Errors & Omissions: I’m not convinced. I could, however, be persuaded

Waxing at a Taylor Swift concert, tenses and Byzantine judicial job titles in this week’s Independent

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The Independent Online

Last Saturday we reported on the election of Simon Armitage as Professor of Poetry at Oxford University. The story informed readers: “Armitage was convinced to run after a lecture at Oxford earlier this year.”

In recent years there has been an irritating and pointless shift in the use of the verb “convince”. Previously it had been used in relation to ideas and propositions: one might be convinced, for instance, of the truth of monetarism or the existence of the Higgs boson. You might even be convinced that it would be a good idea to run for Professor of Poetry. But you were never convinced to do something: the word for that was “persuade” or “decide”. What was wrong with that?

The intrusion of “convince” into territory it never occupied before has made possible an ambiguity. The reader cannot tell whether Armitage was persuaded to run by others or decided on his own.

Wednesday’s review of a Taylor Swift concert (above)included this: “Filmed inserts see Lena Dunham, Cara Delevingne, Emily Watson, Haim and more wax on the subjects of womanhood and friendship.”

“Wax” (this “wax”, not the wax you make candles of) – is a fossilised verb meaning “grow”. It is now found only in a couple of settings: the waxing moon and the twee expression “wax lyrical”, describing a person speaking with eloquence and passion. This writer has misunderstood the latter usage, and thinks “wax” means “speak with passion”. An unfortunate but understandable mistake. Even my ancient Shorter Oxford Dictionary (reprinted with corrections in 1968) describes “wax” as “now chiefly literary or archaic”. Shall we just not bother with “wax” any more?

Notice, incidentally, an egregious example of the modish overuse of “see”. Surely a film insert is there to be seen, not to see.

• Here is a picture caption published on Wednesday: “A Syrian policeman patrols the ancient oasis city of Palmyra before it was captured by Isis forces last month.”

So something happening in the present (“patrols”) happens before something happening in the past (“was captured”). This paradox crops up quite often in captions. It arises from a confusion between the time depicted in the picture, when the patrolling is present, and the time when the picture is being published – when the capturing is in the past. You can remove the paradox by writing either “patrolling” or “before its capture”.

• Tuesday’s story about Michael Gove’s wish to reform the courts said: “He will commit himself to the speedy implementation of the proposals from Lord Justice Leveson to modernise the justice system. Lord Leveson called for…” There followed a list of the judge’s proposals.

As a Justice of the Court of Appeal, Sir Brian Leveson could have been referred to as Lord Justice Leveson, but Lord Leveson would be a member of the House of Lords, which Sir Brian is not. I don’t know whether Mr Gove plans to modernise the Byzantine job titles of our judges.

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