"Anthony Caro may be 86, but his sculpture is showing a wonderful late flowering of creativity and spirituality" – so said the introductory blurb on an arts feature published on Thursday. It almost makes sense, but not quite.
Unfortunately, the "but" seems to have slipped sideways from another sentence, one that reads something like: "Anthony Caro may be 86, but his sculpture is just as creative and vigorous as ever". Alternatively, you could write, "Anthony Caro is 86 and his sculpture is showing a wonderful late flowering of creativity and spirituality".
The sentence as published seems to expect that the reader will find some incongruity between the age of 86 and a wonderful late flowering of creativity. Otherwise, what is "but" doing there? But you would hardly expect a late flowering at 26.
Smell of real life: On Thursday, we published a wonderful piece of extended reportage by Daniel Howden, portraying the urban vigour and squalor of Lagos. Had I not been reading it with such fascinated attention, I might not have noticed this: "In the watery lanes between the shacks, floating shops make their way with phonecards, sweets, biscuits and tea. Fed by an endless supply of raw sewerage, which falls from hundreds of crude outhouses at eye level as you pass, the water itself is so viscous that it seems to part only reluctantly on either side of the hull."
Colourful stuff indeed. A pity, then, to find a misapplied piece of local government jargon in the middle of it. The stuff falling into the water from the crude outhouses is raw sewage. "Sewerage" is a prissy abstract noun meaning the provision of sewers.
Shocking allegations: On Wednesday we published a profile of Kitty Kelley, the American who writes scandalous but meticulously researched unauthorised biographies. A picture caption accompanying the article recalled the publication of Kelley's 1978 book on Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: "Everybody salivates over juicy tales of JFK's extramarital dalliances. For the first time the general public see the extent of the assassinated president's alleged philandering." Alleged? What is that doing there? "Alleged" is a piece of legalistic language whose usual function is to ward off libel actions. Today, everybody knows that Jack Kennedy was a remorseless sexual predator, and, in any case, 47 years in his grave, he is scarcely in any position to sue.
Old bird: "Veteran osprey lays her first egg of 2010". It is not easy to pin down a single reason why this headline, which appeared over a news story on Wednesday, is so delightfully absurd.
It suggests that the bird is not only old (she is in fact 25, which is indeed old for an osprey) but that she has been an osprey for a long time. That raises the question of what she was before she was an osprey.
But mostly, I think, the comic effect is created by the desperate journalistic desire to pass judgement , to use language that suggests how the reader ought to react. To describe the avian mum-to-be merely as "old" would suggest some implied criticism. Being old is bad. But this story is good. So how can we find an upbeat way of saying "old"? Ah, I know: "veteran"!
If we were in America, I suppose the maternal raptor might have ended up as a "senior osprey".
Misguided: A feature article about the Girl Guides, published on Tuesday, carried a picture of Princess Anne "in her Girl Guides uniform in 1960". But the Princess Royal (born 1950) was too young to be a Girl Guide in 1960. And indeed close inspection of the photograph reveals that she is wearing the uniform of the Brownies. That observation is confirmed by Mrs Keleny, one-time pixie in the Edinburgh St Anne's Church Brownies. (Out of which she stormed after a full and frank exchange of views with Brown Owl, who had falsely accused her of biting her fingernails – but that's another story.
Cliché of the week: "National trainer robbed of life savings at gunpoint", screamed the headline on a news story on Tuesday. People are always being robbed of their "life savings", or losing them in dodgy investments. In this case, however, the story revealed that Howard Johnson, aged 56, had been robbed of £100,000 "which amounted to his entire savings over the last six years".Reuse content