Errors and Omissions: A protagonist is one thing that doesn’t travel in pairs

Our Letters editor picks the nits from this week's Independent coverage

Share

What follows is an oft-repeated point of pedantry, but there is some reason behind it. Last Saturday we ran a story about the tributes paid on the death of the author Sue Townsend. It included this: “She invites us to compare the impending travails of her adolescent hero to those of Paul Morel, the chief protagonist from Sons and Lovers.”

You may be surprised to learn that the problem here is not “compare to” and “compare with” – a staple of pedantry. Here “compare to” is being used properly, to mean noting that two things are similar, as opposed to “compare with”, which means to address the question of whether they are similar or not.

No, it is “chief protagonist” that has agitated the pedantic antennae. “Protagonist” is derived from the Greek words protos agonistes, meaning “first actor”. In any drama there can be only one protagonist, so “chief” is redundant.

The annoying thing is that the writer has got into trouble by using a fancy word he does not fully understand, when there are plain words that would have done just as well: “central figure”, “main character”.

----------------------

A picture caption published on Wednesday informed us that the actress Angela Lansbury “was made a Dame by the Queen at Windsor Castle yesterday”.

No, she wasn’t. Dame Angela has been a dame since the award of her DBE was published in the New Year Honours list. At investitures, such as the one at Windsor on Tuesday, people receive the insignia of their awards, not the awards themselves.

----------------------

A reporter has to cram into a story a mass of facts, such as the ages and professions of people involved, and some of them can end up in odd places. This came halfway down our Tuesday report from the Pistorius trial: “The first bullet, ‘bullet A’, was aimed at the toilet. It is this projectile that experts on both sides agree struck the 29-year-old law graduate and model in the hip, causing her to fall.”

It’s difficult to blame a reporter working against a deadline to marshal the facts of a court hearing, but a mad picture still rises up in the mind: “As you know, Watson, I am myself the author of a small monograph on wounds suffered by people of various ages and educational attainments. Take for instance, the case of a 29-year-old law graduate struck by a pistol bullet ...”

----------------------

Readers of our business section on Wednesday encountered this:

Headline: Facebook: socially useful banking.

Blurb: The social network wants to tap into a new generation of smart spenders by entering the financial services arena.

Text: Reports that Facebook has plans to enter the financial services arena should send out a warning to traditional high-street banks.

We sub-editors are, as everybody knows, the lowest form of journalistic life, but even for us, pinching a whole phrase from the writer’s intro and pasting it into the blurb is exceptionally low behaviour. Particularly when it is a lump of jargon such as “entering the financial services arena”.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Qualified Primary Teaching Assistant

£64 - £73 per day + Competitive rates based on experience : Randstad Education...

Primary KS2 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Piper Ryan Randall leads a pro-Scottish independence rally in the suburbs of Edinburgh  

i Editor's Letter: Britain survives, but change is afoot

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Some believe that David Cameron is to blame for allowing Alex Salmond a referendum  

Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?

Mark Steel
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam