Errors & Omissions: an eye-wateringly high cliché count on the railways

Our pedant-in-chief on ‘a daily basis’, basic numeracy, he and him, choosing evils, and a commendation

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The Independent Online

Monday’s paper brought instances of two of 2014’s most annoying clichés.

An editorial commented on last weekend’s nightmare for railway passengers at Finsbury Park (above): “It is strange that the British public puts up with such awful service on the railways. We pay eyewateringly high fares to use trains.” Eyes are watering all over the place all the time. I have never quite understood what this eye watering business is supposed to be about. Do your eyes water when something painful happens? I don’t think mine do.

Then a news story hit us with a currently ubiquitous cliché that this column has drawn attention to before: “Facebook remains social media’s undisputed king, with over 1.35 billion monthly users, 64 per cent of whom use it on a daily basis.” What is wrong with “every day” or just plain “daily”? This talk of a “basis” sounds as if people have a schedule that compels them to use Facebook with a certain frequency.

• Readers cannot be as innumerate as some writers seem to think they are. This was published in a news story last Saturday: “Yet a survey by ICM research has found that more than one in four (27 per cent) of people who buy vinyl records do not play them.” Surely everybody knows that one in four is 25 per cent, so 27 per cent is more than one in four. Why give the same information twice, first vaguely, and then with more precision?

• Here is a Contents item published on Wednesday: “Alexei Navalny held by police after day of drama which saw both he and his brother sentenced in fraud case.” That should be “both him and his brother”. Nobody would write “day of drama which saw he sentenced in fraud case”. Why does bringing the brother into it change “him” into “he”? The pronoun is still the object, not the subject, of the verb “saw”.

• A political analysis piece, published last Saturday, included this sentence: “For many people, 2015 will bring a choice between the lesser of two evils.” You can see quite clearly what the writer is trying to say, but what he has written makes no sense. The lesser of two evils is only one thing, notwithstanding the appearance there of the word “two”, and you cannot have a choice “between” one thing.

The sentence needs to be recast. How about this? “In 2015 many people will have to choose the lesser of two evils.”

• For a change, let’s start the new year on a positive note. Here is the opening of a news story published on Monday. “She may have made her bed, but did Tracey Emin ever lie in it? That is the question raised by new research which claims the artist’s most famous and controversial work, My Bed, may have been a fabrication.” Will 2015 produce a neater opening sentence than that?

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