Errors and Omissions: Can you only be stabbed in a frenzied attack?

Our legendary pedant on hunting in and outdoors, the art of not giving everything away, and Boris Johnson's sporting achievements

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The Independent Online

Vladimir Putin, according to a news story published on Monday, “has over the years been shown horse riding, swimming, scuba-diving, playing ice hockey and indulging in outdoor hunting”.

Eh? What is “outdoor hunting”? Would that be as opposed to indoor hunting? The latter, I suppose, is what the Russian President does when he has mislaid his cufflinks. You can understand that he wouldn’t want TV cameras present at such moments of domestic omnishambles.

Cliché of the week

When someone suffers several wounds from a knife, what sort of attack is that? Why, frenzied, of course. So it was in a news headline published on Tuesday: “British football coach stabbed to death in frenzied New York attack.” In this case, it was only the opinion of the headline writer that the attacker was in a frenzy (“The rage or excitement of a paroxysm of mania” – Oxford English Dictionary). The story below made no mention of it. Had the unfortunate man fallen victim to a blunt instrument, the attack would of course have been “brutal” rather than “frenzied”.

Good shot

One of the great Westerns, John Ford’s late masterpiece The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, pops up from time to time on television. Some months ago, it featured in this column, when somebody had written a TV preview item which disclosed a crucial plot twist.

It is only fair, then, to record that last Saturday’s Radar supplement carried a spoiler-free summary that artfully managed to give a good idea of what the film is like without telling the reader anything that a first-time viewer would not want to know. Errors and Omissions Gold Star, First Class.

Down the sewerage

I am grateful to Jeff Baldock for pointing out this, from a commentary on the John Terry racism saga, published last Saturday: “You speculate at what point, if ever, the swill of sewerage will abate.” The stuff that runs through sewers is called sewage. “Sewerage” is a piece of town hall jargon that has no place in a news report: it means the provision of sewers, or a system of sewers. The Shorter Oxford admits that “sewerage” can also mean “sewage”, but dictionaries don’t prescribe; they only describe the words people use. We should aspire to the best usage.

Tough toff

Thursday’s sketch from the Tory conference referred to “Eton fives, a terrifyingly pointless means of getting up close and personal with other boys while trying to scrape their skin off with a brick wall (one at which Boris, unsurprisingly, is said to have excelled)”.

Eton fives is not like that. It is not totally unlike squash, played in a court that supposedly reproduces some historic corner of the Eton College buildings. (I know all about this depressing game, having been made to play it at school.) The game at which Boris Johnson excelled is the Eton wall game, which is not totally unlike rugby (and is played nowhere but Eton, on a strip of ground about 5m wide and 110m long). Wikipedia informs me that Boris was Keeper of the College Wall, no less.