Errors and Omissions: Stop before you put the words ‘national’ and ‘treasure’ together

Perhaps it would be useful if every journalist’s keyboard were programmed to seize up the moment the words were typed
  • @SimonOHagan

A well-known satirical magazine recently launched a mini-feature called “National Treasure” in which it gathers together instances of this most hackneyed and meaningless of descriptions of a certain kind of public figure.

“National treasure” might have sounded good the first time, but we’ve now reached the point – many an Alan Bennett and Clare Balding later – when it would be helpful if every journalist’s keyboard were programmed to seize up the moment the words were typed. But until that happens, I imagine we will continue to see paragraphs such as the following, with which we began a story last Saturday about a collaboration between Björk and David Attenborough:

“She is the Icelandic ‘punk anarchist’ with a love for eclectic music and bonkers fashion; he is Britain’s greatest living naturalist and an established national treasure.” Ah yes, David Attenborough. A wholly admirable and remarkable man. But let’s leave our national treasures in the Tower of London – and out of the pages of Private Eye.

Being there: According to an arts piece on Tuesday, the film Frances Ha is “hailed by both Indiewire and Variety as being  one of the 10 best films of the year so far”. Omit the word “being” and what’s lost? And what about that “10 best films of the year so far”? We’re only seven months in, and 10 is quite a lot of films. How much of an accolade is this? And why do we care what Indiewire and Variety think anyway? If it’s a good film, let’s just say so ourselves.

Alone on the range: We published a paragraph on Tuesday about a new photographic exhibition. “The images ... range from Elvis Presley, James Dean and The Beatles to Mick Jagger and Twiggy,” we wrote. In terms of the positions those figures occupy on the cultural spectrum, I wouldn’t say there was much “ranging from ... to”. But I guess “the images include” doesn’t sound quite so exciting.

Normality bites: Last Saturday we reported on the disquiet felt in the Kent town of Faversham after local people discovered that it was being used as the backdrop for a drama about a mass murderer. In a caption to a photograph of an area of Faversham, we described it as a “normal” market town. Normal? What’s normal? I happen to know Faversham. Whether it’s “normal” or not I have no idea.

A bigger splash: To accompany a story about the hot weather, we published a striking, half-page photograph in yesterday’s paper of a group of children cooling off in some fountains. Alas, we said nothing about where the photograph was taken. I can reveal that the location was the Royal Festival Hall in London.

Guy Keleny is away