Errors and Omissions: You can’t really expect political correctness in the Wild West

The Independent's letters editor casts his eye over this week's coverage

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On Wednesday, we published a preview of the films to be released this summer. They included The Lone Ranger, a movie version of the western that delighted radio and TV audiences from the 1930s to the 1950s. Readers were informed that “Armie Hammer takes the lead role, with Johnny Depp as his Native American companion, Tonto”.

“Native American companion”? Difficult to tell whether this was intended ironically or not. In any case, sorry, but no. Tonto was the Lone Ranger’s Indian sidekick. “Companion” makes you think about funny old Victorian ladies sharing a cottage in the country. And you don’t have to be a Clarksonesque golf club bore to snort that “Native American” is, in this context, an example of political correctness run mad. This is, after all, supposed to be 19th-century Texas.

“Native American” is nonsense anyway. A native American, in the simple meaning of the words, is a person born in America, whether or not a member of one of the indigenous peoples who have been there since before the Europeans came. The latter meaning is better expressed by the term “First Nations” – for all its agonisingly earnest Canadian decency.

Too much information: A news story published on Monday began thus: “Dog mess: to most of the population it is a biohazard about as welcome and useful as syphilis. Even those required to collect it approach it with a plastic bag and a grimace. But for one former banker it is the key to a civic and eco-energy revolution.”

The story is that dog excrement currently sent to landfill will be turned into gas fuel and fertiliser by a newly invented digester process. Is that not interesting? Not interesting enough for the Sturm und Drang school of intro-writing, which insists on an opening paragraph filled at any cost with drama and conflict. The cost, in this case, is inflicting on the reader a vivid explanation of how disgusting dog mess is. But we all know how disgusting dog mess is. You don’t need to spoil our breakfast. Note, by the way, the infallible mark of a Sturm und Drang intro: the last sentence of the paragraph begins with “But– ”. Always there must be a clash of opposites.

Whom was that? This is from a report on Icelandic politics, published last Saturday. “Whether Mr Benediktsson, or Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson of the Progressives, becomes the next Prime Minister in the coalition government the parties will, barring a miracle, form is an extremely complex matter. But whomever it is, the next four years might just be as fascinating as the last.”

“Whomever” should be “whoever”. The first sentence is overcomplicated. By the end of it, the writer has forgotten that it was about who would become Prime Minister, not whom the parties would appoint to the job. In any case, should we be using the word “whomever” at all? I’m all for preserving interesting old words, but “whomever” looks too baroque for a news story.

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