Errors and Omissions: As a soothsayer, let me predict this outbreak of banality

Our letters editor on fanciful introductions, dummy text, and mad metaphors


This is the opening sentence of a fashion piece in last Saturday’s Radar. “You don’t need to be a soothsayer to predict that the release of Baz Luhrmann’s Gatsby this month will have us all reaching for our flapper dresses.”

No, of course you don’t. You can predict anything you like, whether you are a soothsayer or not. The only difference is that if you are a soothsayer you are more likely to get it right.

Or, rather, you aren’t. Does the writer, or do the readers, really believe that soothsayers can reliably predict the future? No, they don’t; this is 2013, not 1320. The writer seems to be saying to the readers: “Look, let’s all pretend that we believe in soothsayers, so I can dress up a banal thought as an insight.”

If it was put in simple language, the piece would start: “You can confidently predict that …” or even “I think that …” A bit dull? Better say something fanciful about soothsayers.

Scary picture: On a sports page on Thursday, we ran a spread of photographs of notable events from the career of Sir Alex Ferguson. In early editions of the paper, five different photographs carried the same caption. Anybody who has been responsible for the editorial production of newspapers in the past 30 years will mutter: “There, but for the grace of God …”

I say “in the past 30 years”, because back in the days when newspaper pages were made up using “hot metal” type, such a thing was impossible. The pages were put together by hand, using slugs of type cast on a Linotype machine. Until the right type turned up to fill each space there was nothing there but air, and you can’t print air.

Today pages are designed in cyberspace, using “dummy” copy to delineate the space allocated to each article, headline and caption. Before the page is sent to the printing works, each bit of dummy copy should have been replaced by the right words. Only vigilance can make sure – though it helps if the dummy copy is random drivel, not anything you can mistake for the real thing.

Hi-ho, Silver! Phil Davison writes to comment on the item last week about the new film The Lone Ranger. I had a bit of fun with a film preview that described Tonto as the Lone Ranger’s “Native American companion”. The word “companion” may sound twee today, but Mr Davison points out that it was used in The Lone Ranger television series of the 1950s.

The voiceover that accompanied the opening credits referred to “his faithful Indian companion Tonto”. “Errors and Omissions cannot change history,” writes Mr Davison – and he is right.

Metaphor madness: Our Thursday report of the Queen’s Speech said: “A package of policies … saw the Conservatives shelve plans to bring in a minimum unit price for alcohol and plain packaging for cigarettes.” Can a package really see anything – whether it is a metaphorical package containing policies, or a literal package containing cigarettes?

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Election catch-up: I’m not saying the Ed stone is bad – it is so terrible I am lost for words

John Rentoul

Election 2015: The SNP and an SMC (Salmond-Murdoch Conspiracy)

Matthew Norman
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living