Errors & Omissions: spot the dodgy connection amid these news stories

Journalese, missteps and ungainly innovations in usage in this week's Independent

Click to follow
The Independent Online

We used “amid” a lot this week. It is a word no one uses in real life. Journalists, though, often use it to link things that aren’t connected. 

In the first paragraph of a news story on Tuesday, we said: “GP practices that received government funding to open in the evening and weekends have cut back out-of-hours work amid a lack of demand from patients in some areas.” Perhaps we were being cautious, and wanted to avoid asserting that the service cuts were caused by the lack of patient demand. 

But we went on to quote a spokesperson for Londonwide Local Medical Committees as saying that weekend opening was “not as popular as first thought”. So it would have been fine to say “because of”. 

We also used it on the business pages on Wednesday, reporting that Amazon had started delivering food as a precursor to the launch of its online grocery service. We said this could take business from supermarkets, which are “all under pressure amid a fierce price war”. No, the fierce price war is the pressure. “In a fierce price war” would have been fine. 

Then we used it in a headline on Wednesday: “Boss’s £410,000 pay-off amid NHS austerity.” There we were using it to mean “despite” rather than “because”, but again we would have been better without it (and without the loaded word “austerity”). I think “Boss’s £410,000 pay-off despite NHS deficits” would have fitted. 

On Monday, we reported that Russian drones “are now flying regularly over Palmyra”, the ancient desert city in Syria (above). This suggests that they have a timetable for their journeys: we meant “frequently”. 

 We keep calling the deadlocked military conflict in Syria and Iraq a “stalemate”. Everyone knows what is meant, but a lot of people play chess and know that stalemate (from Anglo-Norman French estale, position) is a draw, often occurring because a player who ought to win has made a mistake. What is more, it is the end of the game. If only that were true in the Middle East. 

 Language changes and this is mostly delightful and vibrant. But sometimes innovation offends against taste, and the fashion for “multiple” to mean “many” grates with me. Not worth mentioning except that yesterday we reported that Serial, the true crime podcast (see what I mean about language changing), is to be made into a television series. 

We said that the podcast investigated the murder of a teenage student in Baltimore “over multiple episodes”. Not only would “several” have been prettier, but the neologism drew attention to our apparent ignorance of the exact number of episodes in the series. Wikipedia tells me there were 12. 

 An update from the front line of my campaign to have “for ever” as two words. Last week we had “forever” 11 times and “for ever” four times. This is progress. How long will this campaign take? Answer in two words. 

Guy Keleny is away

Comments