Errors and Omissions: We've seen more than our fair share of meaningless phrases

Our legendary Letters editor picks out the waffle in the Independent this week


This is from an exhibition review published on Monday, about Mughal Indian art: “The British amassed a host of visual and literary treasures …. The British Library has more than its fair share.”

So, what would have been the British Library’s fair share, and by how much was it exceeded? Nobody even pretends to know. “More than its fair share” is one of those phrases of which people say “Well, it’s only a manner of speaking”. I prefer a manner of speaking that makes sense.

More verbiage on Monday’s front page: “David Cameron’s support of gay marriage could see the Conservatives ripped down the middle.” The gay marriage issue won’t be a spectator lounging on the sidelines, sipping a cool drink as it “sees” the party ripped down the middle. It will be in there doing the ripping.

Muddle-earth: I haven’t seen the Hobbit movie yet, but I feel I know more about it than some who have. On Wednesday, Grace Dent berated the film-makers for not introducing any sword-swinging female heroes. Those of us who have been following the sad obsessive fan sites know that they have: she is an elf warrior called Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly, but I don’t expect to see much of her until the action moves to Mirkwood in film two.

Yesterday, Anthony Quinn’s film review found Gollum about the only thing to like in film one and opined: “How much he figures in the second and third instalments will surely have a determining influence on the success of the whole.” Perhaps Quinn knows more than can be gleaned from reading the book, in which Gollum makes just the one appearance.

Homophone horror: This is from a news report published on Wednesday: “A month ago Lieutenant Kutaiba Hassan led his squad of soldiers into an apartment bloc in south Damascus.” That should be “block”.

We have here an example of a word that has arrived from French twice, once in the Middle Ages and again later. The two versions have different meanings and spellings. (A similar example is offered by “roll” and “role”.)

“Block”, meaning a solid mass of stuff (in this case a block of flats), goes way back to Middle English. “Bloc”, meaning a political combination, dates from the early 20th century, according to the Shorter Oxford.

Number crunching: Sorry, but I’m not giving up. I shall continue to repeat that a verb and its subject need to agree as to number.

The latest outrage comes from a picture caption published last Saturday: “Zara’s fast turnaround of trend-following clothes have secured a lucrative mature market.” That should be “has”.

“Turnaround have” is obviously wrong, but an interposed noun different in number – in this case “clothes” – is liable to confuse people who weren’t taught grammar at school.

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