Mea Culpa: A vast chasm opens up in the British transport network

Questions of style and usage in last week’s Independent

John Rentoul@JohnRentoul
Saturday 17 August 2019 11:13
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Scenes from Liverpool Street station show commuters bearing up under the (less than) chaotic disruption
Scenes from Liverpool Street station show commuters bearing up under the (less than) chaotic disruption

Thanks to James Shepherd for minding the shop in my absence. He wrote to the letters page last week to reprove us gently for an outbreak of “travel chaos”. Some of this vast chasm (a word from the same Greek root) in our transport networks was still gaping last weekend, when we carried the headline: “Storms leave passengers stranded amid travel chaos.”

Bonus points are awarded for the use of the journalese “amid”, and the effect of the whole is to conjure a vision of dust-covered refugees sitting on their luggage on the remains of a station platform, surrounded by ruined buildings, upturned vehicles and fallen power cables.

The day before we had the headline: “Almost a million without electricity as National Grid failure causes travel chaos.” Again, I understand that a lot of people were inconvenienced when their trains stopped, but the overuse of the word “chaos”, especially in its familiar form, “travel chaos”, has the paradoxical effect of diminishing the severity of the disruption.

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