saw naked pictures of actress Scarlett Johansson leaked online last month."

I think that naked pictures of Scarlett Johansson are wasted on "hacking"; can't we all see them?

Mixed metaphor of the week: "Libyan revolutionary forces stormed through the streets of Sirte yesterday, tightening their noose on this last bastion of support for the fallen former leader, Muammar Gaddafi." That is from a news story published on Wednesday.

A noose is a looped rope. A bastion is a feature of a classical Vauban-style fortification; it sticks out from the curtain wall so that its guns command the ditch. It would be possible to tighten a noose around a bastion, but nothing would be achieved by doing so.

I know who that is! A brief news item on the Frieze Art Fair, published on Thursday, informed the reader as follows: "Some 170 galleries are showing work, attracting celebrities including U2's Adam Clayton, Jay Jopling, Gwen Stefani, artist Grayson Perry and collector Charles Saatchi to yesterday's private show."

Some questions arise. What is Jay Jopling doing in a list of celebrities "attracted" to the fair? His White Cube gallery is one of the exhibitors. On what principle do Clayton, Perry and Saatchi require a word of description, while the names of the other two can stand alone? Why is it remarkable that a couple of rock musicians and three people from the art world were at an art fair? And what happened to the dictum attributed to Lord Northcliffe? – "News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress. All the rest is advertising."