Mea Culpa: Ariosto made this metaphor, and then broke the mould

An exhibit from the museum of metaphoric curiosities and other quirks of usage in this week’s Independent

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This is a mistake that has lasted so long that it has ceased to be one. We wrote this week about Labour’s troubles and said: “Some do not rule out an SDP-style breakaway after the next election, even though the ‘Gang of Four’ who left Labour in 1981 failed – just – to break the political mould.” 

The “break the mould” phrase was first used by David Steel, leader of the Liberal Party, in January 1981, and it was repeated by Bill Rodgers, a Labour MP and one of the Gang of Four, the following week. It was the wrong metaphor then, but it became common currency of the period. It was originally a way of describing something that was uniquely beautiful, from the 16th-century poem, “The Frenzy of Orlando” by Ludovico Ariosto: “Nature made him, and then broke the mould.” 

Nowadays it is almost shorthand for a realignment of British politics such as that attempted by the SDP, usually with the implication that it will be unsuccessful, but the original meaning was, I think, more interesting. 

Recoil from recusal: I admit I tabbed straight to the Oxford Dictionary when John Schluter emailed to wonder about this headline in the Daily Edition: “Trump declares 'total confidence' in Sessions despite Attorney General's recusal from Russia probe.” It turns out that “recusal” is a word (“North American”). We had more space in the online version of the story, so that read: “Donald Trump voices 'total confidence' in Attorney General as Jeff Sessions recuses himself from Russia probe.” Even so, I think using the technical American legal term is confusing, and it would have been better to say “... as Attorney General steps aside from Russia probe”, which I think would have fitted. 

The confusion was amply demonstrated in the first paragraph of the story, in which we wrote, before it was corrected online, “the lawyer rescued himself from an ongoing investigation...” Also, calling Sessions “the lawyer” at second mention was clumsy, and we never need “ongoing”. It now reads: “... Mr Sessions recused himself from an investigation ...”

Former patriots: We mentioned “ex-pats’ rights” in some of our coverage of the debate over the EU (Notice of Withdrawal) Bill. The word should be “expat”, without the hyphen. It is short for “expatriate”, meaning someone who lives outside the country of their nationality. If we spell it with a hyphen it looks as if we mean someone who used to live in Britain but who doesn’t any more, which is often the same thing but isn’t what we mean. The “ex” means “outside”, not “former”. 

Never more: I am going to expand my campaign to have “forever” as two words to “anymore”. My campaign for “for ever” is complicated by the need for a single word when it is an adverb (“forever trying to make sense of…”), but there is never a reason to put “any” and “more” together, which we did 11 times last week. The Oxford Dictionary snootily describes this usage as “North American”, but I just think it is unnecessary.

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