We reported last Saturday that Andrew Mitchell, the former Chief Whip, intended to sue The Sun for its reporting of his altercation with police officers, which led to his resignation. We said: “The newspaper said that it would defend any claim against it.” As Adrian Ince wrote to point out, we meant that it would “defend itself against any claim”. Equally, we could have said that it would “contest any claim”. As it was, we suggested that The Sun would support Mr Mitchell’s suing them, which would be a different sort of news story altogether.
U and non-U: In reporting Baroness Thatcher’s death we reproduced a photograph of her visiting the USSR before the 1987 election. We had “Moscovites” instead of “Muscovites” in the caption. There is no reason it should not be Moscovites, but there is history preserved in the peculiarities of English spellings.
Muscovy was the grand duchy that grew to become Russia. It derives from the Russian Moskva, which we call Moscow, but acquired a U via the obsolete French Muscovie, according to the Oxford dictionaries. It doesn’t make much sense, but that’s the way it is.
Lost in desert: Inevitably, our look back at Lady Thatcher’s life included an account of the time that her son, Mark, “went missing in the Sahara desert for six days”. It hardly matters, but Sahara means desert, so we could have saved one word in the many thousands devoted to that subject.
Laters: This sentence on our business pages on Tuesday could have had a lot wrong with it: “The bad news for the fashion sector is set to continue later this week when the retail bellwether Marks & Spencer is expected to report a 4.5 per cent slump in underlying fashion and homewares sales on Thursday.” I don’t object to “set to”, often a useful piece of journalese; bellwether is correctly spelt and used (a belled ram leading a flock of sheep, and therefore a single piece of information that indicates the whole); and if M&S calls them “homewares” I can’t think of a short, comprehensible alternative. No, the problem is “later this week”. “Later” would be redundant anyway, because we are talking about the future, but the whole phrase is unnecessary because we say “on Thursday”.
Two’s company: Our report on Thursday of the departure of Sir Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr as directors of the National Theatre said: “The pair was hailed...” You can see how this arose, because a pair of socks would be singular, but here the word “pair” is the same as “two”, and so it should be “were hailed”. As Sally Eva, who wrote in, says, “the partnership” or “the pairing” could be treated as singular, but not “the pair”.
Honoured in breach: In our obituary yesterday of Alan Protheroe, the former BBC boss, we said: “He was awarded the MBE in 1980 and the CBE in 1991.” This is a common infelicity, which comes from forgetting what the abbreviations mean. People are appointed a Member or a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
Guy Keleny is away