Errors and Omissions: Some vogue words are too nuanced for us lesser mortals

Our Letters editor cast his eye over this week's Independent coverage

Vogue words for the aspiring intellectual come and go. When, for instance, did you last see “dichotomy”? If you are younger than 45, probably never; you will have to take my word for it that around 1965 no essay on “The Crisis of Capitalism and the Films of Jean-Luc Godard” was complete without a dichotomy or two.

These days, one of the most fashionable words is “nuanced”. Does it mean anything? This is from a dance review published on Wednesday: “Hip shimmies make the bouncing tutu skirts fluff up into puffballs, while the rippling torsos and stamping feet are gorgeously nuanced.”

I have to admit that I am no expert on ballet, so maybe I am missing something. I can only report that my mind fails to form any coherent picture of a nuanced torso.

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Not enough Latin at school, I fear. A television review published last Saturday dealt with Game of Thrones: “I laughed at the Benny Hill aspect of the tavern scene in Mole’s Town, where Gilly hid with her baby in a pub full of topless Rada alumna jiggling their nipples in the faces of the punters.” That should be alumnae. Alumna is the feminine singular form of alumnus. The feminine plural is alumnae.

And not enough Greek either, it seems. Last Saturday, a news story began thus: “The job criteria for the incoming chairman of the BBC Trust has been quietly changed.”

“Criteria” is the plural; the singular is “criterion”. So that should be either “criteria ... are” or “criterion ... is”.

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From the classics to French. This column has repeatedly made the point that “blonde” is feminine and applies in English usage only to female persons: so everything else, including the hair of a blonde, is not blonde but blond.

We seem to have done the job too well. On Tuesday, an article about Monty Python referred to John Cleese’s “divorce from his third blond American wife”. No, a wife is blonde.

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On Monday, we reported that Isis jihadists have been using hashtag links to English football clubs “on tweets promoting vile ‘public relations’ material showing atrocities and beheadings committed by the extremist group’s fighters in Syria and Iraq”.

One of the marks of a quality paper is that it does not tell its readers what to think and feel. When reporting on crimes and atrocities, extra vigilance is needed to keep comment and tendentious language out of news stories. There really is nothing to worry about: even if we do not tell the world that beheadings are “vile”, nobody is going to suspect the paper of thinking they are OK.

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We also reported on Monday on the Church of England’s latest contortions over gay clergy: “Canon Jeremy Pemberton, who married his long-term partner in a civil ceremony in April, also warned of a backlash over the showdown.”

Dramatic stuff! If the backlash doesn’t settle it, I fear we could be in for a shoot-out or even a bloodbath.

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