Errors & Omissions: Lost in an explosive swamp of hackneyed mixed metaphors

Clichés, misspellings and style glitches from this week's Independent, including an explosion in a swamp

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The Independent Online

“Young people are fast becoming a generation mired in problem debt,” a news in brief item reported on Thursday, “according to the charity Citizens Advice, which warns that unsecured borrowing is exploding among 17- to 24-year-olds. 

“The number of debt issues that forced young people to turn to the charity has soared by more than a fifth in the past year to 102,296, it said.” 

So, first we are stuck in a bog, then there is an explosion, and finally we are treated to one of the great traditional journalese metaphors as the number of cases soars into the air, like a rocket or a bird of prey. 

Still, I suppose we should be grateful that the number has not “rocketed” or experienced a “meteoric rise”.

• Last Saturday, we reported that people are hoarding cash at home “according to the Bank of England (BoE)”. And farther down the story came this: “There is now around £1,000 in banknotes in circulation for everyone in the UK, the BoE estimates.”

Where did this “BoE” business come from? Newspaper reports tend to display a confusing dazzle of initials and acronyms as it is, without inventing new ones. What is wrong with just calling the Bank of England “the Bank”, once you have given the full name at the top of the story? 

• A Voices piece on Monday examined Canadian attitudes to Muslim refugees. The immigration minister, it reported, was “desperately trying to claw back any shred of the Canadian Conservative Party’s principals”. 

That should be “principles”. That is, fundamental maxims of thought or morality. “Principal” is an adjective meaning first in rank or importance, or a noun meaning the head of an organisation, such as a college principal.

Writers should get it right, but I hope I will not be drummed out of the Society of Pedants for saying that I think it is silly that they should have to. “Principle” and “principal” are almost the same word – one derived from the Latin principium meaning “beginning” or “origin”, the other from the related adjective principalis, meaning “first” or “original”. 

I don’t think English would lose anything in either precision or expressiveness if we fixed on one spelling and treated them as one word. But that’s not my decision to make, or yours; so just get it right, please.

• Another common misspelling popped up in a conference sketch on Thursday. Tim Farron apparently “feels miniscule against the open skies”. No, that should be “minuscule”. (Though I notice my spell-checker does not pick up on “miniscule” – things really are getting bad.)

• The use of an initial capital letter for the definite article in proper names spreads. 

An education article on Thursday spoke of “a campaign by the millionaire philanthropist Sir Peter Lampl through his charity, The Sutton Trust”. Come off it, what next? Soon it will be The Dog and Duck on The Old Kent Road.

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