Mea Culpa: Keeping to the strait, narrow and singular path

Questions of style and usage in this week’s Independent

John Rentoul@JohnRentoul
Friday 12 July 2019 16:03
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Mark Knopfler, best known as the songster in hip Eighties pop combo Dire Strait
Mark Knopfler, best known as the songster in hip Eighties pop combo Dire Strait

We called it the Straits of Hormuz in a report of the escalating tension between Iran and the west in the Persian Gulf. This plural form is quite common in spoken English, and accounts for a quarter of the uses in print.

There is nothing wrong with “straits”. Strait means narrow, as in the tautologous “strait and narrow”, which is from the Bible (“strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it”), so “the straits” is the same as “the narrows”. Nevertheless, our style is the Strait of Hormuz.

It is the gap between Musandam peninsula, which is an exclave of Oman, and a group of islands off the Iranian city of Bandar Abbas, one of which is called Hormuz. It is 24 miles wide, compared with the Strait – or Straits – of Dover, which is 21 miles, and about one-fifth of the world’s oil passes through it.

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