Headlines compress but they should not change the meaning of a news report. On Monday, we led our world news with an outrageous example: “‘Useless, useless, useless’: the Palestinian verdict on Tony Blair.”
The report said in its first sentence that Mr Blair was not the object of criticism: “Palestinian officials say Tony Blair shouldn’t take it personally, but he should pack up his desk at the Office of the Quartet Representative in Jerusalem and go home.” Mohammed Shtayyeh, an aide to the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, was quoted as saying: “The Quartet has been useless, useless, useless.”
In case this was not clear enough, we also quoted a former Palestinian Authority cabinet minister: “It has nothing to do with Tony Blair … I think it’s the Quartet that failed to deliver.”
Aspersion: Also on Monday, in a report about possible explanations for the inexplicable, namely Adam Lanza’s murder of 26 people in Connecticut, we said: “His brother, Ryan, reportedly told police he thought his brother had a personality disorder, possibly Asperger’s, a form of autism.” Asperger’s syndrome is indeed a mild form of autism. It gives people difficulties with social interaction and can make them come across as odd. But it is not a personality disorder, and it is not associated with violence. We should avoid relaying, without clarification, erroneous speculation of that kind.
Figure it out: Our obituary of Arthur Chaskalson on Wednesday was headlined “Key figure in South Africa after apartheid”. The first two words are weak journalese for “important bloke”, and are worse than useless. He was a lawyer who helped to draft the country’s democratic constitution, and who served as Chief Justice from 2001 to 2005. Surely some hint of that could have been conveyed even in seven words.
Departed: Another obituary, on Thursday, of Michel Slitinsky, quoted a tribute from Alain Juppé, Mayor of Bordeaux: “With the disappearance of Michel Slitinsky a great voice of the resistance and of memory has gone.” Here, “disappearance” is a clunking mistranslation from French. The word Juppé used must have been disparition. That does mean “disappearance”, but it is also the polite word for “death”. In this context, the obvious English equivalent is “passing”. In English, “disappearance” sounds as if the poor old bloke has been kidnapped.
Small point: I know the “Trending” section of this newspaper is supposed to be trendy, but that is no excuse for an item on Thursday beginning “In the wee hours of 10 October, an emergency call reached the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department...” Was “wee hours” meant to be Californian, Scottish or just twee? If we did not know the time of the call, the “small hours” would have done fine.
Guy Keleny is away