Errors and Omissions: Let’s consign this cliché to a weighty tomb

This week's Independent is put under the microscope by our in-house pedant

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I’m not sure if this was a brain scramble or just a typing error, but on Tuesday we said, of Harry Redknapp’s autobiography, “The author of the weighty tomb claims he can hardly write.” What we ended up with was better – almost poetic: a book in which Redknapp’s earthly reputation will be preserved for ever – than the clichéd phrase it replaced. “Weighty tome” being mock-Tudor for “long book”. We could do without it.

“The fact that” ought to be read by any editor as “please rewrite this bit”. On Tuesday we wrote: “This week our thoughts are with X Factor judge Nicole Scherzinger as she battles her personal demons: namely, the fact that she appears to be drunk on camera when actually she isn’t.” It would have been more elegant if we had simply struck out “the fact”.

Conditionitis: Journalists in a hurry often suffer from a condition known as needless condition syndrome. The symptom is the unnecessary insertion of the word “condition” in sentences, often about the weather. On Monday we reported on the technique used by albatrosses to remain airborne without expending much energy. “By repeatedly using this method, they can travel thousands of miles depending on the wind conditions.” The word “conditions” could simply have been deleted.

As it could on Tuesday, when we analysed the possible causes of the apparent pause in global warming, which included, we said, “the effect of El Niño and La Niña conditions in the Pacific Ocean”. Then on Wednesday we reported that the weather in parts of the UK had become colder: “Two inches of snow have already fallen in Scotland, where windy conditions are expected to last until this morning.” Meaning “... where it is expected to be windy until this morning”.

How many deciles? We carried a news story on Thursday which made the important point that the Liberal Democrat policy of raising the point at which people start to pay income tax tends to benefit better-off households. This is because two-earner couples gain twice, unless they are very well-off, earning more than £41,450 a year, which takes them into the 40p tax band. Our explanation of this surprising effect, for a policy promoted as benefiting the low-paid, was rigorously factual: “People in the seventh, eighth and ninth of the 10 deciles on the earnings ladder would see a bigger percentage rise in their income than those lower down the scale.” It is clear enough if you know that a decile is a 10th of a population, ranked in order, and if you know that statisticians call the poorest 10th the “first” decile. But it might have been easier to understand if we had said something like: “The best-off 30 per cent of households below the top 10 per cent would gain most as a share of their income, and more than those lower down the scale.”

Check your echelon: Our review of Pompey by Jonathan Meades on Thursday was favourable. “It is a stunning performance, and places Meades in the upper echelon of 20th-century prose stylists.” But no one knows what an echelon is. It used to mean the ranks of a wedge-shaped military formation with each row longer than the one in front. There would therefore be no “upper” echelon.

Guy Keleny is away

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