Errors and Omissions: Don’t try telling George Osborne that 36 per cent is a majority

Our legendary pedant stares into the abyss of this week's metaphorical mix-ups.



The most important thing when writing a headline is to read the story carefully. A news report published on Monday began thus: “For the first time in a decade, public opinion has started to turn in favour of seeing more spent on public services, even if it means higher taxes.”

Scrupulous regard for truth forces this column to record that, in the story as published, the word “on” was omitted, but that is not the point I am making. In other respects, that sentence was carefully written to get the best story without overstepping the bounds of truth. That is fair enough, but there is always the danger that somebody will assume the story is even better than it is.

And so it turned out. The headline said: “Bad news for Osborne: most voters want more public spending.” Almost right, but not quite. The story says that the proportion of people who want more public spending is increasing – which is indeed bad news for Osborne – but not that they constitute a majority. In fact, it says further down the report that the figure is 36 per cent.

Body of evidence: I am grateful to Peter Henderson for pointing out a bit of creative spelling, from a news story published on Tuesday. “Smokies, which involve an unskinned sheep carcus being flame-cooked without the spine being removed, are banned in the EU.”

There are plenty of daft spellings in English, but few words with more than one accepted spelling. One such is the noun denoting the dead body of an animal intended for eating. It can be spelled either “carcase” or “carcass”. Why?

The Oxford English Dictionary, after giving numerous ancestor words in Latin, Old English, French and Italian, throws up its hands in despair: “Ultimate derivation unknown; both forms are common.” Only one thing is for sure: nobody needs a third version. So “carcus”, though it is probably just as good as either of the accepted spellings, should be avoided.

Not me, guv: This is from a leading article, published on Tuesday: “All too often, it seems, ministers feel the need for an alibi to take decisions for which they already have an electoral mandate.”

How far should we stretch the meaning of “alibi”? It is a legal Latin word meaning “elsewhere”. “Alibi” is certainly overused. You frequently see it used to mean an excuse. We don’t need another synonym for excuse.

But what of Tuesday’s leader? Well, in the strictest sense we are not speaking of an alibi. The ministers are not claiming to have been nowhere near the scene of the crime. They are arranging for somebody else to take the blame. Perhaps the right word from the criminal lexicon is not “alibi” but “fall guy”.

React Now

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

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

British economy: Government hails the latest GDP figures, but there is still room for skepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Comedy queen: Miranda Hart has said that she is excited about working on the new film  

There is no such thing as a middle-class laugh

David Lister
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
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