The Times, March 12, 2022

This is a good example of the misuse of a comma which has changed the meaning of the sentence and made it incorrect. The first World Cup was in 1930 but the comma makes it look as if it was in 1970.

This is part of my Style Matters entry:

If you are describing one individual, you would need commas in a sentence such as ‘The Queen, who visited Canterbury yesterday, was greeted by . . .’ [That would be the right format if you were talking about the first World Cup in 1930, ie one event.] However if you are describing one of several individuals, you should not use commas, eg ‘the sub-editor who changed that copy is a genius’. [This is the format you want in this example, where you are picking out one event from several.]


Also from Style Matters: Commas are occasionally needed to make a meaning clear, as in ‘I would like to thank my parents, the Queen, and Prince Philip’. If you miss out a comma, you get ‘I would like to thank my parents, the Queen and Prince Philip’, which is not quite the same thing. Another example given when an American academic suggested that the comma was redundant was ‘Mrs Smith gets pleasure from eating her family and pets.’



i newspaper, February 28, 2022

‘Lake’ is redundant because that is what ‘mere’ means. You just say ‘Windermere’. Other bodies of water in the Lake District are called ‘waters’ eg Coniston Water. The only lake in the Lake District is Bassenthwaite Lake.



i newspaper, February 17, 2022 (27 words)

1. ‘gets’ is a horrible word for which there is always an alternative;
2. the moon does not have a cap: it is not a name, just a noun;
3. ‘keep track of’ is clumsy;
4. ‘writes’ and ‘writer’ within five words shows that zero thought has gone into this. It is amateurish.

I would suggest:

As an old rocket booster heads for
a crash on the moon next month,
i’s new science writer Tom Chivers
looks at the problem of space debris

This has the advantage of containing ‘i’s new science writer Tom Chivers‘ on one line instead of splitting it over two, which is desirable. If this means the byline picture has to go elsewhere, so be it – the words and the ease of reading must take precedence over the design.




i newspaper, February 17, 2022

Frankly no caption at all would be better than this pathetic effort, from the team that brought you #546. You have got to do better than putting what the reader can see, and it is not necessary in my opinion to point out that coffee beans grow on a coffee plant.

I don’t think you need to say it is Ethopia, but I suppose you can if you want. This would be my suggestion based on the copy:

Coffee harvest [in Ethiopia, if you wish]: Starbucks are switching from Fairtrade to another certification scheme which the firm says is equally rigorous (I estimate this will fit and not leave an acre of white space.)




The Times, February 14, 2022

What a bonanza!

First, the original error in referring to a koala ‘bear’. This was one of the first things I learned as a sub, but presumably there are several ‘journalists’ at the Times who think it is correct.

Second, the letter writer says: ‘It is not a bear but a marsupial’. He has not got equal tiers in the natural tree. Both bears and koalas are mammals, a class which is divided into three  sub-divisions. Two of these are placentalia, which include bears, and marsupialia, which include koalas. So the writer should have said: ‘It is not a placental mammal but a marsupial’. I am sure some readers will think this is hairsplitting, but it isn’t. If you are going to show off about your knowledge you need to get it right. This is the first reason I would not have used this letter.

The second reason is that the writer has mis-spelled ‘wondrous’ as ‘wonderous’. If I had been editing the letters I might have corrected the spelling to save the writer’s blushes, but more likely would have spiked it.

So, to the heading. I can tell you exactly what went through the sub’s mind: ‘Bear, bear, what can I think of to do with bears? Bearing up? Bear-faced? No, I think that is a different spelling, though I’m not sure. Can’t be bothered to look it up though. Bear with me? Hmm . . . Bear necessities! Yes! Nothing to do with the letter but it will do fine!’

My suggested heading:

Koala bears? Strewth!







The Times, December 31, 2021

Two pieces of ignorance in one article.

Writing ‘lay’ instead of ‘lie’ is unforgivable. A sub-editor who cannot conjugate the verb ‘to lie’ (in the sense of being horizontal rather than telling an untruth) is taking money under false pretences. I don’t think you need to couple it with ‘down’ either.

It was not a ‘cross-country’ train but a CrossCountry one. You would really think that a Times sub-editor would recognise the names of the rail companies.



The Times, December 31, 2021

You don’t need to put ‘Britain’s’ unless there is any danger that the reader might otherwise assume you are talking about Belgium or Vietnam. ‘The’ is perfectly adequate.


i newspaper, December 28, 2021

(17 words)

Granted, this is a shockingly dull choice of picture, but you have to do better with a caption than writing exactly what the reader can see.

How about:

The desolate scene outside Selfridges in London’s Oxford Street yesterday as shoppers stayed away in droves (16 words)