Errors & Omissions

No policies, no forum, and no name we can agree on

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Mystery surrounds the so-called think-tank that apparently acted as a conduit for some of Peter Hain's campaign funds. Not only does nobody know what it does in the way of thinking, we apparently do not even know what it is called.

A panel attached to last Saturday's news story referred to "a hitherto unknown think-tank, the Progressive Policies Forum". By Monday, Andreas Whittam Smith's column was talking about the Progressive Policy Forum, but a sub-heading on his piece had it as "the Progressive Party Forum".

Normally one would expect people to get their act together and find out the proper version of the name. However, just as the Holy Roman Empire was said to be neither holy nor Roman nor an empire, so this body seems to be neither progressive nor a forum nor in possession of any policies, so it probably doesn't matter what you call it.

Like for like: Editors spend a fair amount of time changing "like" to "such as". A writer will burble something like, "The studio employed great screen stars like Dietrich and Garbo". That means that the studio employed stars similar to Dietrich and Garbo, but not Dietrich and Garbo themselves. The writer wanted to say that the studio employed Dietrich, Garbo and others like them: so "like" needs to be changed to "such as". It happens a lot.

But the "such as" reflex appears to have betrayed someone who edited Thomas Sutcliffe's TV review on Monday. It dealt with a report from inside San Quentin prison. Of one particularly violent prisoner it said: "David talked to people such as Prince Charles with his hands behind his back, because he'd got so used to them being handcuffed into that position." Originally, Sutcliffe must have written something like this: "David talked to people like Prince Charles – with his hands behind his back, because he'd got so used to them being handcuffed into that position." In other words, he put his hands behind his back like Prince Charles. The robotic amendment of "like" to "such as" paints the absurd picture of the prisoner enjoying regular teatime chats with royalty.

Stop breathing: This is from Pandora on Wednesday, reporting on a promise by Elizabeth Hurley to donate some kneelers to the church where she was married: " 'We have not received any,' says the church treasurer. 'We wait with baited breath.' "

That should be "bated". Here we have two words that sound the same, but have different meanings and spellings, and – this is the killer – one is in common usage, but the other is a fossilised relic, used only in certain conventional phases and easily forgotten. The common word is "bait" – I don't have to explain what it means. The fossil is "bate", which is related to "abate" and means to blunt or lessen in force. That is what is happening to the breath.

Mixed metaphor of the week: "When the celebrated violinist Tasmin Little went busking in London last spring she little thought that it would spark a groundbreaking initiative," said an arts feature on Wednesday.

"Spark" should be banned. It is one of the most drearily familiar journalese words, so it is not surprising that the writer here forgot its origin. The image is of a spark falling on some combustible material and starting a fire or an explosion.

"Groundbreaking" comes from old-fashioned military engineering. The siege of a fortress was a matter of digging trenches. Digging the first trench, the besieging army was said to have "broken ground". Unsurprisingly, the act was performed with a spade: no fire, explosives or sparks involved.

Misfire: There was another mysterious outbreak of fire in James Lawton's football article on Thursday. He wrote of Newcastle: "They fire their wobbly old cupid's arrow at Kevin Keegan." Talk of arrows being "fired" from bows is so common that I hesitate to stigmatise it as wrong, but it is absurd. To "fire", in this sense, means to propel by fiery explosion, as from a gun. Bows do not use explosives, and archers always speak of "shooting" arrows, never "firing" them.

Stuck: "Shocking journey through the cul-de-sac of a marriage", was the headline on a theatre review on Wednesday. The reference to a cul-de-sac comes from the review, but "through" was supplied by the writer of the headline. It reduces the image to nonsense: the whole point of a cul-de-sac is that you cannot go through it.

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