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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Comms / Digital Marketing Specialist

Not Specified: Recruitment Genius: An exciting and rewarding role exists for a...

Search Engine Optimisation/ SEO Executive

£25000 - £28000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Excellent opportun...

Programme Planner

£30000 - £45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based i...

HTS GBM - KDB Developer, Kx Q Query Language, £750

£650 - £750 per day: Orgtel: Senior Analyst Developer (KDB/QKx plus Java and F...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Is Ed Sheeran the most important British man in black music?

Lee Pinkerton Lee Pinkerton
A young Palestinian boy walks over debris from a house that was destroyed in an airstrike in Deir Al Balah  

The Middle East debate has more to do with the fashion for revolutionary tourism than real politics

James Bloodworth
Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor