I have collected these picture captions over the last few weeks. Spot a pattern?

It can be generally assumed that a story is about people. If it is about dogs, snakes or giraffes you would say so. It is also the most unimaginative way to start a caption. It is saying to the reader ‘I can’t be bothered to do anything but tell you what you can see with your own eyes.’ There is almost always a better word than ‘people’, for example in the Times caption bottom right, you could have said ‘Swimmers’ or ‘Bathers’.  (The top right caption uses ‘bathers’ but spoils it by adding ‘in the sea’. Where else would they be?)

The top three captions employ a construction I dislike, present tense followed by ‘yesterday’. This can be avoided by using the present participle which ends in ‘ing’, so ‘basking’ instead of ‘bask’.

Captions don’t need to be complete sentences either. Just to take the top left one as an example, it could have been:

Keeping cool in the sunshine, punters on the Cam in Cambridge yesterday


(Don’t use River unless it is necessary.)




i newspaper, September 7, 2020

The convention is that a man who comes under the general heading of ‘celebrity’ is called by the surname without the honorific. The only exception is if he is involved in legal proceedings. If the ‘celebrity’ is a woman, it depends on the kind of story. If this one had been about Serena Williams instead of Marcus Rashford, she would be Williams, not Ms or Miss Williams. However if the story was about her tennis outfit, for example, some outlets would call her ‘Serena’.


i newspaper, September 7, 2020

‘Continually’ and ‘continuously’ are not exactly the same, and the right word here is ‘continuously’.

From my style guide:

continual/continuous: continual means to recur at frequent intervals, as in ‘he was driven to violence by the continual barking of the dog next door’; continuous means prolonged without interruption, as in ‘he was driven to distraction by the continuous hum from the factory next door’. If in doubt, ‘constant’ should cover either.


The Times, September 3, 2020

Apparently the Times is being run by adolescents if the rude American expression ‘butt out’ is considered acceptable in straight reportage. If Mr Burnham had used it himself that would be a different matter (he didn’t), but it would need quotes round it to show that it was not the Times’s choice of words. Certainly the language evolves, but this is way over the line.


The Times, August 21, 2020

A spellcheck would have picked up the misspelling of pharaoh.

However to my dismay it would have accepted this version of ‘humorist’ from the same diary column even though in my book it is wrong, and not as far as I know considered correct by reputable dictionaries. Which goes to show that spellchecks are not infallible, or maybe they are ahead of the curve in legitimising ignorance. There can, however, be no doubt that Hoffnung’s name was Gerard, not Gerrard. Still, maybe he was wrong.


Japan’s Naomi Osaka tops the list with earnings of $37.4m (£26.3m), ahead of Serena Williams with $36m (£27.2m).

BBC Sport Online, August 20, 2020

It’s good to do a conversion from dollars to sterling, but for goodness sake check the figures and make sure you have copied them correctly or you could get a nonsense like this, with Williams in second place apparently earning more in sterling than Osaka in first place. The error is in the Osaka earnings, which should be something like £28.6m.


i newspaper, August 10, 2020

For a start, ‘going under the hammer’ is a cliche. But how can you possibly use it in reference to a pair of spectacles? You must have your brain switched off not to be able to see the image the words conjure up.  This would be better:

Gandhi’s glasses
may fetch £15,000


Take a Break magazine, May 28, 2020

I am quite sorry about this entry because in my experience Take a Break is extremely accurate. This is a rare error.

A fretful baby ‘grizzles’ so is ‘grizzly’.  ‘Grisly’ means gruesome or hideous, as in a monster. While we are about it, there is ‘gristly’ which refers to something disgusting in meat, and  ‘grizzly’ can also mean a type of bear or hair that is greying.


i newspaper, June 20, 2020

Times, June 20, 2020

The word ‘but’ seems often to be used as a bit of padding between two other words, but it does have a meaning, viz that what follows is a contrast or a surprise.

The top cutting contains two sets of unrelated ideas which cannot be made meaningful simply by adding ‘but’. In the heading, there is no reason why the lockdown should have had any effect one way or the other on sales of vinyl. ‘And’ would be better than ‘but’. In the intro, the juxtaposition is simply odd. The sneezing reference needs to be cut or put elsewhere.  This is a classic non sequitur: a suggestion that one idea follows the other when they have nothing at all to do with each other.

In the second cutting, there is no reason why the location of the machine should have any bearing on whether or not it is used, so again ‘and’ is more appropriate than ‘but’.


Sunday Times, June 14, 2020

A basic of subbing is that you make it clear who is speaking before you begin the quote. Here it looks as if the estate agent, Mr Lillicrap, is continuing to talk about sales, when in fact it has switched to Alex Polizzi. So when you get to the end of the par you are brought up short by the fact that it is a new speaker, and you go back to sort it out. The reader should never have to feel any confusion.

After the par about the estate agent, this is how it should be done.

Alex Polizzi, owner of the Hotel Tresanton which overlooks St Mawes harbour, hopes to re-open on July 4.

‘People come away to have a good time,’ she said. ‘I don’t want them to be met with pitchforks . . . new realities.

‘I appreciate all the concerns . . . open for business.’