Times, May 22, 2020

When quoting someone you must obviously try to be accurate, but there is such a thing as being ridiculously obsessive. Here we have an unidentified woman who presumably said ‘. . . my son told me he thought the books might be valuable.’ Perhaps to avoid repeating ‘books’ in the quote, the reporter or sub has changed ‘the books’ to [they]. Let us imagine what might have happened if square brackets had not been inserted to show that it was a paraphrase.

Unidentified woman – an apology

On May 22 we reported that a woman who sold a first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone at auction for £36,300 said: ‘. . . my son told me he thought they might be valuable.’ We are now informed that the woman said: ‘. . . my son told me he thought the books might be valuable.’ We apologise for the error, which was introduced in editing, and for any embarrassment caused.

This kind of thing comes up repeatedly. Use your judgment and if you are keeping the sense of what was said, that’s fine. To be honest I can’t see the point of paraphrasing the quote – that is how people talk, with repetitions.  We should not expect them to be orators.

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