Mea culpa: the widespread spread of ‘widespread’ has spread too far

Questions of style and usage in last week’s Independent

John Rentoul@JohnRentoul
Saturday 23 November 2019 17:28
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Why use a dull word like ‘utilities’ in descriptions of Corbyn’s nationalisation plans?
Why use a dull word like ‘utilities’ in descriptions of Corbyn’s nationalisation plans?

The use of the word “widespread” was widespread in The Independent last week, and needlessly so. In our report on the person on the BBC who refused to accept that his £80,000 salary put him in the top 5 per cent, we said: “Question Time audience member prompts widespread bewilderment.”

The spreading of the bewilderment was one of the fascinations of watching the programme, as you could see and hear the ripple of surprise through the audience around the indignant man, until it reached Fiona Bruce, the presenter, who tried to clarify that he did actually think what we thought he thought.

But the word didn’t add anything to the headline. The extent of the bewilderment was sufficient for us to be writing a news story about it. So “Question Time audience member prompts bewilderment” would have been sufficient.

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