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.