Errors & Omissions: When your boiler breaks down, let a pagoda come to your rescue


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The Independent Online

The struggle to find illustrations for business page articles is as old as journalism. No pictures are available of the things we write about on business pages, such as the gross domestic product or quantitative easing. So it was on a personal finance page last Saturday. The headline said: "Nobody accepts responsibility for my mother's faulty boiler." Next door was a picture captioned: "Kew Gardens pagoda: Many households are vulnerable to cold winters."

Well, yes, it was a pleasing picture of the gardens in snowy weather, which is when boilers tend to break down. You could just about get away with that, were it not for the giant pagoda looming up above the treetops. The story had nothing to do with the pagoda, and the reader was assailed by a strange dreamlike notion that the pagoda was somehow a picture of the boiler. Surreal.

No Error: This is getting to be a bad habit, but I cannot refrain from awarding another No Error Gold Award. This is from Chris Bryant's column last Saturday: "Tomorrow we get the ludicrously premature Sun on Sunday since Mr Murdoch isn't going to let ongoing police investigations, or the fact that he is still supposedly 'draining the swamp' of News International, stop him from bringing forth another creature from the depths."

Zonk! Murdoch's rhetoric about "draining the swamp" is slapped back at him with "creature from the depths". The reader feels a little glow of delight. Two reservations, though. The words "the fact that" reveal, as they always do, a need for improvement. In the opinion of the writer, it is not a fact that Murdoch is draining the swamp, so Bryant immediately qualifies his statement with "supposedly". Better to have thought it through from the beginning and written "the idea (or the claim, or the notion) that he is still 'draining the swamp'".

And you don't need the "from" after "stop him". You prevent somebody from doing something, but you stop them doing it. So there was no need for two "from"s in the space of five words.

Our latest Duchess: Strange how difficult it seems to be to call royal consorts by their proper titles. When Lady Diana Spencer became Princess of Wales everybody started calling her "Princess Diana", and they have been doing it ever since. And now that Kate Middleton has become the Duchess of Cambridge, and her surname has presumably changed to Windsor, people just carry on calling her Kate Middleton.

Last Saturday, for instance, Howard Jacobson wrote: "Yesterday, I mistook at least five different women for the Duchess of Cambridge." So far so good, but in the next paragraph it was: "On the same walk in the course of which I encountered five Kate Middletons ..."

Faulty: A news story on Monday said: "In his annual letter to his shareholders, the world's most famous investor has offered a series of colourful mea culpae." Nice try, but no cigar. The plural of "mea culpa" is "meae culpae" – in the nominative case. In the original liturgical context, however, the words are in the ablative – "through my fault" – and the plural would be "meis culpis". Correct Latin makes incomprehensible English. The only way out of the mess is to treat "mea culpa" as an English expression – which it has become – and give it an English plural: "mea culpas".