Errors & Omissions by Guy Keleny: There's bewilderment, and then there's obtuseness

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The Independent Online

Perhaps I am not so far out of touch with popular culture as I imagined. At least I seem to be able to understand the utterances of a chap called Usher better than the reporter who interviewed him.

Perhaps I am not so far out of touch with popular culture as I imagined. At least I seem to be able to understand the utterances of a chap called Usher better than the reporter who interviewed him.

Usher, as I discovered in last Saturday's Magazine, is a "certified R&B superstar" (certified presumably by the R&B superstar certification authority). As is traditional in the popular music trade, Usher has an extremely high opinion of himself and greatly enjoys the company of women. I definitely warmed to him. He also had the traditional modest family background. The article informed us: "He was brought up by his mother, but saw very little of his natural father. 'I did have a dad, if you get me, but not a, you know, a real father,' he says, bewilderingly."

What is bewildering about that? Usher is saying that as a child he was acquainted with his father but the old man failed to fulfil the proper paternal role. Or is there some source of bewilderment here that has passed me by?

Floral flavours: "Food & Drink Notes" appeared on page 35 of last Saturday's Magazine. Over the page on 36 was the gardening feature. Some strange osmosis must have been working through the paper, for among the ingredients for an apple cake, in a recipe given on the food page, there appears "225g self-raising flower".

Polished sound: During Monday's interview with Denis MacShane, the Minister for Europe, the arrival of a diplomat was heralded thus: "At this point there is the sound of polished shoes on marble flagstones and a knock at the door of the minister's grand office."

What, may I ask, is distinctive about the sound of polished shoes? I do not criticise this sentence. Although strictly nonsensical, it does paint a vivid picture; and in a strange way it is true - the sound was indeed made by a pair of shoes that turned out on inspection to have been polished. But you cannot help wondering in what way the sound of scuffed shoes would have been different.

Off target: Wednesday's front page report on the naming of the new Iraqi government perpetrated one of the most familiar howlers associated with military hardware. It reported that "a mortar landed inside the US headquarters". No, what landed inside the headquarters was a mortar shell, presumably fired from a mortar located outside the headquarters.

There are two nouns pronounced and spelt "mortar". One comes from Old English and means the stuff that goes between bricks. The other comes down from late Latin and the medieval French mortier. Though its origin is unknown it apparently carries the basic meaning of a block of metal with a cup-shaped hole in it. (Here the pseudo-omniscient columnist mutters his gratitude and lays aside the faithful Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.)

Such an object can be used for grinding ingredients with a pestle or, in the form of a short, stubby wide-calibre gun, for lobbing explosive shells into besieged fortresses. That is the military mortar of Napoleon's day, which has bequeathed its name to the highly effective modern infantry weapon - basically a light tube that projects ordnance in a high, arcing trajectory. I suppose phrases such as "hit by mortar fire" have given rise to the common misapprehension that the mortar is the projectile. It is, in fact, the tube.

Capital crime: When a national government decides to establish its capital somewhere other than the principal city of its country, it sets a trap for the careless. How often have we seen references to the "capital" cities of Istanbul and Rio. Murray Hedgcock of London SW14 writes in to point out that on Thursday an article about East Timor was introduced with the words "Sydney helped liberate its tiny neighbour but now claims ownership of vast oil riches beneath its sea". Sydney may be an exciting world city and Canberra reportedly one of the dullest places on earth, but the latter is still the Australian federal capital.

Naked ambition: Steve Richards's Tuesday column informed us that "John Prescott could hardly bare to raise his hand in support of Livingstone's re-entry to the Labour Party". No, I shouldn't think so. Not a pretty sight.

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