Mea Culpa: Last rites for a misspelt passport ceremony

John Rentoul with questions of style and usage in last week’s Independent

Saturday 29 August 2020 18:11
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Cricketer James Anderson enters uncharted, not unchartered, territory
Cricketer James Anderson enters uncharted, not unchartered, territory

The headline on an interesting article about the UK citizenship test described it as “closer to a bad pub quiz than a right of passage”. This nearly makes sense, but we meant a “rite of passage”, in which rite means a ceremony, coming from the same Latin root as ritual. In other words, a ceremony marking the passing from one state to another, such as from childhood to adulthood or from the citizenship of one nation to another.

It is an antique phrase, worn smooth from overuse, and so you can see how the spelling of an unfamiliar word might default to that of a familiar one, especially as a “right of passage” could easily be the reward for passing the test. But in that case the headline would have to say something like “closer to a bad pub quiz than a test conferring a right of passage”. Time to read the last rites for that misspelling.

Pronoun palaver: We wrote about Dido Harding, the boss of NHS Test and Trace, saying: “She has provided useful cover for the health secretary; it was her, rather than him, who announced the decision not to proceed with the much-trumpeted mobile phone app trialled on the Isle of Wight.”

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