Errors & Omissions: When a factually correct headline masks a wildly sexist premise


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The Independent Online

"The granny with Sir Humphrey in her crosshairs" was the headline on the Monday Interview, the subject of which was Margaret Hodge MP, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, who is gunning for Whitehall mandarins.

There is one thing to say in favour of the word "granny": Ms Hodge is indeed a grandmother, so it is factually correct. The rest is all bad. Her status as a grandmother has no relevance to the story; to mention it is wildly sexist. No one would dream of labelling a male senior MP "grandad", except in relation to a story about his grandchildren. Further, we have here a stereotype being used to set up a false contradiction. A "granny", as everybody knows, is a sweet old lady who dispenses sweeties, sympathy and good advice. Chairmen of the PAC, on the other hand, are very tough, clever men in suits and ties. So calling Hodge a "granny" suggests that there is an interesting contrast between her family status and her political role. In fact, there isn't.

Mixed metaphor of the week: "But the boost to fertility comes against a backdrop of increasing pressure for a change in the law." That sentence comes from a news story, published on Monday, about donor conceptions. A backdrop is a piece of canvas stage scenery. What a backdrop of increasing pressure would look like, or how you would set about making one, is difficult to say.

Romantic lead: Yesterday's Arts & Books section carried an interview with the actor Liam Neeson. At one point the report's logic suffered a glitch: "Off-screen he famously dated Helen Mirren as well as capturing the romantic attentions of Julia Roberts, Brooke Shields, Cher and Sinead O'Connor. Neeson proved the ultimate gentleman, never kissing or telling." What, no kissing? It is impossible to believe that Neeson, who is I am sure a real man as well as a real gentleman, proved such a disappointment to such a succession of glamorous women. That should have read "never kissing and telling".

Number crunching: Writers seem to be losing the ability to tell the difference between one thing and more than one.This is from an analysis piece about James Murdoch, published on Wednesday: "His grand title and far-flung possessions were that of a mighty potentate." That should be "were those of a mighty potentate". "Were" is plural; "that" is singular and they don't go together.

At least in English we don't have to cope with gender as well as number. So we need to be careful when venturing into French – unlike this headline, from Thursday: "Le nouveau Maigret est arrivée". Since Maigret is masculine, that should be "arrivé".