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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A press image from the company  

If men are so obsessed by their genitals, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities of sex?

Chloë Hamilton
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory