Errors and Omissions: Nothing unique in allowing rhetoric to trump logic

Our peerless pedant and Letters editor examines the flaws in this week's Independent

Share

The following is a familiar point, beloved of pedants everywhere, but still true. Last Saturday, a sports article commented on the participation of the violinist Vanessa Mae in an Olympic skiing event: “She was pretty unique already: at 13, she became the youngest soloist to record both the Beethoven and Tchaikovsky violin concertos.” “Unique” means like no other. It is an absolute quality; there are no degrees of uniqueness, so “pretty unique” is meaningless. The writer has unwisely allowed rhetoric – “pretty unique already” has the right rhythm – to trump logic.

And here is a writer who has unwisely allowed logic to trump the imagination. This is from a business story published on Wednesday: “Philip Clarke also said £200m will be spent on price cuts, the slowdown in store openings will accelerate and focus on hitting its 5.2 per cent profit margin has come to an end.” In strict logic “the slowdown in store openings will accelerate” makes sense. New stores will continue to be opened, but less frequently; the new openings will continue to get rarer; and the rate at which they get rarer will increase. However, abstract logic is not everything; the human mind insists on making pictures, and “the slowdown will accelerate” leaves it struggling to make a picture of something getting slower and faster at the same time.

Here is another failure of logic, this time from an article on Tuesday about a polar expedition: “That was three weeks ago, and the journey was completed, successfully, six days later.” How could a journey be completed unsuccessfully? Show no mercy to “successfully”. You can usually strike it out on sight.

Blurbs are never easy to write. Here is one that adorned a feature article on Tuesday: “Holocaust survivor Alice Herz‑Sommer, who has died aged 110, said that Beethoven was her ‘religion’. Renowned pianist Stephen Hough explains what she could have meant.” I think “explores” would have been better than “explains”. “Explains what she could have meant” implies that somebody treating art as a religion is a strange phenomenon requiring explanation. On the contrary, since the Aesthetic movement of the late 19th century, if not before, it has been commonplace. So the blurb fails in its mission of intriguing the reader.

This sentence is from a news story published last Saturday: “Mr Cameron last night met the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, whom he regards as another potential ally in his efforts to reshape the EU, at Chequers.” Mr Cameron won’t have much success in reshaping the EU if he tries to do it at Chequers. Brussels would be the place for that. In news reporting there is always a compulsion to give prominence to the people at the centre of the action, and fill in the details of time and place later. But in this case it has crippled the sentence. It really does have to begin with: “Last night at Chequers, Mr Cameron met …”

React Now

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

Network Engineer - CCNP, Hedge Fund, London

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer - CCNP, Hedge Fu...

Senior Network Engineer-CCIE, Multicast, Low Latency

£60000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-CCIE, Mul...

Network Infrastructure Engineer

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Infrastructure Engineer (...

Network Engineer (CCNP, BGP, Multicast)

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, BGP, Mult...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letters: The West flounders in the Middle East morass

Independent Voices
David Tennant as Hamlet  

To vote no or not to vote no, that is the question... Although do celebrities really have the answer?

David Lister
All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition