Mea Culpa: Uma Thurman and the out-of-order death box

Problems with word order and tectonic metaphors in this week’s Independent

John Rentoul
Friday 09 February 2018 13:46
Uma Thurman alleged that director Quentin Tarantino made her drive an unsafe rather than use a stunt double in ‘Kill Bill: Volume 1’
Uma Thurman alleged that director Quentin Tarantino made her drive an unsafe rather than use a stunt double in ‘Kill Bill: Volume 1’

In a story about Uma Thurman being filmed in a dangerous car for the film Kill Bill: Volume 1, we said: “Thurman posted footage of herself driving the car onto Instagram – which she previously described as a ‘death-box’ – adding a new statement about the incident.”

As Paul Edwards wrote to say, the word order was confusing. Thurman did not drive the car on to Instagram, or say that Instagram was a death box (no need for a hyphen). So we should have said “Thurman posted footage on Instagram...” (and “on” rather than “onto” – our style would be “on to” as two words in any case).

Ancient and modern: We got into more trouble with word order in an article about the reconstruction of the first modern Briton. “‘Generally people would be very surprised to see what Cheddar Man – an individual from 10,000 years ago – looked like,’ Dr Selina Brace, an ancient DNA researcher who contributed to the work at the Natural History Museum, told The Independent.”

Thanks to Henry Peacock for pointing out the ambiguity about Dr Brace’s age. It would have been better to refer to her as a “researcher of ancient DNA”, or an “ancient-DNA researcher”. It was obvious what we meant, but we shouldn’t make the reader pause to think about it.

Epiphenomenon: In an article about air quality we said: “London is the epicentre of Britain’s pollution crisis.” As Richard Hanson-James wrote to point out, this is a “writerly flourish”. There is no need for the “epi-” as a longer way of saying “centre”.

Strictly, the epicentre is the point on the Earth’s surface directly above the focus of an earthquake. I suppose it is too late to stop its spread as a figurative way of saying “centre” or “point of origin”, but we ought to avoid it in articles about science.

Out of the ordinary: We used the phrase “ordinary people” a few times this week. It always puts my teeth on edge when politicians use it, with its implied condescension. It is hard to know what else Andreas Whittam Smith could have used when he described two different groups in the London housing market. On the one hand, “the ambitious, the gifted and the young” attracted from around the world; on the other, “ordinary people doing ordinary jobs, living close to their work”.

I hesitate to criticise my hero, the founder of The Independent, but perhaps he could have said something like “long-term residents doing low-paid jobs”.

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