Errors and Omissions: Typhoons and tsunamis – too easy to confuse the two

Our Letters editor reviews the slips in this week's Independent coverage


In her Monday column, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown reported that the recent floods had shocked her into taking climate change more seriously. Good for her, but halfway through the piece a common error slipped in.

“Just last November, Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the Philippines… The 2004 tsunami was different because several Westerners were tragically swept away. Questions were asked if such catastrophes were getting more frequent and were partly man-made.”

Typhoons in the Philippines and floods in Britain may well be linked to climate change, but Alibhai-Brown is not the first writer on this subject to forget that tsunamis are caused by the sudden displacement of water by, for instance, a volcanic eruption or an earthquake beneath the sea bed. They have nothing to do with the weather.

Slips like this ought not to matter, but they do, because they help climate-change deniers and contrarians to give the answer they want to the question they love to ask: can we trust the people who tell us that human-induced climate change is happening?

That is the wrong question. The right question is this: does the science look robust enough, and are the likely results of ignoring it dire enough, to merit taking serious action now? I congratulate Alibhai-Brown on realising that the answer is yes.


This is from an article, published on Wednesday, about traditional Indian performers. “Ishamuddin Khan [is] one of a handful of people in the world to have carried out a convincing display of the Indian rope trick – a legendary Indian stunt, the providence of which appears to have been authenticated, falsely, by an 1890 report in the Chicago Tribune.”

Sebastian Robinson wrote in from Glasgow to point out that “providence” is wrong here. It means foresight, in particular a divine plan. He argues, convincingly, that what we have here is probably an amalgam of “provenance” – the ownership history of a work of art – and “evidence”. The whole mess could easily have been cleared up by simply leaving out the words “the providence of”.


Some people seem to think that anything in the past needs to be adorned with the word “former”. Thus, in a political story last Saturday, we were told that the Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election had been “caused by the death of the former Labour MP Paul Goggins”.

No, the death of a former MP would not trigger a by-election. When Mr Goggins died he was still the MP, and since the reader has just been told that he is dead, nobody needs the word “former” to make clear that he is not the MP now.


In his Monday column, Matthew Norman told how he had seen a young mother cycling along a London street with her tiny daughter in a baby seat. “Amo, amas, amat,” she was trilling. “Come on darling, say it with me.” The headline: “Latin declension for pillion tots.”

Sorry, nearly a fine headline, but declension is for nouns and adjectives. “Amo, amas, amat” is the conjugation of a verb.

React Now

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

Process Improvement Analyst (Testing)

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Service Delivery Manager - Derivatives, Support,

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Delivery Manager - (Derivatives, Support...

Technical Account Manager - Java, FIX Protocol, FIX 5.0, C++

£30000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Technical Account Manager - Java,...

WPF .NET Developer

£300 - £350 per day: Harrington Starr: WPF Analyst Programmer NET, WPF, C#, M...

Day In a Page

Read Next

The daily catch-up: heatwave update; duck tape and market socialism

John Rentoul
David Cameron's 'compassionate conservatism' is now lying on its back  

Tory modernisation has failed under David Cameron

Michael Dugher
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform