Errors and Omissions: You might have to wait some time if you dial 911 in an emergency

Our gloriously attentive pedant reviews the slips in this week's Independent

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The Independent Online

One of the men shot by the man in New York who lured firefighters to his house was a “19‑year-old 911 dispatcher”, according to our report on Wednesday. This was obviously taken from a US news service, and should have been rewritten for the British reader, for whom the emergency number is 999. As Gyles Cooper says, drawing my attention to it, “I do not believe that in New York they send Porsches to fires.”

Sat down

I enjoyed our interview on Monday with Jim Al-Khalili, the theoretical physicist and new head of the British Humanist Association who seems to be a likeable version of Richard Dawkins, but it started badly: “‘I suspect we’re not the only family in the country that likes to have a friendly row on Christmas Day,’ admits Jim Al-Khalili, sat in his office in the physics department at the University of Surrey.” Guy Keleny has railed against the use of “sat” for “sitting” before, but it should be railed against again.

Not yet pensioned off

Pensions are dull enough without the clichés. On Wednesday, a report of a new analysis was headlined with a time bomb and included two references to black holes in the copy, the second of them in quotation marks, as if we belatedly realised that our mixed and hackneyed metaphors were working too hard.

Pedant bingo

We scored a full set of jargon, cliché and mixed metaphor in one report on the sales. “Footfall was up”; “traffic chaos” was contributed to and “fears of consumers tightening their belts in the face of tough economic conditions were quickly shelved”. But Boxing Day comes only once a year, so we shall overlook it this time.

Up the cliff

Our report on Thursday on the “fiscal cliff” negotiations that prompted Barack Obama to return early from holiday mentioned the “upcoming cuts to government spending”. It is not an excuse that we were reporting US matters. Bernard Kilgore, editor of the proudly American Wall Street Journal until 1967, once sent a memo to his staff on the lower floor warning: “The next time I see ‘upcoming’ in the newspaper I will be downcoming and someone will be outgoing.”


We did it twice last week: used “epicentre” as a fancy way of saying “centre”. The headline on an obituary of Steve Paul on Wednesday described him as “owner of The Scene, the club which became the epicentre of hip 1960s New York”. And in a review of the business year on Thursday, we described the US housing market as “the epicentre of the financial crash that tipped the US into recession”. The epicentre is the point on the Earth’s surface vertically above the focus of an earthquake, not another way of saying “the heart of”.

Guy Keleny is away