Errors & Omissions: The Royal Opera House does not belong to London alone

Plus needless circumlocution, a dangling determiner, a cliché and an unlucky break in this week’s Independent

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The Independent Online

This column has a record second to none in rebuking the London-centric carelessness that leads some writers to refer to, say, “Chelsea” or “Piccadilly” without letting the reader know that these places are to be found in London. But it is possible to go too far in the other direction.

On Monday, we reported on the Baftas, and Eddie Redmayne’s Best Leading Actor award for the role of Stephen Hawking: “The scientist was present at London’s Royal Opera House to witness Redmayne’s win.” It isn’t London’s Royal Opera House; it’s the nation’s Royal Opera House.

Of course, the possessive formation “London’s Royal Opera House” is journalese, and “the Royal Opera House in London” would have been better. But I think that, in any case, the Royal Opera House falls into the category of national institutions – Buckingham Palace, the National Gallery and so on – that do not need to be located in London.

• Is there something wrong with Jews? I don’t think anybody here thinks so. So why do we so often make a laborious effort to avoid the word “Jew”? This is from a news story published on Monday: “The MPs warn that racist abuse directed at Jewish people in the UK is twice as common now as in the 1990s.”

That circumlocution “Jewish people” always reminds me of Jonathan Miller’s joke: “I’m not a Jew, just Jew-ish.” That was in the 1960s, when well-meaning people still felt they had to stamp on the last embers of pre-war anti-Semitism. And in the following decades they thought they had succeeded. It is a sad commentary on the times we live in that now once again some well-meaning people seem to feel that calling Jews Jews makes you sound like a Nazi.

• We have all heard of hanging participles, but here is a rarer bird, the dangling pronoun (or “determiner”, but that is industrial-strength grammar). This is from a news story published on Monday: “Mr Ilves told Sky News that while he was not yet afraid of a Russian invasion, action must be taken to halt its ‘reckless and irresponsible behaviour throughout our region’.”

So, what is the “it” that is displaying reckless and irresponsible behaviour”? Why, Russia, of course. But Russia isn’t mentioned in this sentence, only Russian invasion. That leaves the word “its” without an antecedent noun to refer back to, and the sentence does not fit together properly.

• “Fans should benefit from eye-watering £5.1bn deal,” said a headline on Wednesday. That is the first time I have seen the fashionable cliché “eye-watering” in quite such big type. What does it mean? Do your eyes water when they behold something huge or shocking? Mine certainly don’t.

• Chris Stevens writes in to point out this, from a City article on Wednesday: “Hi-tech systems for GPS, automatic breaking and other assisted driving features are all powered by smart chips.” He comments: “Brakes your heart, don’t it?” Quite.