Errors and Omissions: You may argue we need more P G Wodehouse, but you can't say it's a fact

Our peerless pedant surveys this week's paper for linguistic failings and foibles

Share

Slippery things, facts. We have remarked before on “the fact that”. When you see that phrase, you know that the sentence needs recasting. Equally, when a politician says, “The fact of the matter is …”, you can be sure that what follows is an unproven assertion.

And what about this? A leading article on Monday, hailing the BBC’s new television version of Blandings, opined: “The fact remains, however, that there can never be too much Wodehouse in our lives.”

No, a fact is something that exists or has happened; a hard chunk of reality that can be demonstrated by evidence or experience. That there can never be too much Wodehouse in the world is an opinion; you may claim that it is a truth, but it is not a fact.

Rising damp: Phil Wood writes in from Westhoughton, Greater Manchester, to comment on this, from a business analysis piece published last Saturday: “At the heart of the fund is a simple approach – invest up to 80 per cent in equities and the remainder in bonds and cash. The latter component has the effect of dampening the volatility of the fund.”

Mr Wood says that “dampen” should be “damp”. He argues that “dampen” means to make moist, and if what you mean is to reduce movement or oscillation, then the right verb is “damp”. I think most people would agree with that, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say “dampen” is absolutely wrong. The Oxford English Dictionary does recognise “dampen” as a synonym for “damp” in various senses including that of to depress or discourage. “Damp” is a word with a strange and convoluted history. It has the same origin as the German Dampf, meaning “steam”. It surfaces in English in 1480, and signifies variously a noxious vapour found in coal mines (as in “firedamp”), moisture or wetness (the usual modern meaning) and a state of stupor or depression. It is presumably the last sense that leads on to the idea of “damping” noise or vibration.

Hang it all: It is a long time since we have come across such a humdinger of a hanging participle as this. It comes from Monday’s news story about the marking of the London Underground’s 150th anniversary with a steam run along the Circle Line: “Passing through 13 stations with good old fashioned chug-chugs and toot-toots, plenty of tourists on the platforms were left bemused as they were dowsed in smoke.”

So the tourists on the platforms were passing through the stations? Er, no.

It would have been very easy to fix. Just start with “As the train passed through …” and carry on as before.

Chocks away! “British war planes fly to Mali”, exulted a headline on Monday’s front page. You could almost hear the “Dam Busters March” in the background. But is an unarmed C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft really a “war plane”? Yes, in Headlineland it jolly well is, when the RAF is not actually deploying any real combat aircraft.

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Neo-Nazis march in London  

I'm taking my Jewish kids to a vile neo-Nazi rally in London this weekend because I want them to learn about free speech

Richard Ferrer
A police officer carries a casualty to safety  

Tunisia attack proves that we cannot stop terrorists carrying out operations against Britons in Muslim countries

Robert Verkaik
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map