Errors & Omissions: did the pull of the east really realign Lawrence of Arabia?

Glitches, bloopers and etymological infelicities from the past week’s Independent

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Tuesday’s Big Read article spoke of British Arabists such as T E Lawrence (above) and Gertrude Bell who “were also imperial spies and administrators, but the pull of the east disorientated their patriotism and identity”. I would prefer “disoriented” to “disorientated”. The original form of the verb is “orient”; “orientate” is an ugly back-formation from the noun “orientation”.

Further, Richard Harvey writes in to point out that the original meaning of “orient” was to align something, such as the altar of a church, to the east – as the form of the word suggests. So the pull of the east would by definition orient, not disorient, a person.

• Our report of the appointment of Gabriele Finaldi as director of the National Gallery, published on Thursday, included this: “Experts said tasks in his in-tray will include … attracting new audiences to the historic collection.”

“Audience” is derived, by way of French, from the Latin verb audire, to hear. It can mean a formal meeting such as a royal audience, but more familiarly it is an assembly of people to hear a performance of music, a play or a film. The word can even be applied to the readership of a work of literature. But it is possible to stretch the meaning too far, and I think “audience” does need to have some connection, however distant, with hearing something.

There is no audience for paintings in an art gallery. The task of the National Gallery director is to attract new visitors, or viewers.

• Here is a horrifying sentence. It is from a Wednesday news story about historical allegations of sex abuse: “A former detective has claimed that the politician escaped prosecution because other Establishment paedophiles feared he would reveal their identities in court and said he was ordered to drop his investigation into Smith.”

Who he? The first “he” is the politician. The sentence then slides, without punctuation to, “and said he …”. The reader is left to work out from the context that this second “he” is the former detective, whom we last met at the very beginning. A full stop is needed after “in court”, with a second sentence beginning “The detective said he was ordered …”.

• “To quote the acerbic Tory MP Alan Clark, the Chancellor appears to have been a little ‘economical with the actualité while boasting about the North’s economic recovery’.” So said an item of Budget analysis on Thursday.

I wish people would stop quoting this particular not-very-bon mot by the acerbic Tory MP. It seems that Clark thought actualité meant “truth”. It doesn’t, it means “topicality” or current affairs.

• Our Thursday story reporting on the Tunis museum massacre carried an introductory blurb referring to “fears that the fledgling democracy is under attack”.

I suppose it is a sign of progress in the world that in recent years “fledgling democracy” has become a cliché. But it’s still a cliché. Find something else.

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