Errors & Omissions: pours or pores, pulverised, ‘in preference for’ and lists

How to enumerate apples, oranges and bananas, and other infelicities for the great pedant’s collection

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A news story from Italy, published on Wednesday, reported as follows: “Neo-fascists have been planning the assassination of the prime minister, Matteo Renzi, his cabinet, and have plotted bomb attacks against the public.” It needs another “and”, before “his cabinet”. This annoying error crops up all the time.

The convention is to put “and” before the last item on a list: “I like apples, oranges and bananas.” The “and” gives the reader a signal that the last item is coming up. We could just write: “I like apples, oranges, bananas.” But then the reader would have to take a moment to realise that there is no more and we are about to start on something else. The “and” helps to keep things flowing.

We have here three things the neofascists have been doing: planning the assassination of Renzi, planning the assassination of the cabinet and plotting bomb attacks. But note that if you treat them as a list of three, as we just have, you have to repeat the words “planning the assassination of”. The writer of the story desired, reasonably enough, to avoid that – but failed to realise that you then have two lists. There is an overarching list of the things the neo-fascists have been doing – planning to assassinate and plotting bomb attacks. In addition, the first of those two items is itself a list of two: planning to assassinate Renzi and planning to assassinate his cabinet.

So, the plan to assassinate the cabinet and the plotting of the bomb attacks are each the final item of a list, and both need to be preceded by “and”.

• Here is the opening sentence of an interview published in last Saturday’s magazine: “Anna Chancellor has taken hold of the printout of her Wikipedia entry that I have brought along to our interview and is muttering to herself as she pours over it.” That should be “pores”. Very common mistake: two words pronounced the same and both often followed by “over”. “Pour” means emit a stream of liquid; “pore” means examine with minute attention. Both words go back to Middle English, but the Oxford Dictionary cannot trace their origins before that.

• “Hussein Abu Jamaa still bears the scars from the explosion that pulverised his leg”, claimed the introductory blurb to a foreign report published on Monday. Really? The leg was reduced to dust (Latin: pulvis) or at least shattered into tiny fragments? The text below casts a little light, reporting that the leg was “embedded with shrapnel” – no, the shrapnel was embedded in the leg.

• A news story reported last Saturday: “Ukip members and activists are quitting the party in disgust after being passed over in the race for Westminster seats in preference for Tory defectors.” “In preference for” is a new one on me. There is nothing very wrong with it, but why bother to make it up when we already have “in favour of”?