Howlers: a selection

A disproportionate number of the horrors that follow come from our old friend the Grauniad, long famous for its misprints (hence the affectionate ‘Grauniad’) but until fairly recently not notorious for its errors of syntax and grammar.  But the Gnaurdia probably sins less often than most other comparable organs:  it is no doubt over-represented here because it’s the paper I read regularly, and in hard copy.  In many cases the authors named and shamed here can plead ‘not guilty’ and blame their copy editors or sub-editors.

Sticklers will argue the toss over one or two of these items — one such stickler, shown a preview of the first few, already has — but I maintain my view that every one of these quotations ought to make even moderately sensitive ears and eyes wince, if an ear or eye can be said to wince (mine do).  Here they are:

“Daniel C—- and Danielle M—— … had paid their last respects to a teenage friend who had died of a brain tumour before getting into the car which struck a lamppost then a wall in St Leonards…”   Audrey Gillan, Guardian, 31 Oct 05 

“Within seconds I was embracing Karrim, whom I thought was dead!”  
— Lt. Col. the Hon.Ian Chant-Sempill, MOD (Foreign Liaison section), Financial Times magazine, Oct 29/30 2005, p. 7.

 “But they knew whom they were, who they represented and what mattered most.”  Jackie Ashley, ‘Take the voters for granted and they will throw you out’, Guardian, 13 Feb 2006 [a wonderful double!] 

“…a pair of property developers, David and Simon Reuben, whom he argued were obstructing plans for the 2012 Olympics.”  Guardian editorial, 24 March 2006

“The lynchpin of the BBC’s autumn – a series of updated Shakespeares – starts on Monday.”  
— Mark Lawson, Guardian2, 2.11.05 [“linchpin, not ly- “ – Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors]

“The vision of a Europe where free trade and the exchange of services flows is looking increasingly like a utopian dream, as the European Parliament today watered-down plans to throw open competition in Europe’s vast service sector.”  BBC Newsnight daily e-mail, 16 February 2006.  [Pity about that hyphen in ‘watered-down’ used as a verb: the hyphen belongs only where the phrase is used adjectivally ("a watered-down version") which should not only look different from the verb, but is actually pronounced differently, too: so no excuses, please.]

Here are three recent examples of an increasingly common failure to distinguish between chalk and cheese in lists:

“This should do something to boost growth, consumer choice and improve worker mobility…”
Guardian first editorial, 17 February 2006

“The photography is strong, the headlines are well written, smart and tie in perfectly with the images.”  — Society for News Design, New York, citation of the Guardian as the world’s best designed newspaper, 22 Feb 2006.  

“This economic strength also enabled me to do more to help families, the older generation and to continue improving our public services.” –  Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Budget Day e-mail message to Labour Party members.  (Real author unknown.)

*   *   *   *

“[When David Cameron’s brand of Conservatism crosses the Channel or the Atlantic,] claws are sharpened, views toughened and centrist instincts discretely hidden away.”
Guardian second editorial, 17 February 2006.

“And they were enjoying their part in Rudman’s success, for without their efforts, she may well not have been at the games.”  Guardian, 17 February 2006, p.2.  (Well, was she at the games or wasn’t she?)

“Uttered 50 years ago tomorrow, this was Khrushchev’s secret speech: a coruscating indictment of Stalinism…”  Tom Parfitt in Moscow, Guardian, 24 February 2006
[Coruscate: To give forth intermittent or vibratory flashes of light; to shine with a quivering light; to sparkle, glitter, flash.  OED 2nd ed.
* condemn: express strong disapproval of; "We condemn the racism in South Africa"; "These ideas were reprobated"
* chafe: tear or wear off the skin or make sore by abrading; "This leash chafes the dog’s neck". — ]

Hewitt Announces Action To Turnaround NHS Finances
… Today’s report highlights that: …
    * as a result of this assessment, 18 organisations will get immediate turnaround support to help them tackle financial problems; and,
    * a further 23 organisations will also receive additional expertise to support financial turnaround.”  Department of Health Press Release, 25 January 2005
[Hat-tip: Thersites’s blog.  The press release here uses ‘turnaround’ as a verb, an adjective or adjectival noun, and a noun, within just a few lines. The OED Second Edition describes ‘turnaround’ as ‘mainly US’ and almost all its examples show it as hyphenated.  None is a verb.]

“In the final summary, King Kong is fine, but nothing more. Unless we are talking sheer volume; there it reins supreme.”  —  Review of King Kong, Jonny Lieberman, Ruthless Reviews

“As a life-long Labour voter it is sad (not to say distressing)…”  – Letter from the Isle of Bute, Sunday Times, 12 March 2006.

“Possibly people like you or I, possibly weird people…”  – Rod Liddle, Sunday Times, 12 March

“If the Labour party’s treasurer was unaware of the £10m loans, into who’s bank accounts were these sums paid?”
– Letter, Guardian, 18 March 2006

“Mr Blair has a majority of 69 in the Commons, but more than 35 leftwing rebels and disgruntled ex-ministers are prepared to vote against Labour legislation. They taunt him as Ramsey MacBlair – a reference to Ramsey MacDonald, the first Labour prime minister, who split the party in 1931 by forming a national government with the Tories.”  
                                    – Financial Times editorial, 18-19 March 2006

“Overall, Mr [Gordon] Brown summed up his thinking: ‘…instead of cutting investment, to hold firm and not waiver, on the principles that have given Britain stability.’ “  – Jonathan Freedland, Guardian, 23 March 06.

“Two weeks ago at least 52 drowned when two boats sunk after leaving Mauretania.”  – Giles Tremlett, Guardian, 23 March 06.

*   *   *   *

As resident of a glass house, I know the risks of throwing stones like these.  I’m fully prepared for the sound of smashed glass in comments.


3 Responses

  1. Peter Harvey says:

    A fine collection. What is really worrying is the number that show an inability to put words together in a logical sequence, which in turn shows an inability to put thoughts together logically. Words themselves have no independent existence; they are a medium, a mere expression of thought. They are, literally, hot air.

  2. Martin Kelly says:

    What shocked me was how few I realised were howlers.
    An ’80’s education at work.

    Brian replies:  An astonishing reaction from the writer of such a lucid and literate blog — and, if my amateur detective work has not played me false, a blogger with formidable academic and professional qualifications!  I suspect you are doing yourself less than justice, Martin.  And PS:  although you come from the political right (aka wrong), and I from the political left (aka loony), I heartily applaud your blog post of yesterday (23 March 06) about the hapless Mr Kember.  And to judge by his television interviews this evening, so does General Sir Michael Jackson.

    If any visitors to this blog post (‘Howlers’) genuinely can’t spot what makes any of the quotations a howler, do please identify which quotations have defeated you in a ‘comment’ — anonymous if preferred — here, or by message to me from this website’s Contact page.  It would be interesting to know which of them strike people as problematic.

  3. Tim Weakley says:

    Many thanks, Brian, for that fine collection.  I too am ashamed to say that I didn’t spot the errors in many examples on the first reading, though eventually the penny dropped.  The former P.M. was Ramsay Macdonald, not Ramsey, wasn’t he?  That was a tricky one. 

    May I try your patience by raising a pet peeve, which is not stimulated by anything that’s appeared in your blog?  I dare say I’m just a linear-thinking, literal-minded old scientist, but I get irritated by the choice of adjective in, for instance, ‘hot temperatures’.  Why?  Because if you describe something as hot, you are making a statement about its temperature.  What, then, are we to understand by the temperature of a temperature? ‘Hot weather’ or ‘high temperatures’ would be better. Similarly, ‘cheap prices’ should be ‘low prices’ or ‘cheap goods’, and ‘fast speeds’ should be ‘high speeds’ or ‘fast traffic’.  I have an idea that A.P.Herbert had something to say about this back in the Thirties, but I can’t put my finger on the text.  Anyway, the use of English is absolutely free and the armamentum of words is enormous, so why not pick the more precise or informative ones? 

    Brian agrees:  Yes, he was RamsAy Mac.   And I see your point about ‘hot temperature’, etc: virtually a tautology, like ‘stupid Tory’, or at best a confusion over what it is that’s described.  I think I would swallow ‘fast speeds’ without gagging, though, while agreeing that ‘high speeds’ is much to be preferred.

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