Errors and Omissions: Our general knowledge needs brushing up

The Independent's letters editor and chief pedant spots this week's best howlers

Share

One of those bits of general knowledge that people usually get wrong popped up on Monday in an article about films of the Battle of Stalingrad: “It follows the last days of a platoon of Red Army soldiers and seamen confronting Friedrich von Paulus’s Sixth Army in the wrecked home of a lone Russian girl.”

The commander of the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad was General Friedrich Paulus, with no “von”. Many of the German generals of the Second World War were aristocrats with a “von” to their names – Gerd von Rundstedt, Fedor von Bock, Erich von Manstein and plenty of others – so the confusion is understandable. But there were also plenty of middle-class generals without a “von”. Why is it Paulus who is so often put into the wrong group? Nobody, for instance, ever writes about Erwin von Rommel.

A film review last Saturday opined: “Richard Ayoade directs this adaptation of the Dostoyevsky story with the same distinctive visual and comedic sensibility that he showed in his quirky debut, Submarine.” Is there really a difference in meaning between the modish “comedic” and boring old “comic”? And if there is, why has nobody found it necessary to invent the parallel word “tragedic”?

We carried a feature on Tuesday about an annual festival of music and misbehaviour in a distant corner of Crimea. It began thus: “Media coverage of Crimea’s ‘conscious uncoupling’ from Ukraine has missed out one quirky anathema that was already doing its own thing: the self-declared Autonomous Republic of Karantip.”

An anathema is a formal curse pronounced by the Christian church, excommunicating a person or damning a heresy, and hence a thing accursed. It is such a weird word to use of a music festival, even one that many people no doubt disapprove of, that the reader is left wondering: is the writer deliberately using a word in a recondite way, or does he not know what it means?

On Wednesday, the introductory blurb to an obituary described its subject as a “television writer who penned a raft of sitcom classics”. I’ve never heard of penning a raft before: the usual thing is to pole it.

And here is another helping of metaphor soup, from Thursday’s front page: “False dawn: India’s blood-soaked moral Rubicon”. The Rubicon – to cross which is to commit oneself to a perilous course of action with no way back – is a small river in Italy. A river is made of water: how can you soak it?

A story on Tuesday about Peaches Geldof’s last online posting reported: “The image was poured over online last night.” That should be “pored”.

Here’s a subversive thought. These two words, one meaning to emit a stream of liquid, the other to examine closely, are both of unknown origin and are pronounced the same. Since there is no possible ambiguity of meaning, why not spell them both the same, and remove a trap for poor spellers? For no better reason than that English spelling reform seems to be politically impossible.

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Whitehall Editor: The spurious Tory endorsement that misfired

Oliver Wright
 

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband hasn’t ‘suddenly’ become a robust leader. He always was

Steve Richards
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence