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.