Mea Culpa: EU trade talks and the theory of relativity

John Rentoul on questions of style and usage in The Independent

Thursday 31 December 2020 21:00
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<p>Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen, about to discover that significant differences remain, and to announce that they intend to keep talking</p>

Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen, about to discover that significant differences remain, and to announce that they intend to keep talking

At one point in the interminable reports of the two sides still being far apart but agreeing to continue their negotiations on the EU-UK trade treaty, we said: “The talks come as the European parliament’s Sunday evening deadline for any deal to be ratified before the transition period ends quickly approaches.” 

I understand the temptations of journalistic dramatic licence, but unless those involved were approaching the speed of light, time was probably passing at the same stately pace as usual.  

Muscle bound: In the sports pages recently we referred to “a badly damaged left bicep”. This is a back-formation from biceps, which is the Latin singular. I think it is perfectly acceptable English, as “biceps” might be confusing. Guy Keleny, my predecessor as custodian of Mea Culpa, once explained that the Latin plural is bicipites. It would be fun to see that in a sports report, but I don’t think it is necessary.  

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