i newspaper, September 14, 2017

I see the wretched expression ‘the likes of’ instead of ‘such as’ or ‘including’ all the time. However this is particularly ludicrous – how can you have ‘the likes of’ one person? His twin brother, perhaps? If you feel your fingers starting to tap out ‘the li . . .’ STOP. It is never correct.

PS: ‘Lord Laurence Olivier’ is wrong. It is either ‘Lord Olivier’ or ‘Laurence Olivier’. Since we are talking about a theatrical type, who was not ennobled when he was artistic director of the National Theatre, I think the latter is more appropriate.


i newspaper, September 13, 2017

(63 words) There are many fascinating things to say about the Portuguese man o’ war (not man of war, and the plural is the same as the singular), but none of them appears here. Obviously a beach is on the coast. You never start a story with a place name, unless you want readers with no connection to it to move straight on. How do we know the number was unprecedented? You could only say that if they had been counted on a previous occasion and yesterday. This is how I would do it:

Swimmers were ordered from the beach at Perranporth, Cornwall, yesterday after a large number of Portuguese man o’ war washed up. Though they look like jellyfish, they are actually colonies of individuals with different functions working as one, and have tentacles up to 100ft long which deliver a painful, though not lethal, sting. The beach was reopened after the creatures were removed. (62 words)

Is it not worth spending five minutes on Google to produce a story which readers might talk about?




The Times, September 13, 2017

Another shortlisted entrant in the Worst Intro of the Year So Far contest. What have ancient Chinese practices got to do with putting caps on a cat’s claws? Nothing.

This would have been my first few pars:

A fad for attaching coloured caps to cats’ claws is ‘grotesque’ and ‘extremely cruel’, warn animal experts.

The trend has been popularised on social media, and some owners are apparently buying caps to match their own nail varnish.

The caps, which were originally intended to stop cats scratching furniture, are sold on Amazon and elsewhere for as little as £8, and are glued on to the claws.




The Times, September 12, 2017

Let’s leave aside the clueless intro (do you really think an application to knock down and rebuild a three-storey terrace house to incorporate a massive basement is ever going to be ‘mundane’ or ‘straightforward’?) and turn to the use of the word ‘can’. This means something is possible with or without permission, while ‘may’ implies permission. So ‘the boy can pick apples’, which means the boy is physically capable of picking apples, is not the same as ‘the boy may pick apples’, which means the boy is allowed to pick apples. In this case the owner can demolish the house (with help) if she wishes, but she has obtained permission, so the required word is ‘may’, not ‘can’. I would expect the Times staff to know this, but I am constantly disappointed.



Sunday Times, September 10, 2017

What on earth has Tunisia got to do with it? Turns out to be some complex dispute which could not possibly be explained in the space, so it would have been better not to mention it. Old subs’ maxim: If in doubt, leave it out.


The eye of Hurricane Irma has hit Florida’s southern islands as a category four storm, forecasters say.

BBC News Online, September 10, 2017

This suggests that the eye of a hurricane is the most severe part, but it is the opposite – a small window of calm air in the centre of the circulating high wind, so it doesn’t ‘hit’ anywhere. It is the hurricane itself which is causing trouble. And isn’t it a bit strange to have ‘forecasters’ telling us what has already happened? ‘Meteorologists’ or ‘weathermen’ would be better.

Eye of Irma HITS Florida

Mail Online, September 10, 2017

See above.

Four people killed as eye of Irma SLAMS into Florida

Mail Online, September 10, 2017

See above, and note that four people were killed, not four giraffes.


Sunday Times, September 10, 2017

Restaurant critics just can’t resist showing off, can they? If only they didn’t always make themselves look foolish.

This is how the authoritative Decanter website describes wine en primeur:

En primeur is a French wine trade term for wine which is sold as a ‘future’, i.e. before it is bottled. The most important annual offer comes from Bordeaux . . . [It] is sold in strict allocation to wine brokers in Bordeaux, known as négociants. The négociants then sell the en primeur offers.





Four walk free from plane crash in Greater Manchester

BBC News Online, September 9, 2017

If you must use a cliche, at least make it the right one. ‘Walk free’ is often (much too often) used when criminals avoid a jail sentence. I presume the overworked expression wanted here was ‘walk away’.