Errors and Omissions: It took more than a scandal to bring down Macmillan

Our Letters editor and chief pedant reviews this week's paper

Share

The following is from an arts feature, published on Thursday, on the new musical about Stephen Ward, the osteopath at the centre of the 1963 Profumo scandal: “When Profumo lied about the affair, the politician was forced from office in a chain of events that eventually brought down Harold Macmillan’s government too.”

Macmillan’s government was not, in any strict sense, “brought down”, though some of his own Tory MPs plotted against him. He survived a vote in the Commons but resigned because of ill-health, to be succeeded by the hapless Alec Douglas-Home, who lost a general election the following year.

But it is true that there was a fin-de-siècle feel in 1963. Macmillan’s fuddy-duddy administration seemed ripe to be replaced, as it was, by Wilson’s “white heat of the technological revolution”, just as Swinging London got into its swing. There was at the time, and still is, a persistent feeling that Macmillan was indeed brought down – by inexorable Fate.

Hackneyed: Is “feisty” sexist? A Voices piece published on Tuesday observed that “for the past 30 years, Disney has been including feisty female protagonists in its movies” and that the latest of the breed, in the new film Frozen, is “as feisty as ever”.

“Feisty” is only ever used of women and girls, and it seems to carry a subtext of “brave and energetic in a way you wouldn’t have expected in a woman”.

Sexist or not, “feisty” is certainly hackneyed. A “feisty” woman is as dull and predictable as a “pious” Catholic, a “staunch” Protestant or a “brutal” murderer.

Unexplained: I was left in an agony of unsatisfied curiosity on Thursday by an education feature about the “grade point average” system used in the US to mark university degrees. We were informed that the top score was 4.25, with 3.75 equivalent to a low First Class degree, and so on. That was it. No explanation of why anyone would devise a scale with 4.25 at the top.

To leave the reader struggling with an unanswered question is normally a mortal sin, but in this case the writer may, perhaps, be forgiven. Turning to Wikipedia, I found an extensive article on university grading systems, packed with facts but, as is so often the case in the esoteric world of education theory and practice, opaque to the ordinary human brain.

A pedant's favourite: An arts piece last Saturday told how the rock band Midlake lost their singer-songwriter and survived. The introductory blurb said: “When the Texas folk-rockers lost their creative lynchpin, it was, they say, a relief.”

That should, of course, be “linchpin”. Getting this word right is one of the classic tests of true pedantry. It means the iron pin that holds a cartwheel on to the axle. I guess the “linch” may be the hub of the wheel, but the derivation is mysterious. The verb “lynch” is more straightforward. One Captain William Lynch pioneered what politely might be called informal judicial tribunals in 18th-century Virginia.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A picture posted by Lubitz to Facebook in February 2013  

Andreas Lubitz: Knee-jerk reaction to 9/11 enabled mass murder

Simon Calder
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, presides at the reinterment of Richard III yesterday  

Richard III: We Leicester folk have one question: how much did it all cost?

Sean O’Grady
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss