Errors and Omissions: Too much jargon is no laughing matter

Our Letters editor and chief pedant reviews this week's paper

Share

It is easy for specialist writers to get too close to the jargon of their specialisms, and assume that everybody knows what it means. This is from an interview, on an arts page on Tuesday, with the actress Nancy Carroll, about her new show: “It’s the most fun I have ever had on stage. Slightly too much fun. There’s a lot of corpsing going on.”

No explanation of the word “corpsing” was offered by the article. But there, really, honestly are people who don’t know what it means. I had to look it up to make sure I had got it right. It is theatrical slang for a trick one actor can play on another during a live performance by trying to make them laugh. Nobody seems to know the origin of the word, though Wikipedia points out that an obvious likely victim of the jolly jape is an actor who has been “killed” on stage and has to pretend to be a corpse.

Here’s another corpse, from a picture caption published on Wednesday. “The TV presenter Melissa Bachman with the corpse of a lion she killed in South Africa.” The word “corpse” is derived from the Latin “corpus”, which just means “body”, but in modern English usage it is restricted to the dead bodies of humans. The reader knows what “the corpse of a lion” means, but it looks wrong. Why not just “with a lion she killed in South Africa”?

Airbrushed? Beware of “literally”. It is usually misused. On Tuesday we ran a story about the uncle of the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un – since executed – and how his image had been removed from scenes in a TV documentary. The opening sentence said: “It would seem that his uncle has, quite literally, been airbrushed from history.” No, he hadn’t been. Even in North Korea you need digital tools to doctor electronic images. No literal airbrushes – tiny paint spray guns – are involved. Any airbrushing in this case was strictly metaphorical.

Neologism: Lady Gaga, according to a review published on Thursday, “plays on celebrity and commerciality in her lyrics”. “Commerciality” is a new one on me. Is it really any different from the familiar “commercialism”? Yes, I think it is. “Commercialism” is the behaviour of those who seek to make profits from commerce. “Commerciality” seems to be the quality of being commercial; that is to say, of being like a commodity for sale – shallow and a bit tawdry perhaps. So, the neologism “commerciality” gets the imprimatur.

Boxing clever: A rare Errors and Omissions Gold Award for Getting It Right goes this week to David Usborne, our US editor, who wrote on Thursday of President Obama: “The extent of the political pummelling dealt him by the healthcare fiasco can’t be overstated.” Nine writers out of 10 would have written “can’t be understated”, thus unwittingly telling their readers that the pummelling was very small.

React Now

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

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Midweight

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Front End Developer

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The UCAS clearing house call centre in Cheltenham, England  

Ucas should share its data on students from poor backgrounds so we can get a clearer picture of social mobility

Conor Ryan
A study of 16 young women performing light office work showed that they were at risk of being over-chilled by air conditioning in summer  

It's not just air conditioning that's guilty of camouflage sexism

Mollie Goodfellow
Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks