Errors & Omissions: the paraphernalia of a practised burglar – screwdrivers, gloves, children

The grammar and style lapses of the last week’s Independent, including in our report of Cate Blanchett’s new film

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“When police stopped the father-of-two Claudio Santos in his car in January last year, they found with him the paraphernalia of a practised burglar – screwdrivers, gloves and a tool for smashing windows with minimal noise.”

What a weird opening to a report of a court case. What on earth has the number of the man’s children to do with his crime? How did we manage to publish that?

Actually, we didn’t. There is no “Claudio Santos”. The defendant’s name was Claudia Santos, and she was described in the first line of our story on Wednesday as a “mother-of-two”. Farther down the story came the details of her part in an organised housebreaking operation.

This casual, indeed apparently unconscious, assumption that the first thing you need to know about any woman is the number of her children seems to be creeping back into respectable journalism. I don’t think we would have found that sort of sexism in a quality newspaper 15 or 20 years ago.

• This is from a news story, published on Monday, about the Cannes premiere of Cate Blanchett’s new film (above): “Carol is based on a Patricia Highsmith novel about a married woman in the Fifties who has an affair with a young shop assistant played by Rooney Mara.”

Close, but no cigar. The novel is not about anybody played by Rooney Mara. She appears only in the film.

• Another confused sentence appeared in a TV review published on Monday: “It opened in 1851, in the rural South Funen region of Denmark, where young brothers Laust and Peter are living out a rural childhood, in love with the charismatic estate manager’s daughter Inge.”

Is it the estate manager or his daughter who is charismatic? The structure of the sentence gives no clue. Charisma is a quality more usually associated with grown-up men than young girls, so we will probably assume that it is the estate manager who has it in this case. It would be easy to put the matter beyond doubt: “… in love with Inge, the daughter of the charismatic estate manager.”

• Thanks to Kathryn Webster for drawing attention to this, from a news story about the late French President François Mitterrand, published on Thursday: “The President, aged 79 and suffering from prostrate cancer, was hovering between consciousness and sleep.”

Get a grip. A sub-editor should never lay eyes on the word “prostate” without making sure there is only one R in it. In the same way, never let “public” go by without checking that it contains an L.

• A Voices piece on Tuesday laid into all male panels at conferences and the like. It denounced “speaking events where men can espouse and women can either listen or serve coffee”. I think the writer meant “expound”. “Espouse” means marry, and hence we may speak metaphorically of people espousing certain views or attitudes, but that is not what was meant here.

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