Errors & Omissions: As everyone knows, it's so easy to make a royal gaffe

In last Saturday's restaurant review, John Walsh was inspired to an ecstatic gastro-lyricism by the high-class English fare at Rules in Covent Garden.

He lunched on Cornish fish soup ("earthily satisfying and creamily rich"), roast partridge ("a tiny bird with legs as long as Cyd Charisse's"), and apple, sultana and cinnamon crumble ("a plate of milky-nutty fruitiosity"). After all that, he may have been suffering from some slight, and entirely understandable, post-prandial befuddlement when he wrote that at Rules "as everyone knows, George VII, when still Prince of Wales, used to heave his royal tumtum up a secret staircase and romance Lillie Langtry".

It is always dangerous to write that "everyone knows" anything; things that "everyone knows" usually turn out to be wrong. In this case, what everyone actually knows is that the royal lover was the future Edward VII. We haven't had George VII yet, though it has been rumoured that we will, when the present Prince of Wales succeeds to the throne. It is said that he may prefer that style to Charles III – and if you compare previous Georges with previous Charleses you can hardly blame him.

Threat and doubt: "Fear and fury after Greek PM threatens rescue deal" – headline, Wednesday. The verb "threaten" is versatile; it can be applied either to a direct or an indirect object. I can threaten ruin to you, or I can threaten you with ruin. But in the stripped-down language of headlines "threaten" becomes not just versatile but ambiguous.

So, for whom is the Greek PM threatening a rescue deal? Oh no, that doesn't make sense; his threat is directed against the rescue deal. Those who wish to avoid putting the reader through that kind of double-take may like to avoid "threaten" in headlines. In this case, "... puts rescue deal in peril" would have done the job.

Who, what, when, where, why? A classic case of leaving an unanswered question bouncing around in the reader's mind was this picture caption, from a news page on Thursday: "Steeplejacks climb to the top of Chichester Cathedral's 277ft spire to reinstate its weathervane, which includes a 3ft cockerel gilded in ethically sourced gold leaf."

What on earth is ethically sourced gold leaf? Is the gold perhaps mined by miners "who share our values", to borrow the cloudy reassurance that Waitrose offers its customers about the farmers who rear its chickens? Perhaps we should ask what unethically sourced gold might be. Presumably it is the fruit of armed robberies at bullion warehouses. In reality, I suppose ethically sourced gold comes from mines that don't employ slave labour, poison their workers or the environment. But we should be told, if the ethics of the gold are to be mentioned at all.

I'll have some of that: "A man who had his car smashed up by six Metropolitan Police officers said they should be 'completely removed from the police force' after they were found guilty of discreditable conduct." So said a news story published on Thursday.

That sounds exciting. How can I have my car smashed up by Metropolitan Police officers? You can "have" something done on purpose, or you can "have" it happen by accident. You can have your house done up by a builder or have your leg broken by a fall. But you need to be clear which it is. Beware of the grey area in between, where unintended comedy lurks.

Comments