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

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

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Bookkeeper - German Speaking - Part Time

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm of accountants based ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a financial services c...

Ashdown Group: Field Service Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum + car allowance and on call: Ashdown Group: A succes...

Recruitment Genius: Sales & Marketing Co-Ordinator

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established small company ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A woman runs down the street  

Should wolf-whistling be reported to the Police? If you're Poppy Smart, then yes

Jane Merrick
 

Voices in Danger: How can we prevent journalists from being sexually assaulted in conflict zones?

Heather Blake
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence