Errors and Omissions: In thrall to a word that we don’t quite comprehend

Our Letters editor casts his eye over this week's Independent coverage

If you use a word whose meaning you do not know, you are liable to get into trouble. Obvious enough, but what about a word most of us use freely, but without a very clear idea of what it means? Such a word is “thrall”.

It appeared on Wednesday in the blurb introducing a feature article: “Why do the Emmys matter to Brits? Because US TV has us in its thrall.”

We are all familiar with “enthralled” and “in thrall”, but “in its thrall” looked wrong, and sent me to the Shorter Oxford dictionary to find out what a thrall might be. “Thrall” turns out to be an old Germanic word meaning a serf, an unfree medieval peasant, or the condition of being such a person. So if you are “in thrall” you are in bondage; you have become a thrall. You may be in thrall to US TV, but “in its thrall” is too much of stretch. What would US TV’s thrall look like?

 

A blatant error in number agreement cropped up on Thursday, in an article on the psychological tricks employers use to induce workers to do more work: “The presence of treadmill desks are understandably on the rise.”

Obviously, presence “is”, not “are”. There are only three words between the verb and its subject. Unfortunately, those three words are “of treadmill desks” – which triggered an automatic “desks are”, reducing the sentence to gibberish. It is a clumsy sentence anyway. How about “You see more and more treadmill desks”? No danger of a number error there.

 

A number error of a different kind appeared in a cricket report on Thursday: “He took the otherwise commendable Chris Woakes for 19 runs, striking two sixes and a pair of fours from the five deliveries he faced.” Sebastian Robinson wrote in to point that one out, commenting that, arcane as the laws of cricket are, they still do not make 6+6+4+4 add up to 19.

 

Alan Langley draws my attention to this, from a news story published on Monday: “Libya’s air force does not possess the guided ordinance apparently used in the strikes.” “Ordinance” means a direction on how things are to be done. “Ordnance” means artillery or military supplies – which was the word needed here. The two started off as the same word, derived from the Latin ordinare, to set in order. I surmise that a clue to the historic link between the two meanings may be found in the name of the Gens d’Armes d’Ordonnance, the French regular army of the 15th century.

 

Last week, this column commented on a story about a plague that is ravaging crayfish. My opening paragraph correctly called it a fungal disease, but by the end the fungus had become a virus. Did I not know that a fungus and a virus are two different things, several readers have demanded. Yes, I do. This was not Dr Johnson’s “ignorance, Madam, pure ignorance”, but pure carelessness, which is worse.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
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: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor