Errors and Omissions: How many ignoramuses does it take to change a verb?

Our Letters editor reviews the slips in this week's Independent coverage
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Matthew Norman wrote on Wednesday about the reaction of Eric Pickles to the floods: “Coming as it did one day after his deriding of the [Environment] agency as feckless ignorami pretending to be experts, the slip suggested he was unwittingly saying precisely what he believes.” (I am grateful to Richard Harvey for pointing that out.)

I think Norman wrote “ignorami” for deliberate comic effect, but for the guidance of less sophisticated writers, let it be placed on record that “ignoramus” is not a Latin noun with singular in -us and plural in -i. It is a Latin verb, meaning “we do not know”.

My wonderful 50-year-old Shorter Oxford English Dictionary steps forward to explain the origins of the word in legal Latin: “The endorsement formerly made by a Grand Jury upon a bill of indictment when they considered the evidence insufficient to warrant the case going to a petty jury.” (Why don’t today’s lexicographers think it their business to give us that kind of information?)

Only when “ignoramus” shifts to everyday English usage, in the 17th century, does it become a noun, meaning an ignorant person. So give it an English plural: “ignoramuses”.


“How strict are restrictions when it comes to multi-stop flights?” burbled the headline on a travel piece published on Wednesday. I am sorry to go on and on about this, but when does “it come to” multi-stop flights?

Without the drivel about “when it comes to”, the headline could have given some more useful information from the story. The wording “How strict are restrictions on where to join multi-stop flights?” would have fitted the available space.


On Tuesday, Grace Dent wrote: “From now on I’ll only dig deep if there’s a good chance of your grizzly demise, or, at the very least, a severe maiming.” That should be “grisly”.

“Grizzly”, originally an adjective meaning greyish, is now a noun meaning a large North American bear. “Grisly”, on the other hand, is an adjective meaning grim, ghastly and horrible to behold. I suppose if you were mauled to death by a bear, you might be said to suffer a grizzly demise, but that is not what was meant here.


We’re still all over the place in the little matter of making the different bits of a sentence agree as to number. This is from a fashion piece published on Monday: “Artistic endeavours are all well and good, but it won’t pay those extraordinarily high Manhattan rents.” I would have thought “endeavours” were “they”, rather than “it”.


Here’s a jolly mixed metaphor, from an editorial on Monday: “It sounds like a plot-line from a television satire on the banana-skin strewn corridors of the Westminster village.” There are two layers of daftness here. You don’t associate corridors with a village, and the images are drawn from different eras: C P Snow’s “corridors of power” epitomised the shadowy, all-powerful Civil Service establishment of the 1950s, whereas today’s Westminster village signifies a political class out of touch with the concerns of “real” people.