Pilot Error

Words
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The Independent Online
The Indian government, investigating the terrible accident near New Delhi, is trying to find out "whether there was pilot error or whether air traffic controllers were to blame", in the words of the Times report. Funny old language, ours. Why does error stick like a magnet to certain things and people but not to others? Pilots, drivers and computers attract it but not doctors, journalists or politicians, though all are equally fallible. Did you ever hear Madam Speaker refer to a Member error? Does the British Medical Council admit to a doctor error? It finds other ways of saying that a doctor has killed a patient. But one seldom reads about a mistake on the flight deck. It's pilot error. Not even a pilot error. Why didn't the Times put "whether the pilot or the air traffic controller was to blame"?

I'm not objecting to noun-twinning in general (there's no better way of saying bus stop, or health service. There is something graceless, though, about pilot error and driver error. There are others that I find irrationally irritating, and again it's odd that only certain people are involved. They include customers, visitors, passengers, readers, patients and teachers. Thus the railways provide Customer Information, newspapers make Reader Offers and stately homes direct us to the Visitor Car Park. There is also the ambiguous Patient Care. But it's teachers that have the most such combinations. We have teacher education, teacher performance and teacher assessment, which means of teachers rather than by them. We do not, on the other hand, have lawyer education or actor assessment and we have offers to shareholders, not shareholder offers.

I shall be told that it's all a matter of accepted idioms and I admit to being illogical. All the same, I'd prefer Information for Customers and Offers to Readers and Visitors' Car Park. Wouldn't you?

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