Errors and Omissions: They do things differently in Headlineland

The Independent's letters editor and chief pedant spots this week's best howlers


“Mentally ill man allowed to donate fortune to Mormons,” yelled a headline on a news page on Thursday, reporting on a case in the Court of Protection. The story soon put things in proportion: “The man wants to donate almost £7,000 of an inheritance to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

This is the 21st century. Inflation has taken a terrible toll. The rich and silly can easily spend £7,000 on a meal with drinks in a restaurant. It must be 500 years since £7,000 amounted to a fortune – that is to say, a lump sum that would produce an income on which one could live, obviating the need to work.

But then again, this is Headlineland. Here, every actor is a “star”, every painting a “masterpiece”, every goose a swan – and every substantial sum of money a “fortune”.


On Thursday, we carried a picture of two young women in a punt in Cambridge. The one poling the punt was wearing a mask against the air pollution. The caption: “A punt operator in Cambridge yesterday. The air quality in East Anglia is forecast to remain ‘very high’ until tomorrow.”

No, it’s the pollution that is forecast to remain very high: the air quality will, presumably, remain very low. And the woman in the mask is not a “punt operator”; she is just a woman poling a punt. The only punt operator I know of in Cambridge is Scudamore’s boatyard, where you go to hire a punt (if you are not a member of a college that operates its own punts).


A perennial caption problem popped up on Wednesday. The caption on a fashion picture said: “A model presents a creation for summer 2015 by Alexandre Herchcovitch at Sao Paulo Fashion Week in Brazil.”

Of course she’s a model; she doesn’t look much like a plumber to me. The point is that this is not a picture of her at all: it is a picture of the clothes she is wearing, and the words “A model presents” are redundant. That will be obvious to followers of fashion.

The rest of us may find it difficult to see this as anything other than a picture of an elegant young woman. People who have to write captions for fashion pictures need to think of the clothes as a car. When you see a publicity shot of a bloke at the wheel of a Lamborghini, you don’t think of it as a picture of the male model; it’s a picture of the car.


A leading article on Tuesday asked: “How can it possibly be fair for those without a university degree to stump up for the income-boosting education of those who do?” This starts as one sentence and ends as another. You need either “… those who do not have a university degree … those who do” or “… those without a university degree … those with one”.


A news story on Monday reported that houses are selling for near the asking price “as buyers chase a scarce supply of property”. No, the properties are scarce: the supply is low, or poor.

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