Mea Culpa: a sparkling scolding amid continuing grumbles

A review of style and use of English in last week’s Independent

<p>All that glitters is not scold – when a better word is available, that is</p>

All that glitters is not scold – when a better word is available, that is

With your regular columnist taking a break this week, I’ve stepped out from the safety of the production desk to bring you a sub’s-eye view of questionable uses of language and style across our pages.

Yesterday was World Environment Day, and the headline of a piece in the Daily Edition declared that there may still be hope for our ravaged ecosystems. I have very little hope, however, that our readers made it to the end of one uncommonly long sentence with a better understanding of the matters it raised. Over the course of 130 words laden with jargon, and culminating in a spectacular mixed metaphor, we find that “a confluence of seemingly unconnected but in fact synergistic developments” has “raised the stakes and led fence-sitting nations to step up to the plate in the home stretch” leading to the COP26 conference. Mixed-metaphor watching is a favourite pastime of sub-editors and a quadruple mash-up really is one for the books.

The fact that it was written by a distinguished scholar does not mean we shouldn’t have been bold during the editing process. If we had applied the Orwellian principles of never using long words when shorter ones will do, avoiding metaphors we’re used to seeing in print and asking ourselves, “Can we make this shorter?”, the end result would have been clearer, more concise and as a result harder-hitting.

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