Errors and omissions: some are more prone to silly mistakes than others

Butlers, caravans and scientists have all been victim to slips of the pen this week
  • @johnrentoul

Our review of the TV series Getting On in last Saturday’s Radar contained the following arresting passage: “... the spine-shivering feeling that you might be viewing terrifying reality, as if you too were lying prone in a bed more mechanised and more unruly than a bucking bronco as it all unfolded around your supine presence.” Prone means lying face down; supine means lying face up. However unruly the bed, it is hard to envisage someone doing both at the same time.

Separate meanings

Also in last Saturday’s newspaper, we wrote about the rising numbers of people wanting to employ a butler, “the quintessentially British domestic, omniscient yet discrete, formal yet resourceful”. The writer fell foul of one of those daft distinctions in English. The Latin root is the same,  but “discrete” means separate. It is “discreet” that means unobtrusive or respectful of privacy, as in discretion, which originally meant being able to discriminate or to separate the refined from the coarse.

More than one

A picture caption on Monday read: “Caravans was one of the most popular items bought after a lottery win.” That quite often happens: a verb close to a word that is strongly singular forgets its plural subject.

Lost song

 A leading article on Monday began: “When Frank Sinatra and Celeste Holm sung ‘Who wants to be a millionaire?’ in High Society …” That, of course, should have been “sang”.

Seismic shock

The first paragraph of our report on Tuesday of the jail sentences for six scientists for failing to warn of an earthquake in Italy ended “in a verdict that will shock and surprise the international scientific community”. You don’t say. The whole clause is unnecessary. The “in” is redundant journalese, nor did we need both “shock” and “surprise”, and “community” is always to be avoided. But the main objection is to the future tense. News spreads fast. For many scientists, our report would not have been the first that they had heard of it. Indeed, this was confirmed by the comment article by our science editor on the same page, which quoted what seismologists said “yesterday”. They were shocked, apparently.

Extra houses

Also on Tuesday, we reported this about second homes: “More than a million of us now own at least one extra house.” I thought this seemed rather high. In the third paragraph of the article, we said that more than 1.5 million people have “second addresses”, of whom 77 per cent are “students or children of separated parents”. A further 12 per cent have a second address for work, most of them in central London. And only 11 per cent – 165,000 – had a second “holiday” home in the countryside or by the sea, which is what the article was about.


Hamish McRae’s fine analysis of the dangers to the UK of a European banking union on Tuesday included this: “It is in our self-interest to maintain as much access as we can to European service markets.” Someone should have deleted “self-”.