Second site: Our travel supplement last Saturday invited the reader to "take the slow boat from Gothenburg to Stockholm to see the sites".
To be fair to the person who wrote that line, the article described castles and a nunnery that are visited on the trip, mostly along the Göta Canal, which could be described as sites, although the word has an archaeological connotation. Roger Hand, who writes to draw my attention to this innovation, wonders whether tourists will eventually become siteseers rather than sightseers.
Look it up: Dominic Lawson is a fine columnist, who uses the richness of the English language to express his trenchant opinions. His article about population control on Tuesday brilliantly exposed the logical flaws of modern Malthusianism. But one sentence went too far for me. He wrote of a population clock on a website, "which ticks away ominously, as each new child is supposititiously born". I don't mind having to look something up in a dictionary if I learn something, but in this case I learn only that a simpler word – supposedly – would have been perfectly adequate. The trouble with "supposititiously" is that one of its meanings, and the more distinctive one, is that of fraudulent substitution; the word supposititious is usually used in the rather specific sense of a child "falsely presented as a genuine heir". I tried to imagine that Lawson meant something by this, but decided that he did not.
Consistent furniture: Terence Blacker is a brilliant columnist too, and his article, also on Tuesday, was a terrific riposte to Zenna Atkins, the head of Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, who had foolishly said: "Every school should have a useless teacher." But it described her first as chairman of Ofsted and later as chair. I do not feel strongly about either, but do prefer consistency. The two authorities on this subject, namely the Ofsted website and Atkins's personal website, both use chairman, so that is what it should have been.
Tooth and claw: The introduction to an article on Tuesday about wildlife Top Trumps, a card game produced by the National Trust, provoked irritation rather than interest. "Butterflies vs bats. Squirrels vs stag beetles. The natural world is at war – but don't worry, it's all for a good cause." Of course the natural world is "at war": did Herbert Spencer and Charles Darwin write in vain of the survival of the fittest? So why should we worry? And, even if we were squeamish enough to worry, would a "good cause" make it any better? We will decide whether the National Trust, or learning about British wildlife, is a good cause, thank you very much.
Lines lacrossed: We reported on Wednesday that the Iroquois Nationals, a Native American lacrosse team, planned to visit Manchester for a match against Britain. "The match was billed as a clash between the ancestors of the original creators of the sport with the host nation." Lacrosse is a strange game, but it was not invented by time travellers. Confusing ancestors and descendants is a common mistake.
Muddy technicality: A report on the Business pages, also on Wednesday, went into commendable detail about the remarkable struggle to stop the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It described the latest attempt to cap the well, which might succeed in drawing off most of the leaking oil. Then it described the attempt at the same time permanently to block the well. Two relief wells being drilled, one of which is "on track to intercept the leaking Macondo well at the end of July. At that point it can be used to pump a technical 'mud' and ultimately cement down to block the well completely". It does not really matter what "technical mud" might be, or why mud should be in quotation marks. Strike it out. The cement will do.Reuse content