Errors & Omissions: What does it take for an occupation to become an era? That depends...

By Guy Keleny


What do the following three sentences have in common?

"The delicious intensity of a ripe, fresh homegrown tomato, and the dreariness of the commercial variety, raises an immediate and obvious question." – Viewspaper front page, Wednesday.

"Spending and investment would collapse again, and world trade with it." – Opinion article, Monday.

"Closed circuit television and remote video monitoring is in use at this station." – announcement by Southeastern railway company.

There seems to be a growing fashion, affecting newspapers no less than railways, for regarding a pair of associated things as singular, rather than plural.

I would say that intensity and dreariness raise (not "raises") a question; that spending and investment are "them" (not "it"); and that television and monitoring are (not "is"). The people who wrote the sentences above regard each associated pair as a sort of package, which seems to them to be one thing. So they use a singular verb or pronoun.

English, being a language with very few inflections, has always been pretty lax about such matters, attending more to the things it is describing than to the logical structure of the language itself. So it would perhaps be pedantic to assert that these writers are wrong. But we should be aware of what is going on.

Age cannot wither him: Ian Craine writes in to point out this passage, from an obituary of the jazz pianist Ray Bryant, published last Saturday: "His beefy playing ... caught the ear with its authority and was easy to identify. Even in what turned out to be his old age, it had a youthful joy and hope about it that was most infectious."

Mr Craine speculates that perhaps the weird phrase "what turned out to be his old age" ought to read "what turned out to be his last years". That may be so. As it stands, it seems to imply that to Bryant the onset of old age came as a surprise, he having expected something else.

A bit occupied: In last Monday's Notebook, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown wrote of "new generations for whom the Sixties and Seventies must feel as long ago as the Roman occupation". How long must an occupation go on before it turns into an era? It seems to depend on how long ago it was and who was occupying whom.

An occupation is temporary and not very legitimate. Hence the sensitivity of Israel about the West Bank being described as "occupied". Hence also the eagerness of campaigners for the return of the Elgin Marbles to speak of a "Turkish occupation" of Greece, with the implication that the Turkish authorities had no right to dispose of the marbles to Lord Elgin. The Turkish "occupation" of Greece lasted from the 14th to the 19th century. By that standard the current European occupation of North America, known to some as the United States, has scarcely got into its stride.

And of course nobody in this country talks of a British "occupation" of India (1765-1947). Funny, that.

The Roman army arrived in Britain AD43 and left around 410. Not as long as the Turkish stay in Greece, but too long, surely, to be dismissed as an occupation.

Verbiage: We seem to be forming quite a collection of redundant adjectives that should be struck out on sight. Recently we have noted "famous" and "controversial".

Now this, from a news story published on Wednesday: "Three judges on the panel resigned in protest over Mr Roth being awarded the prestigious prize."

The prize in question is the Man Booker. Of course it is prestigious. The reader knows this. And if people didn't know the prize carried prestige then it wouldn't be prestigious – prestige being a matter of public perception. It follows that in all cases where "prestigious" is true it is also redundant.

Daft headline of the week: "Qatar hero? The sheikh who shook up the art world", said a headline on a news page on Wednesday. Guitar Hero is a video game in which players pretend to be rock music performers. What has that to do with an Arab prince who collects works of art? Search me.

A pun works only if it works on every level.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
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

Savvy Media Ltd: Media Sales executive - Crawley

£25k + commission + benefits: Savvy Media Ltd: Find a job you love and never h...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Solicitor NQ+ Oxford

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CORPORATE - Corporate Solicitor NQ+ An excelle...

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible