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


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

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Read Next

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
William Hague, addresses delegates at the Conservative party conference for the last time in his political career in Birmingham  

It’s only natural for politicians like William Hague to end up as journalists

Simon Kelner
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent