Errors & Omissions: Whoever and whatever Arthur was, he wasn’t Scottish

Anachronism, journalese, relative clauses and inaccuracy from this week’s Independent

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The Independent Online

The northern mists that swirl around the legend of King Arthur seem to have confused the writer of this headline, which appeared on a news page on Thursday: “You’ve heard the legend, now the truth: Arthur was Scottish”.

This is all very tricky. The story does indeed concern Dr Andrew Beeze’s new theory that the historical Arthur lived not in England but in what is now Scotland. But that doesn’t make him Scottish. He lived four centuries before the foundation of the Kingdom of Scotland. Dr Breeze calls him “a Romanised Briton of the north, apparently operating out of Strathclyde”.

So it seems that Arthur was British – that is to say, descended from the “Ancient Britons” – or, as we might say, Welsh – one of the “Welsh of Strathclyde”, a people later subsumed into the Kingdom of Scotland. Arthur, I suppose, might well have regarded himself as a Roman. But whichever way you cut up the haggis, he wasn’t Scottish.

• Half way down a story published last Saturday, about a Big Brother contestant, came this: “The mother-of-one, who was born in Singapore to Vietnamese parents...”

Let’s not fall for the terrible journalese habit of defining women by the number of their children. Does anybody ever write about a “father-of-one”?

It may be claimed that there is some excuse when the number of children is remarkable. You might say that a mother-of-10 is a special kind of person – a latter-day Mother Hero of the Soviet Union. But a mother-of-one?

• Here is the opening paragraph of a news story published on Monday: “The former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has backed calls to restore the Crimean War memorial dubbed ‘Sheffield’s Nelson’s Column’ to the city centre, which has been languishing in storage for a decade.”

I am grateful to Leonora Collins for pointing that out. A relative clause needs to be next to the thing it refers to. Obviously, it is the column, not the city centre, that has been in storage for a decade, so that is what the sentence ought to say.

Also, has the column really been “languishing” – that is to say growing weak or falling in weak or falling into low spirits? No, it has just been in storage. If the writer had intended to achieve a poetic effect by attributing feelings to the column, that would be all right. But I think “languishing” just popped out on to the page without much thought.

• A news story about the death of Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, published on Tuesday, referred to “the legalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales in 1967”. It is probably more accurate to use the term “decriminalisation” in relation to the 1967 Act. That Act made an exception in favour of sex in private between two consenting men aged over 21. Any other male homosexual behaviour remained an offence.