Errors and Omissions: When a manner of speaking isn’t a manner of writing

Our Letters Editor casts his eye over this week's grossest Independent mistakes


“For too many men, sexual violence is the norm,” declared the headline on a comment piece published on Wednesday. So, how many is too many; and what would be the acceptable level of belief that sexual violence is the norm?

This loose use of “too” is quite common, and you may say that it is just a manner of speaking. Well, yes, one might exclaim: “This is just too bad,” implying that a lesser degree of badness would be acceptable. But when you grumble: “It’s far too easy for young people to get hold of drugs”, you begin to invite the question, “How easy do you think it ought to be?” And when a manner of speaking becomes a manner of writing readers are liable to treat your language with a logical rigour that listeners would not employ.

Metaphor soup: A news story published on Wednesday reported that the President of Mexico “has unveiled a major shake-up of the country’s creaking tax system aimed at broadening the abysmally low tax base”. “Low” is not the opposite of “broad”. The President might hope to broaden a narrow tax base, or to raise a low level of revenue, but he cannot mix the two without becoming absurd.

Cut it out: On Wednesday, we published the news that Tesco is pulling out of the US grocery business. An accompanying comment piece carried the headline: “Much-needed prune isn’t cause for panic”. Tesco is indeed pruning back its operations in several countries, but I don’t think there is a noun “prune”, meaning an act of pruning. The only prune I have ever heard of is a dried plum, often served with custard. What could a “much-needed prune” possibly be?

Wrong word: A common malapropism turned up in a story, published on Wednesday, about cruelty to children among members of a religious cult in Germany: “He simpers, as a middle-aged woman drags him downstairs into a dimly-lit cellar.” A simper is a false, self-conscious, ingratiating little smile. The more likely reaction of one who fears a cruel punishment is a whimper – a broken, whining little cry.

Star-crossed: Thursday’s business pages kicked off with a full-page report of the troubles at Hibu, the company that publishes the Yellow Pages directories. It was illustrated with a scene familiar to anyone over the age of 45: an elderly man talking on the telephone, smiling delightedly at good news. The caption: “The classic Yellow Pages advert starring J R Hartley – first shown in 1983.” No. J R Hartley was a fictional character. The star of this classic television advertisement was an actor called Norman Lumsden. (Thank you, Wikipedia.)

Making a row: Michael Kilgarriff writes in to draw attention to this, from last Saturday’s profile: “For the second year in a row, Forbes has named Vergara the highest paid actress on television.” You need at least three points to make a row. “For the second year running” would have been all right.

React Now

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

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour leader Ed Miliband unveils Labour's pledges carved into a stone plinth in Hastings  

Election 2015: Smash the two-party system! Smash the voting system!

Armando Iannucci
Tactical voting is a necessary evil of the current first-past-the-post system, where voters vote against what they do not want rather than in favour of what they do  

Election 2015: Voting tactically has become more fraught in new political order

Michael Ashcroft
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before