Errors and Omissions: This awkward construction won’t bring music to the ears

Our chief political commentator takes to task this week's Independent coverage

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The Independent Online

Ouch. Our report on Monday about AKB48, the Japanese pop group, said that “among the Guinness world records they hold is one for the most number of appearances in different television commercials in a single day”. It is 90, apparently, but “the most number” is an unspeakable construction. “The most appearances” would have done fine. The report also used capital letters for emphasis (“Jump into your racing car; SUGAR RUSH SUGAR RUSH, HEY!”), when our style is italics, and, although it explained that the 48 in the band’s name represented the number of its original members, it didn’t say what the AKB was. Perhaps we expected readers to guess that it stands for Akihabara, the district of Tokyo in which we explained that the band was born.

It is an arbitrary convention that the word is spelt “discrete” when it means separate and “discreet” when it means prudent and unobtrusive. It was originally the same word, coming from the same Latin root, meaning the ability to discern or discriminate between couth and uncouth. The different spelling makes no sense, but it is one of those things that is worth getting right because some readers will notice and think less of us if we get it wrong. This we did on Wednesday, when we described a luxury hotel chain, owned by Vladislav Doronin, the subject of the story, as “offering discrete hideaways to billionaires and celebrities”.

In an editorial yesterday, we described Australia’s repeal of its carbon tax as “a retrograde step”. I would prefer the simpler “backward”, not least because retrograde comes from Latin, retro, backward and gradus, step.

The heatwave was bound to cause an outbreak of conditionitis, and The Independent was not immune. Yesterday we reported that the TUC wanted bosses to send workers home “in hot conditions”. Meaning, “when it is hot”.

Guy Keleny has complained about this form of journalese recently, but it is hard to eradicate. In yesterday’s report of Nick Hancock’s record-breaking 43-day stay in a plastic box on Rockall, we described its location as 260 miles west of “Scotland’s Outer Hebrides”. The geographical possessive is not a form found in normal speech, but Japan’s Mount Fuji and New York’s Times Square are familiar places in what used to be London’s Fleet Street.

The internet is often blamed for propagating invented quotations, usually attributed to Lincoln or Voltaire, but it is a powerful engine for chasing misattributed words of wisdom. My enjoyment of our Big Read yesterday on the expunging of the Devil from the Church of England’s christening service was interrupted by the suspicion that Voltaire did not actually say, when asked on his deathbed to renounce Satan: “This is no time to be making enemies.” A check confirmed that there is no evidence he said it – which is a shame, really.