Errors and Omissions: The facts are brutal enough without clichés

Our Letters Editor reviews the slips from this week's Independent

Share

“Almost six years after the 21-year-old was brutally killed in the university town of Perugia…” said a news story on Monday, about the new hearing in the Meredith Kercher case. 

What constitutes a “brutal” killing? Why do we never carry reports of civilised, gentle, well-mannered killings? These would be pertinent questions if anybody took any notice of the words “brutal killing”. In fact, the cliché is so familiar that it fails to make any impact on the mind at all.

The same piece, incidentally, refers to Meredith Kercher as “the murdered girl”. At the time of her death, she was 21. By any reasonable standard, a female human aged 21 is a woman; to call her a girl is patronising and sexist.

There is a journalese word for young men that is equally tendentious, though in a different way: it is “youth”. No “youth” ever helped an old lady across a road; “youths” are to be found brawling at bus stations or dealing drugs on inner-city estates. “Youth” is a word that tells the reader what to feel, instead of conveying unbiased information.

 

All right, I confess: This is from the report of an interview with Damian McBride, onetime spin-doctor to Gordon Brown: “He concedes to ulterior motives; keeping the newspapers onside and a keeping a damaging story (often about Brown) off the front pages.”

So nearly right, but not quite. “Concede” comes down to us from a Latin word for “give away”. It means to give something up, or admit that a statement is true. So McBride might concede that he had ulterior motives, or he might concede ulterior motives. “Concede to” is used in a different sense – one may, for instance, concede a point to an opponent in debate.

Alternatively, he could confess to ulterior motives – and that may have been lurking in the back of the writer’s mind.

These distinctions about which preposition goes with which verb are essentially arbitrary, but to get them wrong is to risk confusing the reader.

 

How many is many? This is the last sentence of a news story, published on Monday, about a fashion for men wearing blue suede shoes: “Male shoe spending has soared in recent years, with many age-categories outspending the opposite sex.”

So, into how many “age categories” do those who market shoes divide the male half of the population? Half a dozen? Eight? Not more than 10, surely. And how can some part of a number like that be called “many”?

As usual, “many” proves to be one of the most slippery words in journalism. It serves to create an impression of “Golly, what a lot!”, but doesn’t go so far as to quote a figure that would enable the reader to come to their own view as to whether there is a lot or a little of it about, whatever it may be.

React Now

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

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Read Next
'Our media are suffering a new experience: not fear of being called anti-Semitic'  

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk
David Cameron (pictured) can't steal back my party's vote that easily, says Nigel Farage  

Cameron’s benefits pledge is designed to lure back Ukip voters. He’ll have to try harder

Nigel Farage
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices