Errors and Omissions: Plunged into chaos by journalistic exaggeration

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

Share
Related Topics

Full marks to Simon Calder, our travel correspondent, for his weather story on Tuesday. He got through about 500 words without using the journalese word that always pops up on these occasions: “chaos”. Calder treated us to disruptions, delays and cancellations, but no dissolution of the universe into primal disorder.

Pity that the headline let the story down: “Heavy rain and 90mph gales plunge Christmas getaway plans into chaos.” Not only a chaos but a plunge, that time-honoured headlinese horror (“death plunge”, “shares plunge”).

It gets worse. A wind of 90mph is not a mere gale, according to the Beaufort scale, nor even a storm, but a hurricane. And it is not even true. The highest wind speed reported in the story was 87mph. “Gusts” of that speed had been recorded at one location in North Wales. The headline rounded that up to 90, and then implied – with the plural “gales” – that such winds had been widespread. How could you justify that?

Here is the beginning of an arts piece published on Boxing Day: “In no small part thanks to Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth in Andrew Davies’ definitive modern screen adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel, BBC1’s 1995 Pride and Prejudice (now, shockingly, getting on for to 20 years old), Miss Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy have become iconic fictional characters”.

That sentence is far too long, packed with too much information. Comprehension is further hindered by the structure of the sentence, with a huge subordinate clause at the start and the main verb four words from the end. The word “shockingly” is a puzzle too. How can it be shocking that something that was created nearly 20 years ago is now nearly 20 years old? Shakespeare knew better. This is from Henry IV, Part 2. Falstaff and Justice Shallow are reminiscing about their misspent youth:

Shallow: Ha! ’twas a merry night! And is Jane Nightwork alive?

... Doth she hold her own well?

Falstaff: Old, old, Master Shallow.

Shallow: Nay, she must be old; she cannot choose but be old.

The passage of time may be achingly sad, but it cannot come as a shock.

Who? What? When? Where? Why? These are the questions every news report should answer. Here is the text of a picture caption published last Saturday. “The 25-metre long mainyard is lifted into place on Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s SS Great Britain as preparations began last night for the attraction’s Go Aloft that will allow visitors to step into the shoes of Victorian sailors and scale the rigging.”

Where? Bristol.

Our Tuesday story on the pardon for Alan Turing told of his wartime work on “the Enigma code”. People often say that, but Enigma was not a code. It was a ciphering system that, in effect, created a new code for each message. That was why it was so hard to read.

React Now

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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The people of Iraq cannot be left to suffer alone

Dominik Stillhart
 

Anyone who bothers about the stones of Palmyra will also care about the souls of Tadmur

Boyd Tonkin
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

The end of an era across the continent

It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

'Focus on killing American people'

Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

Same-sex marriage

As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

The Mafia is going freelance

Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable