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

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

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The law is too hard on sexting teenagers

Memphis Barker
 

Obama must speak out – Americans are worried no one is listening to them

David Usborne
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game