In Some Cases, Newspapers Should Be the Last with the News

By Keleny, Guy | The Independent (London, England), January 9, 2010 | Go to article overview
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In Some Cases, Newspapers Should Be the Last with the News


Keleny, Guy, The Independent (London, England)


Errors & Omissions

"The next person who comes in here and tells me that language is a living thing gets the sack." That was the snarling reaction of the great Frank Peters, night editor of The Northern Echo in the 1970s, to air-headed reporters who tried to argue with his insistence on orthodox grammar and vocabulary.

Peters, who taught me most of what I know about the sub-editor's craft, did concede that, yes, language did change, and not all change was for the worse. But he maintained that newspapers should be the last, not the first, to adopt a new usage. That seems a good principle. Let an innovation prove that it will last before we give it our imprimatur.

So, how do we like this, from a leading article published on Thursday? "Few are enamoured with Mr Brown in the country." Surely that should be "enamoured of"; or are we ready for "enamoured with"? I can't say I am, but conventions of this sort can easily shift. In recent years, for instance, "forbid to" seems to have been replaced by "forbid from". Does that make the language better or worse? Neither, that I can see. It's just one of those things.

Seeing things: "Heavy snowfall sees Met Office put Britain on high alert." As always severe weather brings on a spate of cliches and absurd headlines. This ripe example introduced our coverage of the White Hell of Freeze-Up Britain on Wednesday.

The use of "see" in the abstract sense of "witness" or "experience" is fine when you are talking about historical periods: "The 1930s saw an inexorable spread of fascism." But the idea of a fall of snow seeing something is just silly.

The visionary theme continued a few pages on, with this headline: "Ballot for tickets to see Blair at inquiry." But people who want to attend the Chilcot inquiry are not as keen to see Blair as to hear him. He will not be presenting his evidence by means of semaphore flags.

Sound and fury: This is from a feature article on Monday about exercise. "According to Mintel the average gym membership in 2009 cost 442. That's about 37 per month, with some chains charging significantly more than that.

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