Mixing Pronouns Sentences the Reader to Confusion ; Richard Ingrams' Week Errors & Omissions
Keleny, Guy, The Independent (London, England)
Two more examples this week of the dismal confusion that follows when writers fail to decide who or what is signified by each pronoun and stick to it at least for the length of a sentence.
This is from a news story on Thursday: "Tourists were having their pictures taken next to the tanks in Bangkok yesterday, while crowds of Thais stood and stared at them as if they were some bizarre new art installation."
"Their pictures" establishes that they are the tourists, so the reader does a double-take on realising that "them" is meant to signify the tanks.
But that is nothing compared with this, from a news report on Tuesday: "Nayef Abu Snaima says his 14-year-old cousin Jihad had been sitting on the edge of an olive grove talking animatedly to him about what he would do when he grew up, when he was killed instantly by an Israeli shell. He says he clearly saw a bright flash..."
I defy anyone to read that for the first time and not go back to check that they have understood it properly. In the first sentence "his" and "him" refer to Nayef, but "he" is Jihad. Then the second sentence weighs in with two quick instances of "he" - and we are suddenly back with Nayef.
Recently a Liberal Democrat peeress wrote a letter to this newspaper and signed it not with her title but with her name, followed by "Member of the House of Lords". Plainly, the usage of peerage titles and other honours is in flux - no doubt because the hereditaries have been booted out of the Lords. So let us just record that this picture caption on Monday was wrong: "Sir Menzies Campbell and his wife, Lady Elspeth, at Brighton." That should have been "his wife, Elspeth". Her husband being a knight, she is Lady Campbell' but she is not Lady Elspeth. That would be the style for a daughter of a duke, marquess or earl, which she is not.
Hi anxiety: Wednesday's Big Question was on the NHS. The article included this: "The high-tech hospitals will provide care for those who are seriously ill." "High fid-el-i-ty/ Hi-fi's the thing for me," sang Michael Flanders and Donald Swann in one of their agreeable revue numbers circa 1959, satirising the first wave of vinyl-based obsession with the accurate reproduction of recorded sound. …