The grammatical conventions governing headlines are weird and complex, and sometimes they go wrong. This was published on a news page on Wednesday: “I thought I’d get fired: the other man who shot James Meredith.” I won’t bother to explain what this headline is supposed to mean – a headline that needs to be explained should be binned and replaced by something the poor reader can understand straight away. The interesting thing is that it contravenes the punctuation convention for headlines of this sort.
It works like this: either Cameron: I resign or I resign – Cameron. If the person’s name comes first, use a colon; if the sentiment attributed to them comes first, use a dash. In the case above, the colon should be a dash. Not that it would improve things much. This kind of headline needs to be stark and simple, and the person quoted needs to be well known to the reader. “The other man who shot James Meredith” just doesn’t qualify.
Cliché of the week
The place where you can always rely on finding the dreaded “When it comes to…” is the fashion and style pages. I don’t know why, but that is an observed fact.
On Monday, a style page about the pets of big figures in the fashion world did it twice: “When it comes to man’s best friend, Lagerfeld has decided that he prefers something that purrs”; and “When it comes to a fashion pedigree, you don’t get much better than the Labradors adored by Stefano Gabbana.”
So, when does it come to a fashion pedigree? And what is the “it” that comes? The questions are, of course, absurd. “When it comes to…” is just a meaningless extrusion of words.
What was that?
A news-in-brief item on Wednesday dealt with a court case about the poisoning of a drink at a police station: “The officer that subsequently drank it needed treatment in hospital.”
I know that Tennyson writes in “Ulysses” about a task “not unbecoming men that strove with gods”, but by and large the relative pronoun “that” should relate to a thing. A person should be “who”.
As usual, we have been defeated by Latin. On Monday, we covered the story of Paolo Di Canio, the new Sunderland football manager, whose admiration for Mussolini has scandalised the good folk of Wearside. We reported: “He has a tattoo that says ‘Dux’ on his bicep, which is a Latinised spelling of ‘Duce’.”
No, it is the other way round. “Dux” is the Latin word for “leader”. Under the late Roman empire, it was a military rank. From it are derived the Italian “duce”, the French “duc” and the English “duke” – and, for all I know, similar words in half a dozen other modern European languages.
And by the way, there is no such word as “bicep”. The word is “biceps” – a singular, despite the letter S at the end. The same goes for “forceps”.