Mea Culpa: on the basis of everyday ambiguity

‘On a daily basis’ and other slip-ups of style in this week’s Independent

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It is not my place to criticise the writing style of the leader of the Labour Party. Indeed, my reluctance to criticise him at all is well known. But there was a weakness in his Easter message, which we reported last weekend (how long ago that innocent, pre-election age seems!), that was instructive. “I meet Christians, and others of all faiths and none, on a daily basis, who share and live those ideals: people who give their time for others, to run food banks, protect the vulnerable, look after the sick, the elderly and our young people.”

That “on a daily basis” phrase is always suspect. Just “daily” or “every day” will do. But here it is it also ambiguous. What he said was that he meets Christians every day, but what he meant was that they share and live those ideals every day. 

That said, though, it was a pretty good message. A bit more like that and a bit less of the implication that people who might have considered voting Conservative in the past are morally repugnant and he might do all right in the election campaign.

Climate change: Our review of the Broadchurch finale praised it for its shocking denouement, even though “big reveals that have over seven hours of build-up are always going to be anti-climatic in some way”. It is an easy mistake to make. We corrected it to “anti-climactic”, as we were referring to an anti-climax, not to hating the Dorset sunshine. Thanks to John Schluter for pointing it out. 

Any more for ever: An update on my Campaign for Separate Words. We had “forever” as one word twice last week and “for ever” twice. (Not counting the adverbial “Labour MPs forever sniping at Corbyn”, which has to be a single word.) That is progress since my last report, and, on the other front, we had “any more” as separate words 12 times and as a single word, “anymore”, 10 times. These included one article about Theresa May’s dash to the polls, which got the Fixed-term Parliaments Act right (hyphen, lower-case, plural), so I forgive it for saying that under the Act “prime ministers are not meant to be able to do this anymore”. 

Famously iconic: Not so much progress to report on an older campaign waged by my predecessor Guy Keleny against the word “iconic”, usually a lazy way of saying famous, which is, in turn, often redundant: if the reader has heard of it, we do not need to say something is well known; if not, saying something is famous or iconic is merely to imply the reader is ignorant.

Last week we had six iconics, four icons (none of them a devotional painting of a holy person) and one iconically. This last was in our description of Withnail and I as “possibly the world’s most iconically cool film”. Excuse us while we uncool people who haven’t seen it click to read something else.