Errors and Omissions: For heights of creativity, look to picture editors

Our peerless pedant and Letters editor examines the flaws in this week's Independent

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A sure source of amusement is the ingenuity of picture editors, faced with finding illustrations for the business pages. The stories tend to be about men (and a few women) in suits, dealing in financial abstractions. What picture do you publish?

Last Saturday’s Analyst column looked at the AXA Framlington UK Mid Cap Fund. Here’s a sample: “The two managers … share a similar philosophy, focusing on dividend growth and free cash-flow yields, while also managing money with an absolute-return mentality, taking little notice of the positioning of any benchmark.”

Good solid stuff, packed with information. Nothing wrong with that – until you try to illustrate it. Dragons and chimeras are easier to find than photographs of free cash-flow yields. But, at a single bound, the picture editor was free. Above the article was a still of the actresses Elizabeth McGovern and Lily James, dolled up in posh party frocks, amid a glittering social scene full of chaps in Guards uniforms. All a million miles from the gritty City. The caption made the connection: “The AXA Framlington UK Mid Cap Fund has a stake in ITV, which had a huge broadcast hit with Downton Abbey.” That’s what I call creative thinking.

Another picture caption, last Saturday, began: “A woman fixes food in preparation for a memorial service for Nelson Mandela.” Why? Was it broken? This column likes American usages, and indeed our culture would be the poorer without the tough guys of American film noir always snarling to their womenfolk: “Fix me a drink.” But in a sober caption in a British newspaper people should prepare food, not fix it.

 Perils of the spell-checker, No 94. Here is the blurb that introduced a book review last Saturday: “Letters between Sigmund Freud and his daughter offer some longeurs, but also rewards.” That should, of course, be “longueurs”. Either nobody ran a spell-checker over it, or somebody did, but when it picked out “longeurs” they just assumed it had failed to recognise an exotic word.

Another blurb came unstuck on Thursday. An article about Selfridges, the London department store, and its year-long preparations for the Christmas selling season, carried the headline “Wish it could be Christmas every day?” and the following: “It takes year-long dedication to get Selfridges ready for 25 December.”

Everybody is always desperate to avoid repeating a word. “Christmas” is already in the headline, so what can we say in the blurb? The obvious synonym is “25 December”. Except that it isn’t a perfect synonym. The people at Selfridges are certainly preparing for Christmas, in the sense of the Christmas season, but not for 25 December – a day when the shop is closed.

Here’s a strange shift of meaning. According to a business article last Saturday, a takeover of the insurance company RSA would offer a corporate predator “a presence latent with opportunity in Latin America”. No, it is the opportunities, not the presence that would be latent (Latin, “hiding”).

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