When the disappearance of Sir Peter Lampl, the philanthropist and educationalist, was reported on Tuesday, on one thing everyone agreed. Detective Inspector Grahame Horwood said it was “entirely out of character”. Tim Devlin, a press officer at the Sutton Trust, the education charity of which Sir Peter is chairman, said it was “completely out of character”. It turned out that this was an extract from a longer statement, which followed in the next paragraph of our news story, including: “This is completely out of character.” The next day, a sense of proportion had returned, and we managed to report the discovery of Sir Peter on a bench at Victoria station using the “out of character” phrase only once. The least attentive reader would have got the point. The rest of us were left wondering how often in such cases police officers and colleagues say of the missing person: “We’re not worried. He does this all the time.”
Play-acting: Meaningless headline of the week was the lead in the Business section on Monday: “CBI says ministers must act urgently to end crisis.” If it had a meaning at all it was that the employers’ body believed that, as long as ministers do something – or even take part in a play – with the necessary sense of time pressure, the crisis will be ended. On reading the words under the headline, it turned out that the CBI meant something else. Namely, what it usually means: that the taxpayer should subsidise its members, in this case by getting the publicly owned banks to give (I mean lend) its members some money.
Blow up: Inflation, deflation, it is all getting a bit of a brain scrambler on the financial pages. On Wednesday, Jeremy Warner’s Outlook column was headlined: “In attacking inflation are we not just stoking inflation?” The first inflation should have been deflation, the point being that printing money to avert one kind of “flation” might cause the other. By the end of the article, Warner was presumably so keen to avoid any “flation” words that he wrote that there was “every prospect of prices shortly turning negative”. Negative prices would mean that Coca-Cola would pay us to drink its sweetened fizz. Negative inflation, on the other hand, means that prices are falling.
Guesswork: It is not this column’s place to criticise colleagues for overselling their wares, and the Independent Life cover story on Wednesday about Guantanamo Bay was a terrific read. But it was introduced with the line: “The world can only guess at the horrors of Camp X-Ray.” Well, apart from those of us that have read detailed accounts of the mistreatment of detainees over the years. “But now,” the introduction went on, “Brandon Neely, a former guard, wants to tell the shocking story.” Even allowing for hyperbole, it turns out that the world does not have to guess after all. That introduction should have read something like: “Until now, the world could only guess...”
Tall story: My fortnightly commute to work was once by light plane to Bergen and helicopter to an oil rig, so I read with unusual attention Thursday’s report of the rescue of the 18 crew from a helicopter that ditched in the sea just short of the rig to which it was flying. Everyone survived, so it was good news all round, and retrospective justification for getting into those survival suits every trip. Except for one detail: “The cloud base was below the platform’s heli-deck at about 500 metres.” You do not have to have worked on an oil rig to know that they are not that big. The tallest building in Britain, One Canada Square, known as the Canary Wharf tower, is 235 metres tall.
Halfling: One of the gems imparted by Guy Keleny, the usual occupant of this space, that I treasure most is that J R R Tolkien invented the plural dwarves, which had previously been dwarfs. But I do not think that the verb “to half” child poverty, in Deborah Orr’s column on Thursday, is going to catch on.
Polysyllabism: Also on Thursday, our “10 best” feature was on food processors. Nobody calls them that, do they? I know that mixer does not really describe them either, but at least it is a word that people use. As for the Magimix, which has a bowl made of “a polycarbonate material used for aeroplane windows”, that would be more commonly known as strong plastic.
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