Errors and Omissions: A wealth of information can blind you to the meaning

The slips in this week's Independent coverage are reviewed by our letters editor

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Beware of too much information. Here is the last paragraph of our Wednesday obituary of the racehorse trainer Sir Henry Cecil.

“While other patrons had deserted Cecil during his wilderness years, the constant was the support of Abdullah. ‘It never occurred to us to do anything else,’ said the wealthy Saudi Arabian prince and businessman’s racing manager Teddy Grimthorpe when quizzed about the conspicuous loyalty. ‘Why take horses away from a genius?’”

Clear away the underbrush and you can have this: “Other patrons had deserted Cecil during the wilderness years, but Abdullah remained conspicuously loyal. The Saudi prince’s racing manager, Teddy Grimthorpe, explained: “It never occurred to us to do anything else. Why take horses away from a genius?” In particular, who needs to be told that a Saudi prince who owns racehorses is “wealthy”?

 

Barely survived: “The only surviving Dornier Do 17 bomber from the Second World War has been lifted from its watery grave in the English Channel,” said a news story on Tuesday, accompanied by a picture of some wreckage being lifted by a crane.

The word “surviving” seems uncomfortable in this context. To be shot down and crash in the sea and spend 70 years under water is a strange sort of survival for an aircraft. Perhaps “extant” might have been better.

 

Collective guilt: Oh dear, there I go again. Selfish, snobbish, cruel, hypocritical: there is no end to my crimes. You see, my problem is that I am middle class – son of a lawyer, Cambridge degree, own house: the full works, I’m afraid. And the charge sheet lengthens all the time. According to the headline on a comment piece published on Thursday, I am callously indifferent to the plight of homeless people.

“Out of sight, out of mind: cave-dwelling homeless people are just where we middle-class hypocrites want them.” That was the headline. The strange thing is that the article, by Grace Dent, didn’t mention the middle class at all. Most people, she argued, are desperate to deny that there are a lot of homeless people needing their help, but she didn’t identify them with any particular class. The element of class hatred was entirely the invention of whoever wrote the headline.

That automatic stereotyping of certain disagreeable traits as “middle-class” seems to be widespread. Since few professional writers are oppressed sons and daughters of toil, this bigotry seems to be the work of self-hating middle-class people, which is odd.

 

Just suppose: A headline published on Monday said: “If Iran was a true democracy, the candidates wouldn’t be hand picked.” That should be “were”, not “was”.

This is the rule. A supposition that is contrary to fact takes a verb in the subjunctive mood – “If that drink were poisoned, he would be dead by now.” A supposition that might or might not be true takes the indicative – “If this drink is poisoned, I’d better not touch it.”

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