Errors and omissions: Love it or loathe it? The answer could be found in Middle Earth

Inanimate objects and speaking in metaphors: errors from the past week


John Schluter writes in from Guildford to draw attention to a sentence from our coverage of the Test cricket on Tuesday: “England’s captain was loathe to bowl him by the end.”

That should be “loath”. It is a common error. Both words come from the same Germanic root. “Loath”, pronounced with a hard “th” as in “thing”, is an adjective, meaning reluctant or disinclined. “Loathe”, with a soft “th” as in “this”, is a verb, meaning to view with extreme dislike or disgust.

It is not surprising that people confuse the two in writing. There are not many pairs of words whose pronunciation is distinguished only by the difference between the soft and hard “th” sounds, so there is no convention of writing them differently. Perhaps we should follow J R R Tolkien in representing the soft sound by “dh”. (Remember Caradhras and Fanuidhol from The Lord of the Rings.) Then we would write “these clothes” as “dhese clodhes” and “loathe” as “loadh” – which we might be able to remember. Or then again, perhaps not.

Risk assessment: A news story published on Monday said that because of rising costs “vital treatments risk being denied to patients”.

Well, the patients may well risk being denied the drugs, but the drugs would not suffer any disadvantage from being denied to patients, so it is difficult to see how they are running a risk. Can an inanimate object ever be said to run a risk? I suppose a cup of tea placed at the very edge of a table could be said to risk toppling off, but even that is a bit fanciful.

Metaphor soup: We have remarked before on the plight of financial journalists, condemned to write about things no one has ever seen, heard or touched – pure abstractions, such as interest rates and stock offerings. So they must constantly speak in metaphors. Here is an example, from Monday’s paper.

“Successive governments have offered a raft of new initiatives to help small firms starved of credit since the onset of the financial crisis. But the problem with this piecemeal approach is that as each new initiative has arrived, the previous ones have started to wither on the vine.” It must be disturbing for a raft of initiatives, drifting gently downstream like logs on a river, to find themselves suddenly withering on a vine.

Mountain ordeal: A picture caption published on Monday spoke of Tour de France spectators “at the summit of Mont Ventoux in the Alps”.

People assume that any mountain in France must be in the Alps. Mont Ventoux, in fact, rises in solitary grandeur from the countryside of Provence. In the words of a colleague who has actually cycled up it: “It’s nowhere near the Alps.”

One genuine Alpine peak that is featuring in this year’s Tour is Alpe d’Huez. The curse of the mountain picture caption struck again yesterday when we called it Alp d’Huez, forgetting that the French for the Alps is les Alpes.

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