Errors and omissions: Us and them in a muddle of personal pronouns

Coverage in the Independent takes a wrong turn around Middle-earth this week


An article in last Saturday’s personal finance section began thus: “Last week you left my wife and I standing at Munich airport.” And on Wednesday an opinion piece referred to “the debate about what us ladies should or shouldn’t wear on screen”. In the first case, “I” should be “me”; in the second “us” should be “we”.

Me reckon these writers are victims of modern education. Nobody taught they any grammar at school, or them would know that English personal pronouns of the first and third persons have nominative and accusative case. And them might even know when to use which.

So much for English grammar; now for French. Bob Lowrie draws attention to the following, from a picture caption published on Thursday: “The police firmly deny using agent provocateurs.”

You could argue that the term “agent provocateur” has entered the English language, so we should give it an English plural, with an “s” on the end of the last word. But I think it is better to stick to the right French plural – “agents provocateurs”. That way you satisfy the sensibilities of people who know what they are reading, and those who don’t won’t care.

Caught in the middle: Mention J R R Tolkien and you’re asking for trouble. Last week the headline on this column said: “Love it or loathe it? The answer could be found in Middle Earth.” The operative responsible for that outrage has been consigned to the deepest dungeon of Barad-dûr.

The continent on which The Lord of the Rings is set is called Middle-earth, with a hyphen and a lower-case “e”. The name was not invented by Tolkien, but derived from middangeard, the Old English name for the world of men. Why “middle”? Because the habitable zone lay, in Anglo-Saxon times as it does today, in the middle between the frozen desert of the Arctic and the fiery desert of the Sahara.

Warm work: Thank goodness the weather is cooler. The purgatorial heat earlier this week is fading mercifully into the past. If anything could have added to the misery of living through those furnace-like days it was reading this, in a news story on Tuesday: “Yesterday afternoon, temperatures broke through 33C for the first time since the good weather began.”

Good weather? Yes, for some; but for others, including your humble servant, a grievous ordeal. One of the founding principles of The Independent is that news reports should not tell readers what to think and feel. Stick to the facts, which in this case means calling it hot weather. Leave the readers to decide for themselves whether that is good, bad or indifferent.

Chauvinism: “Rotor blades of falling helicopter kill two Britons on luxury fishing trip,” said the headline on a news story on Monday. Oh, and by the way their tour guide was killed too, but you had to get to the second paragraph of the story to find that out, he being only a Russian.

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