Errors and Omissions: How to make a drama out of a few inaccuracies

Our letters editor takes to task this week's Independent coverage

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 “Black militant, fugitive cop killer, terrorist threat … or escaped slave?” That misfired headline appeared on Saturday over an article about one of the FBI’s “most wanted” fugitives.

A headline wants to create drama. So it sets up as supposed alternatives three bad things – militant, killer, terrorist – and a good one – escaped slave. The trouble is, it is perfectly possible for the same person to be all of these things at once. They are not alternatives. And anyway, what is wrong with being a black militant? One further point: “cop-killer” should be hyphenated, if you want it to mean someone who has killed a cop. A fugitive cop killer, with no hyphen, would be a killer of fugitive cops.

 

We are forced to witness the long, slow death-agony of “whom”. This week, from a television preview of The Ladykillers on Thursday, comes this: “Alec Guinness plays a criminal mastermind whose plans are spoiled by his landlady, a sweet and innocent old woman who he and his gang just don’t seem able to bump off.” Was there any reason not to say “whom”?

 

 Another frequent new blot on the language is the failure of number agreement. This from a book review published last Saturday: “The super-real world of Murakami will spring to some readers’ mind.”

“Spring to mind” is a familiar phrase, but don’t allow familiarity to trump logic. As it stands, this implies that “some readers” have only a single mind between them. Make it “minds”.

 

“John went into the trenches in February 1918, just prior to the final German advance in March,” said an article in last Saturday’s magazine, about the recollections of men who fought in the First World War.

Why “prior to” instead of “before”? It goes against the grain to use two words where one will do, and to use a Romance word when there is a perfectly good Anglo‑Saxon one. And “prior to” has a prissy, officialese air to it, a desire to use important-sounding words.

 

A Screen Talk item last Saturday told us about Vin Diesel’s new movie. It is a “supernatural action film” in which Diesel appears as a “semi-immortal witch-hunter”. What can that possibly mean? Does only half of him die? I suppose in that sort of film anything is possible.

 

Roger Baresel writes in to draw attention to a brief report in Wednesday’s paper about a survey on how soon couples resume intimate relations after the birth of a child.

“One in eight new mothers is waiting at least six months before she resumes having sex with her partner... A quarter (23 per cent) of new mothers resumed having sex within six weeks.”

Can’t we compare like with like? Why not one in eight and one in four, or an eighth and a quarter, or all percentages? The inconsistency, as Mr Baresel points out, hinders understanding of a story which is probably of vital interest to many men, as well as women.

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