The Times, February 11, 2020

This is a gopher:

It is a rodent from America.

The word wanted here is ‘gofer’, derived from ‘go for’, meaning a person you can tell to go for something. In other words a dogsbody or assistant.


i newspaper, February 10, 2020

Cancellation means scrapping an event entirely. The only event in this story which was cancelled was the London Winter Run.  All the football and rugby matches were postponed, in other words they will be rescheduled. The horse races were cancelled, but the parlance for this is ‘abandoned’. You could use ‘called off’ for a postponement providing you make it clear that it will go ahead at a later date.


The Times, February 8, 2020

I see this error so often that it will soon be classified by dictionaries as correct. Maybe it already is. Let’s not bother with definitions, let’s just stick any old nonsense down. Let’s not use our wonderfully rich and varied language, let’s reduce it to a couple of thousand words for all occasions.

‘Begging the question’ is a very specific usage. Also known as a circular argument, it involves making a firm conclusion on the basis of an arguable proposition. For example: ‘Why did God make parasitic worms?’ This begs (or avoids) the question of whether God exists. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred the writer actually means to say ‘this raises/leads to the question . . .’ In this case the writer might have said: ‘ . . . making me wonder if they know something we don’t.’


i newspaper, February 6, 2020

If I were a chief sub, and this had been sent to me, I would have been pretty cross. Without giving the new membership rates, the increases mentioned are meaningless. I suppose given that the prices are going up by 6 per cent and this will mean an extra £7.80 a year on a joint membership, a reader could do some mental arithmetic or get out the  calculator. It is true that the National Trust press release and its website carefully conceals the new rates, but let me introduce a concept which is clearly unknown to many reporters and subs these days – asking a question. Surprising as it may seem, not every story arrives fully formed with every detail in the right place, especially if it is bearing bad tidings such as a price increase. It did not take me long to contact the NT and find out that the new joint membership rate from March 1 is £127.80 a year.


The Times, January 23, 2020

I recommend using the spellcheck before sending a piece because it will pick up typographical errors (which we used to call literals, but now seem to be called typos). However the spellcheck is not a brain and cannot pick up stupid errors like this. I am assuming this is an oversight and that the Times sub does not really think this is how you write ‘bare their teeth’. However it demonstrates that you still have to read every word if you want to avoid looking like an idiot.


Sunday Times, January 19, 2020

Only mid-January and already a cracking entry for the worst intro of the year. Precisely where may one find the controversy rankings of the world’s coal? It must be a fascinating list.

In any case the ‘It/and’ format is beyond tired. Just tell it straight by chopping off the first sentence. You can lose ‘new’ – the idea is incorporated in ‘revealed’.

Furthermore, I don’t think anyone claiming to be an impartial reporter (as news reporters should be, conveying facts, not opinions) should write that ‘coal is a key factor in climate change, which has exacerbated [Australia’s] drought and bushfires’. Whatever your personal beliefs, you need to qualify any contentious statement, even if only by saying ‘coal is said to be . . .’

It is pretty lame, as in the third par, to say that the coal ‘may have one of the worst carbon footprints . . .’ If you don’t know, don’t guess. It makes you look ignorant.

Otherwise, good job.



i newspaper, January 17, 2020

Au revoir means ‘Until I see you again’ or ‘See you soon’.  The French word for a permanent farewell, as needed here, is ‘Adieu’. This is a     rotten headline in another way too, because it is simply a short form of the intro. Talking of the intro, you rarely need ‘ever’. ‘Last day’ is          sufficient.

A better headline might be:

Goodbye to all that: Euro
MPs’ historic Brexit day

which also has the advantage of not having the killer words ‘European Parliament’ in it.

One thing that annoys me about the i newspaper is its style of having a one-word tag above the headline. At least get it right – this story is about Strasbourg, not Brussels.





The Times, January 10, 2020, page 8

The Times, January 10, 2020, page 10

This is more of an organisational point than subbing. When you have multiple stories on the same topic, as with the ‘abdication’ of Harry and Meghan, it is essential to deploy someone to make sure that figures are  consistent. In the first cutting here, Prince Harry is estimated to be worth £10million plus interest. In the second, based on the same two legacies, the figure is £30million. An overseer would be able to rule on which figure should be the one used throughout.