Mea Culpa: ‘Mr Trader who is opposed to slaves, I presume?’

John Rentoul minds our language in last week’s Independent

Saturday 13 November 2021 21:30
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<p>Nothing personal: an artist’s impression of Henry Stanley meeting David Livingstone near Lake Tanganyika</p>

Nothing personal: an artist’s impression of Henry Stanley meeting David Livingstone near Lake Tanganyika

In an article marking the 150th anniversary of the day Henry Stanley claimed to have greeted a stranger in what is now Tanzania with the words, “Dr Livingstone, I presume?”, we described David Livingstone as a “missionary, explorer and anti-slave trader”.

As Philip Nalpanis said when he wrote to me about it, we know what “anti-slave trader” means, but the hyphenation is a bit strange. Read literally, it would suggest that Livingstone was a trader who wanted to eliminate slaves, on the pattern of “anti-aircraft gun”. He wasn’t a trader, but he did want to get rid of slaves, by getting rid of slavery; we meant that he was an opponent of the slave trade. Perhaps we should have just said that: “Missionary, explorer and campaigner against the slave trade.”

Slowing down in chains: Some terrible uses of “amid” last week, although only once in a headline: “Economic growth slows amid supply chain crisis” – that should have been “because of”. And “supply chain crisis” is a bit of journalistic verbiage as well; I think “labour shortages” is more precise.

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