Errors and Omissions: Do we need a history lesson when it comes to Napoleon?

An unnecessarily detailed biography is just one slip that's drawn the attention of our Letters editor this week

Share

The stripped-down language of headlines can easily topple over into gibberish. This appeared on Wednesday: “Family split forms after Pistorius’ father attacks ANC.”

The first picture that came into my mind was a family splitting a sheaf of forms. “OK, Mum, you fill in the census form and Dad can do the television licence application …” After a moment you realise that can’t be it, and what we have here is the formation of a family split.

The reader is not helped by the slovenly way the English language uses the same form of the same word as either noun or verb. When you make the mistaken reading of this headline, you see “split” as a verb and “forms” as a noun; in the right reading it is the other way round.

Who he? Here is the opening of a news story published on Tuesday: “It is widely considered the greatest movie never made, and now it may finally reach the screen – as a television show. Steven Spielberg has revealed that he is developing a mini-series based on the late Stanley Kubrick’s unrealised screenplay Napoleon – an ambitious biopic about the 19th-century French Emperor originally conceived more than 50 years ago.”

Oh, you mean that Napoleon? The weird thing about this passage is that it assumes the reader knows who Spielberg and Kubrick are, but it needs telling that Napoleon was 19th-century French emperor.

It is often difficult to know how much knowledge to assume. In this case it is the “19th-century” bit that patronises the readers by supposing that they have never heard of Napoleon. Just “the French emperor” would have been all right, because it implies “the French Emperor of whom we know”.

Spendthrift: Here is another misfired headline from Wednesday’s paper: “It’s a lot easier to spend a billion in Britain than it is to make one.”

Well, of course it is. I have no idea how to make a billion, but I am sure I could spend one without too much difficulty. And why “in Britain”? Surely the same would be true anywhere.

The article actually said something different: “Britain is not the place to become really, really rich. It is a place where it is easy to spend money, not one where it is easy to earn it.” That is a comparison between Britain and other countries as to the ease of earning and spending money. The headline mis-summarises that sentence, turning it into a comparison between earning and spending money in Britain – and turning an interesting observation into a banality.

Homophone horror: A very common error appeared on Thursday, in a picture caption accompanying a story about the death of Hugo Chavez: “Mr Maduro has quietly managed to hold the reigns since December.” That should be not “reigns” (what the Queen does, from the Latin “regnum”), but “reins” (straps used to control a horse, derivation doubtful).

The embarrassing thing is that the story got it right – “Mr Maduro has taken the reins.”

React Now

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

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron's 'compassionate conservatism' is now lying on its back  

Tory modernisation has failed under David Cameron

Michael Dugher
Russian President Vladimir Putin 'hits his foes where it hurts'  

Dominic Raab: If Western politicians’ vested interests protect Putin, take punishment out of their hands

Dominic Raab
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform