Errors & Omissions: It takes a poet to uncover the true meaning of a word

Click to follow
The Independent Online

There is a wonderful poem by Robert Graves called "The Naked and the Nude", in which he argues that these two terms are very far from synonymous, whatever the lexicographers might say. For Graves, put simply, nakedness implies a degree of innocence that is not present in nudity. Both words have value judgements attached to them.

I was put in mind of the poem by our coverage on Tuesday of Elizabeth Wong, the Malaysian politician who found herself at the centre of a scandal over photographs taken of her while she was asleep.

Our story began: "Four months ago nude pictures forced Elizabeth Wong into hiding." That suggested to me that Ms Wong had posed for the pictures. But further into the paragraph we were told that her boyfriend "used his mobile phone to take pictures of her while she slept semi-naked and then gave them to the media".

By Graves's definition, Ms Wong was very much naked (or semi-naked), not nude. To be nude you would have to be aware of your lack of clothing, which is why, for example, you might talk about a baby being naked but you would never talk about a baby being nude.

Go by the dictionary, and yes, the words are interchangeable. But I prefer Graves's way of looking at them.

***

More of the same: Here is another case of two words which are used interchangeably, yet only one of the usages seems right. The words are "wounded" and "injured". In yesterday's paper we carried a long report about army casualties in Afghanistan in which we said that "the number of British troops injured has soared – 57 were wounded in action in the first two weeks of July." So were they injured or were they wounded? I would argue that the military is the realm of the wounded. Injured is for the rest of us. A footballer who pulls a hamstring is injured, not wounded. A soldier blown up by the Taliban is wounded, not injured. But really it needs a Robert Graves to sort this out.

***

Brainstorm of the week: Yesterday's paper contained a news-in-brief item in which we offered readers the chance to take a self-portrait and see it as part of an exhibition by the photographer Rankin. Except that we didn't say the photographer Rankin. We said the photographer Ian Rankin. Rankin the photographer is known by that one name only. Ian Rankin is another person entirely – the Edinburgh-based writer of crime fiction who is not known to double up as a photographer. Confronted by that one name – Rankin – someone clearly felt the need to adorn it with a first name. And then, oh dear ...

***

Would you believe it: Last Saturday's coverage of the Tour de France recalled a feud between Lance Armstrong and the Italian cyclist Marco Pantani that lasted nine months during which the two men never spoke. Then, "they settle their differences – in, of all places, a restaurant in Murcia, Spain". I've been puzzling over that "of all places". If they had settled their differences at, say, the top of Mount Everest, or on the Royal Yacht Britannia, or in the boot of a car crossing the Sahara desert, or any clearly unlikely location, then, of course, "of all places" would be justified. But just what is so improbable about two international sportsmen settling their differences in a restaurant in Spain?

***

Über and out: Is it not time to give the use of the prefix "über" a rest? I suppose the first writer who deployed it probably looked clever, but when I read about Steven Gerrard's "uber-Wag wife, the fashion journalist Alex Curran" in a news story last Saturday, it seemed that this moment had occurred a very long time ago. And isn't an "uber-Wag wife" something of a tautology anyway?

***

Mixed metaphor-cum-jargon crime of the week: We reported on the final design of the new national identity cards yesterday, with the news that "the North-west is being used as a guinea pig for rolling out the cards". I struggle to imagine how an entire region of the the UK could be used as a guinea pig for anything. But a guinea pig for rolling out?

***

If you're going to say it, say it: "Time to snip Wall Street down to size," read a Business section headline last Saturday. "Snip" down to size? The expression is "cut down to size", and there's nothing wrong with it. And a mere snip isn't going to change much anyway.

Guy Keleny returns next week

Comments