Errors & Omissions: All this talk of 'tackling' belongs on the sports pages

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The Independent Online

There are quite enough people around who believe, quite erroneously, that the law does not allow householders to use force against burglars. We do not need headlines like this one, which appeared on Tuesday: "Homeowner jailed for tackling burglar."

Actually the verb "tackle" should be banned, except in football reports, on the grounds of vagueness. People are constantly said to be "tackling" climate change or "tackling" knife crime. What exactly does this "tackling" involve? How long is a piece of string?

So what do we mean when we say that a householder "tackled" a burglar. Presumably the "tackling" would include confronting the burglar and using reasonable force to protect oneself and one's family, and to eject the burglar from one's home. All those things would of course be perfectly legal.

Munir Hussain, the householder in this case, went quite a bit farther, chasing the fleeing burglar though the streets and hitting him with a cricket bat so hard that he was left with permanent brain damage. The result was a charge of assault occasioning grievous bodily harm. So Hussain was jailed for attacking the burglar, not for "tackling" him; and that is what the headline should have said.

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Lost in translation: Before you write a headline, read the story properly. Last Saturday we carried a report on the speech of a certain species of West African monkey. Scientists have discovered that the animals have a vocabulary of about eight utterances which they use to convey various warnings. The headline: "'Krak' (that's falling branch in monkey speak)". According to the report, the sound the researchers transcribed as "krak" gives warning of a leopard. A monkey who has spotted a falling branch says "boom". They have a third word, "hok" (warning of an eagle). Further meanings can be conveyed by doubling a word or adding the suffix "-oo".

That's all there is. No irregular verbs; no gerundives; no ablative absolute. It's still fairly impressive for monkeys, but for a human to commit an error in translating it is embarrassing.

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Cliché of the week: Monday's front page carried a photograph of Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister, bleeding from the lip after a man hit him with a souvenir model of Milan Cathedral. The caption, inevitably, informed us that Berlusconi had been "rushed to hospital" for treatment.

The story was on page 3. Here we were informed twice more that Berlusconi was "rushed" to hospital – just to dispel any lingering suspicion that he might have taken the scenic route and stopped for an espresso on the way.

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Indignity: One of the most commonly misspelt words was duly misspelt in a picture caption on Tuesday: "Local dignatories and the media celebrate the arrival of computers at a school in Ecuador." I suppose the error arises from a mistaken analogy with "signatory". The word is "dignitary". It shares the same Latin root as "dignity". Dignitas means merit or high office. The moral: spell-check everything, even captions and headlines. There is no shame in it.

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Mr Who? Tuesday's news story from Copenhagen naturally mentioned Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General. The second time he was mentioned the story spoke of "leaders from Africa, hard-hit small island states and Mr Ki-moon". Oh dear. Who can have failed to notice that the late North Korean dictator Kim Il-sung was succeeded by his son, Kim Jong-il? Korean names are written "back to front", with the family name first. So Ban Ki-moon is Mr Ban.

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Spot the difference: "Tony Blair may have lost the crucial Commons vote on the Iraq war if he had admitted at the time he wanted to depose Saddam Hussein regardless of whether he had weapons of mass destruction, a senior minister acknowledged yesterday."

That was the opening sentence of a news story on Monday. "May" should be "might"; "he" is applied to two different people; "at the time he wanted to dispose Saddam Hussein" is confusing; and we need more commas. Each a small thing in itself, but between them they reduce the sentence to mush.

How would this be? "Tony Blair might have lost the crucial Commons vote on the Iraq war, if he had admitted, at that time, that he wanted to depose Saddam Hussein regardless of whether the Iraqi dictator had weapons of mass destruction, a senior minister acknowledged yesterday."

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