Errors and Omissions: The Vatican seems less good at Latin than it used to be

Our peerless pedant examines the flaws in this week's Independent

Share

St Peter’s Basilica was struck by lightning on Monday after the Pope’s resignation. Could it be that the outraged gods of pedantry were responsible?

In the opening sentence of his resignation statement, the Pope told the cardinals that he had to announce a decision important “for the life of the Church” – which in the official Latin text appears as “pro Ecclesiae vitae”.

I would expect the Vatican’s Latin to be better than mine. I suppose I might be wrong. But surely “pro” takes the ablative case, and that ought to be “pro Ecclesiae vita”. Remember the book by that great English Catholic, John Henry Newman: Apologia Pro Vita Sua.

Journalese: Clichés can become so  familiar you scarcely notice them. Last Saturday, a news story was headed “Cryptic code scrawled on Delacroix’s masterpiece”. On Monday, another news story reported: “The tour manager [of the Cornish folk group, Fisherman’s Friends] was killed and one of the singers seriously injured in a freak accident as they prepared for their latest concert.” Well, is Liberty Leading the People really a masterpiece, or just a painting? And does being crushed by a steel door really qualify as a freak accident, or just an accident? Did anybody ask those questions before banging down the words “masterpiece” and “freak accident”? In the journalese world, every painting by a dead artist is a masterpiece, and the word “accident” simply cannot leave the house unless it is accompanied by “freak”.

Phwoar, get a load of that! The news story about “Delacroix’s masterpiece”  was not written for the art cognoscenti. “The work,” it explained, “portrays a bare-breasted woman at the head of a revolutionary charge.” Well, yes, in the same sense in which Michelangelo’s David portrays a bloke with his kit off. But first and foremost she is a female figure personifying Liberty. The state of her décolletage is not the most important thing about her (though it may be the most striking, in masculine eyes at least).

Don’t quote me: The purpose of quotation marks, particularly in headlines, is to make clear that the words in quotes are not uttered in the voice of the newspaper. They represent something that somebody has said. The device is usually employed when the material in question may not be true.

Here are a couple of headlines from our news pages this week that employ quote marks for a different and rather odd purpose. On Monday, we carried the headline “Five crew members die during ‘safety drill’ on cruise ship”, and  on Wednesday this: “Police and FSA raid Yorkshire abattoir accused of supplying horse meat ‘kebabs’ ”.

But the words in quotes are perfectly true in each case: a safety drill is still a safety drill even when it goes horribly wrong; and a horse meat kebab is still a kebab. The quotation marks, it seems, are being used to signal to the reader that there is something dodgy going on. This is just vague mumbling, and it won’t do. Punctuation, no less than words, should be used with clarity.

React Now

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

Guru Careers: Bathroom Showroom Manager / Bathroom Sales Designer

£22 - £25k basic + Commission=OTE £35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Bathroom Sh...

Guru Careers: Marketing Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Marketing / Digital Marketing Executive (CRM, Eve...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Foreign Exchange Dealer - OTE £40,000+

£16000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Foreign Exchange Dealer is re...

Recruitment Genius: IT Engineer

£19000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity now exists for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
People struggle to board a train at the railway station in Budapest  

Even when refugees do make it to British soil, they are treated appallingly

Maya Goodfellow
 

Daily catch-up: immigration past and present, in Europe and in America

John Rentoul
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones