Errors and Omissions: A wrong turn in Columbia

Our legendary pedant stares into the abyss of this week's metaphorical mix-ups - but not before an unexpected stop-off in Latin America


Here is what happens when you pack too much into one sentence: “Europe stands on the threshold of a series of dramatic make-or-break decisions this week that will determine whether the eurozone can finally move towards resolving its long-running economic crisis or shift alarmingly towards the abyss of European disintegration.”

That was the opening of a news story published on Tuesday. Palpably desperate to grab the reader’s attention, it falls into at least two difficulties. Towards the end, the grammar goes awry: “… can move towards … or shift alarmingly …” fails to convey the intended meaning. It should be “… can move towards … or must shift alarmingly …”.

More serious is the mixture of metaphors, first standing on a threshold, then shifting towards an abyss.

New World order: An article in last Saturday’s magazine, about the Zumba fitness craze, informed us that its founder “was supposed to be teaching an aerobics class in his home town of Cali, Columbia, but forgot his music”. That should be Colombia.

In the US you find the District of Columbia and the Columbia Broadcasting System (now known by its initials, CBS), but the South American country is called Colombia. They are both named after the same man. Why the difference?

As everybody knows, the first European navigator to discover the Americas (apart from the Vikings who founded a settlement in Greenland and may also have made landfall on the east coast of North America, but that is another story) was a 15th-century Genoese called, in Italian, Cristoforo Colombo. But since at that time Latin was the normal medium of diplomatic and scholarly communication across western Europe, anybody with an international reputation acquired a Latin name. The Latin version of the great explorer’s name – Columbus – is the one still current among speakers of English.

More in sorrow than in anger

More Latin in a Comment piece published on Tuesday: “In the opening chunk of his Annals, the Roman historian Tacitus claims he will write his history of the early Roman empire sine era et studio – without anger or favouritism.” That should be sine ira. Since you ask, sine era means “without the mistress”. Sadly, not mistress in the romantic sense, just mistress of the house.

When was that?

 “Former” is one of those troublesome words. We may leave aside people who write “formally” when they mean “formerly” and vice versa. We are dealing with a less egregious error than that. This is from a news story published on Wednesday: “Last month, The Independent revealed that Dame Jo had queried Ms Sheldon’s medical state with senior officials at the Department of Health, and asked the former Health Secretary Andrew Lansley to remove Ms Sheldon from the board.”

What would be the point of asking a former Health Secretary to remove a board member? He couldn’t do it. No, Mr Lansley may be the former Health Secretary now, but then he was the present Health Secretary – so call him “the then Health Secretary”, and everybody knows what you are talking about.

React Now

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

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page


Ed Miliband's conference speech must show Labour has a head as well as a heart

Patrick Diamond
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
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