Errors and Omissions: Byzantium deserves a better press than this

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

Share

We have been hearing a great deal recently about the “Byzantine” constitution of the Liberal Democrat party. The Rennard affair has exposed how complex the machinery is and how difficult it is for the party leader to get anything done.

The Byzantine Empire – the Roman Empire of the Middle Ages – had a very bad press from historians until quite recently. Among the many undesirable features of this corrupt, decadent, priest-ridden absolutism, so we were told, were a top-heavy bureaucracy and a great deal of devious court intrigue. Hence, in a 20th-century usage, “Byzantine” signifies not just a fine style of architecture but a rotten style of government.

But there is another way of looking at it. The Greek-speaking eastern Roman Empire survived its western sister by nearly 1,000 years. It held back the tide of Islam in Asia for nearly six centuries, regaining territory after every setback, until it was crippled by the western stab in the back of the Fourth Crusade in 1204. How did it manage this remarkable feat? It was very good at turning economic strength into military and naval power, through the “thematic” system of military land tenure and other means. And one of the reasons it was able to do all that was that it was the only state in medieval Christendom with anything like a modern civil service.

You could argue that “Byzantine” should really be a byword for clever, efficient administration and heroic resilience in the face of adversity, but I don’t suppose that will happen soon.

Onions is onions: One of the crucial virtues of a good copy editor is a well-informed imagination. Last Saturday, the Magazine published a recipe for “Roast rack of deer with leek and potato stovies”. But reading the recipe, and imagining how one would cook the dish and what it would be like to eat, one soon realised that it was actually onion and potato stovies. No leeks mentioned.

It looks as if the writer changed his mind about which vegetable to use and forgot to change the heading, and an editor bunged the copy in without imagining the dish.

Unamusing: Our Tuesday story about the Public Accounts Committee report on the royal finances appeared under the following headline: “We are not amused: Queen told to rein in her spending.”

I wish people would drop this cliché about “We are not amused”. It is quite likely that Queen Victoria never said it, and to trot it out every time anything happens that might be displeasing to the Queen is not amusing at all.

On Tuesday we reported a day of evidence in the News of the World phone-hacking trial. A reporter told the court he had got a job after he told the editor how he could bring in exclusive stories. That, he said, was “the kerching moment”.

That set me wondering what the verb “kerch” might mean. Surely the word that mimics the ring of an old-fashioned mechanical cash register should be spelt with a hyphen: “ker-ching”.

React Now

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

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

John Rentoul
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...