Errors & Omissions: Love at first sight? It depends on what you're trying to say

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The Independent Online

It was like being forced, at school, to read T S Eliot's Four Quartets . The language is apparently English, but the words convey no meaning. This sensation of baffled helplessness was induced by the following passage, from an interview with the actress Zooey Deschanel, published on Tuesday.

"She's thoughtful when asked if she believes in love at first sight: 'I believe everything is out there. Love is such a universally appealing theme. It just depends on your point of view. In some way, it exists in thought form. If it has a name, then you are creating it. I think people who try to force a relationship that's not happening are just insane.' "

Ms Deschanel is not to blame. Anybody can get an attack of the burbles, and she was brought up in California, where, it is said, everybody talks like that. But the interviewer surely had a duty to flush out her meaning with a supplementary question. Failing that, somebody should have cut the passage out.

Having read the quotation three or four times, I think Ms Deschanel is saying that she does not believe in love at first sight; that people are told about it and convince themselves they are experiencing it. Or it could be that if you believe in love at first sight, then it may exist for you. Dunno really.

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Who said that? There was a baffling story in Thursday's paper. Headed "Riddled with shrapnel, but still she saved seven comrades from Taliban", it told how Lance Corporal Sally Clarke, a medic with the 2nd Battalion The Rifles, had been wounded in an ambush in Afghanistan, and had refused evacuation to stay on the scene and care for her comrades.

How did we know about this? It happened last June, so it hadn't been witnessed by a reporter on the ground. Why was it being reported now? As I read the story I expected to be told that Cpl Clarke had been awarded a medal. No. It was all very odd.

Other newspapers had the story that morning, presented in similar terms. None that I saw revealed a source for it, except for The Times , whose report tacked on to one of the quotations from Cpl Clarke the words "she told the Gloucestershire Echo yesterday". That sounded unlikely, since she is still in Afghanistan.

Research revealed (I am grateful to our own newsdesk and that of the Gloucestershire Echo ) that the story came from the Ministry of Defence. Army public relations people gave it to the Echo, Cpl Clarke's local paper, which reported it on Wednesday. A local freelance reporter spotted it, and it reached national newsdesks by way of the Press Association wire.

To report the facts in a vacuum made the whole thing look like propaganda. Newspapers hate admitting that they depend on press releases, especially government press releases. But would it really have torn everybody's livers out to square with the readers by including some such words as "the Ministry of Defence has disclosed"? It shows respect for the readers if you credit them with the brains to wonder where the news comes from.

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Fall: On Tuesday Dominic Lawson began his column by quoting a Latin tag: Fiat justitia, ruat coelum. He went on to offer a paraphrase: "in colloquial English, let justice be done, whatever the consequences."

Sadly, Lawson is quite right: that is what it does mean, in colloquial English. A closer translation of the Latin would be: "Let justice be done, though the sky fall." But that vivid, concrete image does have an archaic feel to it, suggestive of Milton or Dr Johnson. Modern colloquial English, alas, demands the flat abstraction "whatever the consequences". We are not the men our forefathers were.

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Shot down: There was a flurry of protest on Thursday morning: two emails from readers, and a colleague bearing an indignant message from his grandad. They were drawing attention to one of the illustrations used in that day's Life section. The centre spread was a time-line of the Second World War. In May 1943 came the item "Dam Busters raid on the Ruhr". Next to it was an uncaptioned picture of an aircraft – the wrong aircraft.

The Dam Busters flew in four- engined Lancasters, one of the most familiar aircraft of that war. The illustration depicted a two-engine Bristol Beaufort torpedo-bomber. How could anybody not know what a Lancaster looks like?

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