Errors & Omissions: London has its place – and it's not at the centre of the universe

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The Independent Online

That the following was written by one of our political correspondents may perhaps be some mitigation. They spend their working lives inside the "Westminster village", where even the outer suburbs of London must come to seem like the distant steppes of central Asia.

But this is still a classic example of why people complain about the "London-centric media". It is the opening of a news story, published on Wednesday: "Gordon Brown has given the strongest indication yet that Labour will back plans to build a multibillion-pound high-speed rail line to the Midlands."

What about our readers in the Midlands? For them it is a line to London. And for those who live neither in London nor the Midlands it is not a line "to" anywhere, but a line linking London and the Midlands – which is what we should have called it.

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Journalese: A fashion piece the same day lurched to the opposite extreme, seeming to assume that London was a place that the reader had never heard of: "Crash barriers were erected outside the Chelsea College of Art in London's Westminster last night to contain the crowds at the Burberry show that closed the women's wear collections in the British capital."

Where to start? Well, "the British capital" is an example of a familiar journalese device. Any mention of, say, Bucharest, is likely to be followed closely by a reference to "the Romanian capital", because some readers will have difficulty in calling to mind the country of which Bucharest is the capital. Not so with London. And what about "Chelsea College of Art in London's Westminster"? It is true that Chelsea College of Art and Design is not in Chelsea but in Westminster. But why does the reader need to know that?

And "London's Westminster" is a clunking piece of journalese. Nobody in real life talks about "London's Ritz Hotel" or "New York's Empire State Building". This formulation is found only in newspapers. But anyway, who needs to be told where Westminster is? It is not some sleepy suburb. Readers north of Watford might not be able to place Neasden, Sidcup or Cockfosters, but Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament are national landmarks.

All these crazy contortions were unnecessary. What would have been wrong with this? "Crash barriers were erected outside the Chelsea College of Art last night to contain the crowds at the Burberry show that closed the London women's wear collections."

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Mixed metaphor of the week: This is from an article on Thursday about Tony Blair and his prospects for the European Union presidency: "Blair is unwilling to launch a public campaign in a forum in which the favourite all too often falls at the last fence."

The original forum was the market place of ancient Rome, where the law courts sat. Hence, a place for argument and debate. There are no horse races in a forum.

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Homophone horror: On Thursday we carried a report of Colonel Gaddafi's address to the United Nations: "A large black Africa broach pinned to his flowing brown robes, the Libyan strongman monopolised the microphone for more than an hour."

English has many tiresome homophones, and errors have become more common in recent years as people have come to rely on the spell-checker, which does not pick them up. "Breech" for "breach" and "hoard" for "horde" are sadly familiar, but "broach" for "brooch" is a new one on me.

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Cliché of the week: On last Saturday's front page, a blurb advertised a report about Yvonne Hossack, a solicitor who had been cleared of professional misconduct: "This woman dedicated her life to helping the elderly and disabled. She saved 80 care homes from closure. Yesterday, after a witch hunt by council leaders, she was allowed to continue with her crusade."

A witch hunt is a campaign to root out unknown subversives, believed to be guilty of something evil. The classic example is the McCarthyite campaign against Communists in the US. The supposed enemy within may even turn out not to exist at all – as was the case with the original witch craze in Renaissance Europe.

The Hossack case was nothing like that. Everybody knew who she was and what she had done; the question was whether she had been right to do it. She may have been the victim of persecution, but not every persecution is a witch hunt.

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