Errors and Omissions: An initiative with eyes? That must be a first

Our Letters editor puts this week's mishaps firmly in their place

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The Independent Online

We’re seeing things again. A News in Brief item on Monday told of Amazon’s latest idea: packing parcels for dispatch before the customer has even ordered them.

“Designed to reduce delivery time, the initiative could see products prepared and packaged before customers have even clicked ‘buy’ – or indeed realised they want them.

“The system uses algorithmic data, including buying patterns, browsing habits, wish lists and responses to surveys. Those that meet certain criteria could see their tailored items selected, packaged and then remain on standby at the warehouse until the order is confirmed.”

First, an initiative is “seeing” something. Yes, it is only a metaphor, but it is a clumsy one. You struggle to form a picture in your mind of the visual powers of an initiative.

It gets worse. In the next paragraph the customers are “seeing” all this stuff about their goodies being selected and packaged. But they won’t see it at all. They won’t even be aware that it is happening – that is the whole point of the story.

An article in last Saturday’s magazine told of driving a Ford Mustang in Los Angeles: “The photographer arrived to take my picture for this article, and immediately pointed out the fresh smattering of bird-shit on the bodywork. I had already failed the first rule of sports car ownership: never, ever park under a tree.”

“Failed the first rule”? Well, sort of, but not quite. The writer had indeed failed a test, and broken a rule. But when you mix and match the two, it makes no sense.

This column’s brief is to rebuke failings, not celebrate successes, but sometimes you can’t help singling out a bit of great prose. This from a Financial View article on Tuesday by Mitch Feierstein:

“I think the financial system will never be worthy of trust while any institution is too big to fail. Heads I win, tails you bail me out: that’s not capitalism, it’s extortion.”

Isn’t that just good enough to eat? Even the colon, trickiest of punctuation points, is perfectly judged.

Arts and entertainment writers will persist in pointing out that performers are not always like the characters they portray. This is from an interview published on Thursday: “In person, Ruth Jones is as far removed from the character of Nessa as Barry Island is from Billericay. Where Nessa is self-confident and super-assertive, the 47-year-old actress is self-effacing and subtle.”

Well, yes, Ruth Jones has a job in which you have to pretend to be all kinds of different people, some of whom may be like you, while others will be very different. It’s called acting.

On Monday we published a news story about bats and other migratory creatures. The Painted Lady butterfly, readers were informed, is “mainly born and bred on the African side of the Mediterranean”. No, butterflies are not born; they emerge from an egg. The right word is “hatched”.