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


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.

React Now

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

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Gold Ferrari sits outside Chanel on Sloane Street  

Sunday Times Rich List: We are no longer in thrall to very rich people

Terence Blacker
David Cameron was openly emotional at the prospect of Scotland leaving the union before the referendum  

Remember when David Cameron almost cried over Scotland because he loved it so much?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions