Errors & Omissions: At odds with the use of et: it can mean 'even' as well as 'and'

Click to follow

The tricky word et turns up in several familiar Latin tags. People know that it means "and", but forget that it also means "even".

The line from Virgil "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes" is widely assumed to mean "I fear Greeks bearing gifts", with the implication that the bearing of gifts is the reason for the distrust. It actually means "I fear the Greeks even when they bring gifts."

An art review on Tuesday quoted: "Et in Arcadia ego, that motto of mortality that's found in some 17th-century paintings". The review explained: "In those scenes, innocent shepherds stumble upon a skull or a tomb inscribed with those warning words. Death too lurks among idylls."

It looks very much as if the writer thinks that Et in Arcadia ego means "I too am in Arcadia". No, it's "Even in Arcadia am I."

Misfired metaphor: A feature article on Tuesday was introduced by this blurb: "The first face transplant, organs grown from stem cells and a vitamin that could save millions of lives. Jeremy Laurance looks back on 10 years of amazing medical milestones."

Amazing breakthroughs, perhaps – but amazing milestones? A milestone simply sits there marking a certain distance on the road between two places. Who could possibly be amazed by that?

Cliché of the week: "Since its debut six years ago, Little Britain has picked up more than its fair share of acclaim, earning a cabinet full of awards," said Tuesday's Pandora column.

So, what would have been a fair share of acclaim for Little Britain, and what corrupt motives led the judges of the awards to give it more? Such questions were never asked. "More than its fair share of" was just shoved in because "a lot of" would have looked stupid.

The cliché status of "more than its fair share" is confirmed by the fact that the writer immediately contradicts it, affirming that the awards have been "earned". The brain extruded "more than its fair share" without stopping to think what the words mean.

Strange ideas: "He is alleged to be the last Nazi mass murderer ever likely to stand trial, but John Demjanjuk cut a strange and pathetic figure as he was wheeled into a heavily guarded Munich courtroom."

The opening of this news story on Tuesday struck a false note by eliding two distinct ideas: the prosecution's allegation that Demjanjuk is a Nazi mass murderer, and the reporter's opinion that he is probably the last such person who will ever stand trial. The sentence implies that the belief that there will be no further such trials forms part of the prosecution case.

There is something false too about the use of "but". It seems to suggest that you would not expect a Nazi mass murderer to cut a strange and pathetic figure. Would you expect him to seem agreeable and dignified?

How about this? "He is alleged to be a Nazi mass murderer, the last ever likely to stand trial. John Demjanjuk cut a strange and pathetic figure as he was wheeled into a heavily guarded Munich courtroom."

Tangled keys: The American author Cormac McCarthy is selling his old typewriter, we reported on Wednesday: "It is expected to attract as much as $20,000 (£12,000) – not a bad return considering McCarthy bought it for $50 (£30) in a pawn shop back in 1963."

To anybody who was around then, £30 for a used typewriter sounds extortionate; in about 1963 I paid less than that for a new bicycle. But of course it wasn't £30 at all. McCarthy's $50 of 1963 has here been converted to sterling at today's rate, which produces a meaningless result. In 1963 the rate was fixed at $2.80 to the pound. I am not convinced that it is necessary to convert dollars to pounds twice in one sentence; but if it is, the second conversion should read "£50 (then £18)".

Order, please: People often fail to arrange a list in the most euphonious order. This is from a news story on Wednesday, about the arrest of a mafia clan in Italy: "They are accused of attempted murder, drug trafficking, loan sharking, interfering with the bidding process for public contracts and money laundering." How much more easily it reads if you leave the complicated item till last: "attempted murder, drug trafficking, loan sharking, money laundering and interfering with the bidding process for public contracts."