Errors and Omissions: When it comes to captions, sometimes less is more

Our Letters Editor reviews the slips from this week's paper

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The dangers of cramming too much into a single sentence were illustrated by this picture caption, published on Thursday: “Philomena Lee meets Dame Judi Dench, the star of Philomena, a film depicting the story of  how Ms Lee had to give her baby away, at Claridge’s Hotel in London, as part of London Film Festival.”

The comma after “away” fails in its mission of trying to stop the reader’s mind forming a strange picture of Ms Lee giving her baby away at Claridge’s Hotel, like something out of a play by Wilde or Shaw.

The caption needs to be split into two sentences, and we don’t need to mention Claridge’s at all; what does it matter which hotel it was? Thus: “Philomena Lee meets Dame Judi Dench at the London Film Festival. Dame Judi stars in Philomena, a film about how Ms Lee had to give her baby away.” That leaves space for  up to eight more words, which might tell a  little bit more of Philomena Lee’s extraordinary story.

Racy: This is from a motoring review, published on Thursday: “The new GT-R is a super-car slayer and will keep pace with the Bugatti Veyron, let along the humdrum gaggle of Porsches and BMWs it will leave in its wake all over suburbia.”

What does “let along” mean? Nothing that I can work out, though you see it a good deal. The term is actually “let alone”. It means that you can let the Porsches and BMWs alone – leave them out of the account – when describing the pace of the GT-R. If it’s as fast as a Bugatti, mere Porsches and BMWs don’t matter, so let them alone.

Crowning story: Last Saturday’s magazine carried an article about the Kremlin. It told us about “the Cathedral of the Dormition, where Ivan the Terrible was coronated”.

Those who follow this newspaper’s letters page will already have seen some lively debate about this verb “coronate”, meaning to crown. Is it a legitimate word, or an oafish neologism, possibly of American origin, misbegotten upon the noun “coronation”?

I had certainly never seen “coronate” before I opened the magazine last Saturday, but the Oxford dictionary knows better. It describes the word as rare and dates it back to 1625. Could this be one of those old words that have remained current in America while falling out of use in Britain?

Plot development: On Wednesday we reported on the Booker prize victory of Eleanor Catton and her novel The Luminaries. The news story told of: “The New Zealander, who was 25 when she started the work before finishing it two years later”.

What, she started it before she finished? How very dull and conventional, particularly for a novel described by Boyd Tonkin on the same page as having a “complex and teemingly populated plot” and a “kaleidoscopic narrative”?

That should have been “… and finished it two years later”.

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