Errors & Omissions: Labour adds to the collection of notoriously bad slogans

By Guy Keleny
Saturday 27 February 2010 01:00

The Labour Party has adopted what may be the worst slogan since the notorious "You're never alone with a Strand", the 1959 copy line that killed the brand of cigarettes it was supposed to promote.

The slogan is "A Future Fair for All". Correspondents to this newspaper's Letters page have had fun imagining what kind of fairground rides one might expect to find at the "future fair". The slogan is difficult to say aloud, which is not good for a slogan. It recalls "free for all", which is not what the Labour Party is supposed to stand for. It is also a surprise to find that a party in power for 13 years can do nothing but point to the future. Finally – and this is where the slogan attracts the attention of the Errors and Omissions pedantry police – "fair for all" is a pleonasm. No system can be fair for some people and not for others. If it is not fair for all, it is not fair at all. "Fair" implies "for all". So logic indicates that you should cut out "for all". But then the slogan is even more cruelly exposed as a platitude.

In denial: A leading article last Saturday criticised Tiger Woods's public apology for his adulteries. The article ended with what was meant to be a concession: "But who could honestly deny that it doesn't make for compelling viewing?" Bob Lowrie has written in to point out that there are too many negatives here. It should read either "But who could honestly say that it doesn't make for compelling viewing?" or "But who could honestly deny that it makes for compelling viewing?"

We have from time to time pointed out similar errors. The verb "deny" seems to be a pitfall for quite a few writers, exposing them to the danger of saying the opposite of what they mean – which is certainly not the thing to do in the last sentence of a leading article.

Who she? Under the heading "Opera hails new sex-change star", a news report last Saturday told the story of Emily (formerly Stefano) de Salvo and her struggle – now successful – to be admitted to a conservatoire, despite an unusual vocal range.

An email comes in from Graham Pointon, who admits to being stricken with incomprehension when he reached the second-last paragraph of the story. Well he might be, as a sentence suddenly begins: "Married with two teenage children, Ricci, who had been a musician and choirmaster at the cathedral for 18 years, was rejected shortly after revealing her plans for a sex-change operation."

What cathedral, and who is this Ricci? Internet research reveals that Luana Ricci is another transgender musician, who had helped Ms de Salvo. Ricci was indeed sacked by Bari Cathedral. Evidently somebody, cutting this story to fit the space, removed the first reference to Ricci but left in a later one. Disaster.

Watch out: "That Argentina was showered with solidarity from its neighbours was hardly a surprise," wrote David Usborne on Thursday, commenting on the row over the Falklands. An unfortunate metaphor; presumably this is what happens when the solidarity hits the fan.

Old English: "Divorce lawyers jostled last night to conject that the Coles could easily 'divorce with dignity', should she apply on the grounds of his unreasonable behaviour and they settle out of court." So said a news story on Wednesday.

Conject? This verb, obviously meaning to make a conjecture, was a new one on me. It turns out to be an old one. The Shorter Oxford dates it from the 18th century in that meaning – and two centuries earlier with the meaning of "plot" (which also sounds like the sort of thing divorce lawyers might get up to). The dictionary marks it as "obsolete". Nothing wrong with that, say I – and congratulations to our reporters for reviving it.

Cliché of the week: "A nine-year-old died and his 18-year-old sister was injured in a frenzied knife attack." That was the opening sentence of a news story last Saturday.

I don't know whether this stuff about frenzied knife attacks is made up by reporters, or solemnly put out by police press officers. ("Oh, yes, I'd definitely say this one was a frenzied attack.") All I know is that it has been worn smooth by familiarity. And did it ever really mean anything? What would a calm knife attack be like?

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