Sunday Times, December 8, 2019

‘Flame-haired’ is as old-fashioned as toff, cad and boffin. In any case, why refer to her hair colour? Would you say a man is red-haired? Is it surprising that a mathematician should have red hair? Unless the point of the story is her hair colour, don’t mention it.


The Times, November 29, 2019

1. The expression is ‘Ooh la la’, not ‘Oh’.

2. There are no accents on ‘la’. (Some authorities say there are but they are in a tiny minority.)

3. If you can’t think of anything better than this frightful cliché, you should not be in the business.




i newspaper, November 2, 2019


From Style Matters:

enormity: This has nothing to do with size. It means the quality of being outrageous or atrocious, as in ‘the enormity of the crime’. Although it is commonly misused, and some authorities are fine with this, I don’t see any reason to get it wrong.


Later in the same piece:


Why ‘but’? This implies something unexpected or different. So are we to assume that i newspaper readers are familiar with the usual weight per foot of Australian saltwater crocodiles, and can make the necessary calculation that this one is a bit on the heavy side? The conjunction needed here is ‘and’.






Sunday Times, October 29, 2019

Complete lack of curiosity, Part 99: These two items appeared on the same page of the Sunday Times Culture supplement. I am at a loss to know how a sub could have sent them through without finding out the ages of the recording artists involved. Is there anyone in there?


The billionaire owners of the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Telegraph are to put both titles up for sale.

Sir Frederick and Sir David Barclay are understood to be reviewing all of their key assets, which includes the Telegraph Media Group (TMG).

[ . . . ]

Aidan Barclay, 63, and Howard Barclay, 59, are thought to be evaluating the family’s businesses on behalf of their father, Sir David Barclay, and his 84-year-old twin Sir Frederick.

BBC News Online, October 29, 2019

It is hard to explain how stupid it is to say ‘his 84-year-old twin Sir Frederick’, and frankly if someone can’t see it, he or she is taking money under false pretences. The age of the twins needs to go in the second par, thus:

The 84-year-old twins Sir Frederick and Sir David Barclay are understood to be reviewing all of their key assets, which includes the Telegraph Media Group (TMG).

This immediately adds  the fact that they are getting on a bit, and it does not assign an age to one twin leaving open the possibility that the other could be a different age.

As an aside, I have many times seen this kind of thing: ‘The twins, who are both 16’. Unless they were born each side of midnight at New Year, this goes without saying. You do not need to point out, either, that boy and girl twins are not identical. I know it is obvious but again it is something I have seen repeatedly.


Sir Frederick and Sir David Barclay are understood to be reviewing all of their key assets,

‘all of’ is wrong. It should be ‘all their key assets’. Why add a word that is not necessary?













Sunday Times, October 20, 2019

Not everyone is great at spelling, but it is the most basic requirement for a sub. If the writer put the incorrect ‘sewing’ and a sub let it through, the sub needs sacking. If the writer put the correct ‘sowing’ and the sub changed it, the sub needs sacking.


The Times, October 9, 2019

In a packed field, this emerges as the front-runner for the title of worst intro of the year. I am sure the sub was not to blame – this writer is in second, third and fourth places too. But someone has to say to him that this would disgrace an eight-year-old.  Writers who think they can write are a menace, and if they are treated as untouchable they get worse.


The Times, October 7, 2019

By now I am used to newspapers using the wrong words, but this is fairly unusual: a word that doesn’t exist. The Knicks are a basketball team properly called the New York Knickerbockers, and ‘knicks’ is a short form for a lady’s underwear. If you try a spellcheck for ‘knick’ it will come up with nothing, which is what this sub should have done when he or she meant ‘nick’.


i newspaper special, September 25, 2019

The past tense of ‘to spring’ is ‘sprang’. ‘Sprung’ is the past participle, used with versions of ‘have’: ‘the flower has/had/will have sprung.’ These things are not regular and I drew up a handy chart on here a while ago. I will try to dig it out. Meanwhile Yasmin Alibhai-Brown writes:

From Style Matters:

flaunt/flout: To flaunt is to display ostentatiously; to flout is treat with contempt (usually in the sense of breaking rules). And:

Nice heading, but ruined by the usual ignorance about the natural world: ‘botanic’ refers to plants. The equivalent for animals would, I suppose, be ‘zoological’. I dare say the person who wrote the caption thinks this is pedantic. It isn’t.


The Times, September 21, 2019

This is a common error but I would not expect to see it the Times. The word should be ‘defuse’, as in defusing a bomb. ‘To diffuse’ means to spread over a large area, as in ‘television is a way of diffusing knowledge’, but is more often seen as an adjective meaning not concentrated, for example ‘diffuse sunlight’.