Errors and Omissions: An introduction that paints an all too familiar picture

Our letters editor takes to task this week's Independent coverage

Click to follow

Here is the opening paragraph of a news story published on Wednesday: “When JMW Turner and several of his most acclaimed contemporaries set up a charity to support artists and their families who had fallen on hard times, little did they know that two centuries later some of the biggest names in the contemporary art world would be furthering their cause.”

The search for an “intro” – a striking opening paragraph that sums up the story and tempts the reader to read on – can be a desperate business. In this case the dramatic “little did they know” struggles to conceal the awful truth that in 200 years nothing much has changed.

Two hundred years ago the charity was set up by Turner and “several of his most acclaimed contemporaries”: now it is being supported by “some of the biggest names in the contemporary art world”. Who would have guessed that such a thing could happen?


“The number of people buying tickets to see female comedians has increased by 700 per cent since 2009.” Those words began the blurb that introduced a feature article on Thursday. Such statements are nearly always wrong. This one was doubly wrong.

The figure of a 700 per cent increase in the number of people buying tickets for female stand-up comedians was given in the article. The writer drew that conclusion from the fact that “female comics now account for 14 per cent of all comedy ticket sales. In 2009 it was just 2 per cent.”

So, yes, that is a sevenfold increase in the percentage figure. But a sevenfold  increase is an increase of 600 per cent,  not 700 per cent.

Further, the fact the percentage of ticket sales devoted to women has gone up sevenfold does not mean a sevenfold increase in “the number of people buying tickets to see female comedians”, unless the total volume of tickets sold for comedy shows has remained the same since 2009. That is highly unlikely, and no such figure was given.


“Nazi hunter identifies mobile death squad members,” said a news headline published on Thursday. That should be “Nazi-hunter”, with a hyphen – a person who hunts Nazis. The best known Nazi hunter was Hermann Göring, whose enthusiasm for the chase so distressed the vegetarian animal-lover Adolf Hitler.


Philip Revill writes in to draw attention to this, from a news story published on Monday: “The decision to waive through development of the former Ministry of Defence site was condemned by conservationists.” That should be “wave” – to make a motion of the hand indicating that something should proceed.

“Waive” is a word of different origin, meaning to abandon a right or claim. It is related to “waif” – a thing without an owner, or a person without a place in the world. The confusion is, in this case, understandable. Both “waive” and “wave through” indicate giving permission or dropping objections.