Errors and Omissions: Let's throw the asterisks out (but keep the bad language)

There is nothing incredible about the speed at which people throw things, but to bowdlerise a celebrated line from Larkin? That really is beyond belief

Share

I hope we are not losing the word “incredible”. With any luck, the current modish misuse of “incredible” and “incredibly” as mere intensifiers will be just a passing fad. All the more reason for newspapers to avoid it.

On Thursday, we reported on research that suggests the ability to throw things played an important part in the evolutionary success of early humans. The story said that certain changes to human anatomy “enabled our early relatives to throw missiles at incredible speeds”.

You expect priests, poets and soothsayers to report incredible things, but scientists should stick to the credible. For the record, there is nothing incredible about the speed at which people throw things. Everybody believes it without any difficulty.

Mind your language: This appeared on Monday in a comment piece about the Jeremy Forrest case, criticising the victim’s father: “As for her father: ‘They f*** you up, your mum and dad’. Philip Larkin only knew the half of it.” We should quote bad language only when it is really necessary for readers to know what somebody said, but when we quote it, let us quote it. Asterisks imply that the readers need unpleasant realities to be veiled by net curtains. Mostly, that is just a prissy and patronising habit, but to bowdlerise a celebrated line of poetry is an outrage.

Cliché of the week: Richard Harvey writes in to point out the following headline, which appeared on Thursday above a commentary on the ousted Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard: “She broke the mould – then it broke her.”

One of the signs that a metaphor has become a cliché is that people forget its literal meaning, and start to misuse it. The writer of this headline clearly intended to convey that Gillard had broken through a barrier, as the first woman to become prime minister of Australia. But that is not what “break the mould” means.

“After they made her they broke the mould” means that the person we are referring to is unique; we will never see her like again. And that is really the only proper use of “break the mould”. It’s a phrase we could happily do without.

I think the confusion started with a lot of loose talk in the 1980s and 1990s about how the Liberal Democrats were going to “break the mould of British politics” – that is, destroy it in its present form and create a new version. That is in the same general region as the proper meaning, but we now seem to have moved a long way away.

Journalese: A news story published on Monday informed readers that Nelson Mandela “was rushed to a Pretoria hospital on 8 June”. It’s quite a while since I last read of somebody being “rushed” to hospital. It’s good to know that even in the face of shrunken circulations and the strictures of Lord Justice Leveson, some of the ancient traditions of the Fourth Estate are being kept up.

React Now

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

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Senior SAP MM Consultant, £50,000 - £60,000, Birmingham

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Senior SAP MM C...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species  

Save the tiger: Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt
 

Let's make Eid a bank holiday

Grace Dent
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried