Errors & Omissions: Hang on – that’s not how it’s supposed to be written

Hung participles and Italian families among glitches in this week’s Independent

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An editorial last Saturday delivered a humdinger of a hanging participle: “It comes as something of a shock that the Lib Dems appear on the brink of increasing their representation in the Lords … The party already has 102 peers ... Having secured less than 8 per cent of the popular vote in May it is no surprise that the Tories in particular are crying foul at any further expansion.”

To whom does the participle “having” relate? Who was it who secured less than 8 per cent of the popular vote? We all know that it was the Lib Dems, as is confirmed by the context, but the sentence that starts with “having” could be taken to mean that it was the Tories.

The hanging participle is one of those things, like opera and football, that some people just “get” and others don’t. I think, for those who don’t get it, “having secured less than 8 per cent of the popular vote” is no different from “less than 8 per cent of the popular vote having been secured”. It is a piece of information about how much of the popular vote was secured, regardless of who secured it.

But for those of us who do “get it”, the participle “having” implies a person who is having. Who is that person? We demand an answer, and when the sentence supplies a wrong answer – in this case, the Tories, when the right answer is the Lib Dems – we feel an unpleasant jolt.

• That same day we ran a feature article on the new wave of super-rich patrons who are providing the finance for interesting Hollywood films. “As yet, there don’t seem to be films about the new generation of Borgia-like patrons who’ve been commissioning new work in Hollywood but their influence is rising.”

Not quite right. The Borgias (above, by Rossetti) are a byword, justly or unjustly, for ruthless political intrigue and poisoning their enemies. The family in Renaissance Italy that is famous for lavishing its fabulous wealth on the work of artists and scholars is the Medici.

• A news story published on Monday reported: “Historic records which go online today reveal the criminal past of Britons [including] an artist hung for forging a £5 note.”

Two things to observe here. The records are not historic (worthy of a place in history) but historical (relating to the study of history). And the artist was not hung but hanged. The past participle of “hang” is “hung”, except in the case of executions by hanging, when “hanged” is usual. I think “hanged” is an archaic form that has been preserved by the memory of the judge’s words: “You will be hanged by the neck until you are dead.”

• Jen Parry has written in to point out this ambiguous news blurb, published on Tuesday: “Lancashire councillors defied legal advice to reject plans for the UK’s first fracking site.” So, they had been advised to reject the plans? No. Better to have written, “… defied legal advice and rejected plans …”

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