Errors & Omissions: the strange case of the errant royal pronoun

Plus needless journalese, inelegant tenses and mixed metaphors from this week’s Independent

Click to follow
The Independent Online

This is from a TV preview, published on Thursday: “Divorcee and former air hostess Zsuzsi Starkloff talks on camera for the first time about her relationship with Prince William of Gloucester, the Queen’s cousin and pageboy at her wedding.” What? Prince William of Gloucester was a pageboy at the wedding of somebody called Zsuzsi Starkloff? That’s what it looks like at first glance.

The word “her”, on its first appearance, refers to Ms Starkloff – so when it appears again in the same sentence, the reader’s first instinct is to assume that it still means the same person. It takes a moment’s thought to realise that “her” has now become the Queen. (Above, Prince William of Gloucester, to the Queen Mother’s left, on the balcony after the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten in 1947: Getty.)

Pronouns, and the adjectives associated with them, can often be tricky like that. It is worth taking care to make sure that words such as “he”, “she”, “they”, “his” and “her” never refer to two different people in the same sentence.

• Thursday’s television review referred to “a dank cave in Burgundy, France” – before moving on, no doubt, to Rome, Italy.

American writers have some excuse for this kind of thing. They do have to make clear to their readers that they are not referring to Paris, Texas, or Ithaca, New York. In this country, it’s just a matter of judging how much your readers are likely to know. And they don’t have to be familiar with Dukes John the Fearless, Philip the Good and Charles the Bold, and all the glory and tragedy of medieval Burgundy, to know that it is in France. The wine shelves of the local supermarket are education enough.

• Adrian Ince writes in to draw attention to a statement from the BBC big cheese Danny Cohen, quoted in a news story on Wednesday. Mr Cohen said of the forthcoming TV drama series The Crown: “We couldn’t compete with the amount of money that Netflix were prepared to pay for that production, even though we would have loved to have been a co-producer with Netflix on it.”

That double “have” seems to throw the events into the past twice, suggesting a time in the past when the BBC wished that it had been a co-producer at an even earlier time. It’s a very common way of speaking, and you can’t stigmatise it as wrong, but wouldn’t it be better to say either “we would have loved to be a co-producer” or “we would love to have been a co-producer”?

• “Good weather sparks flurry of migrant boats,” said a headline on a news page on Monday. Why “good” weather? For news reports to make a value judgement on the weather – as they so frequently do – is officious.

It is also uninformative. Surely that should be “calm” weather. That’s what people in small boats like, not “good” weather – whatever that may be.

Then comes one hell of a mixed metaphor. A flurry is a sudden gust or squall, a shower, a sudden agitation. How would you “spark” a flurry?

Comments