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.’




Times, May 27, 2020

Many papers do not seem to have noticed that we are in an era of 24-hour news. In the morning, when there are up-to-the-minute reports available online and on TV, the phrase ‘last night’ sounds like ‘old news’. In any case, if Johnson was struggling with this situation last night, he will still be struggling with it today. Much better to say:

‘Boris Johnson is struggling to contain . . .’




Times, May 25, 2020

This is a common error, but that does not mean we should be happy to get it wrong. To infer is to deduce from the evidence, as in ‘he inferred from the state of the body that the victim had been dead for weeks’. The word needed here is ‘implied’, meaning to hint or suggest.


i newspaper, May 23, 2020

It’s local paper day in the i. I suppose all subbing rules have gone out of the window now that everyone knows best, but there is usually a good reason for them. In this case, you don’t put the name of the town in the heading because those who are not interested in Norwich, Edinburgh or Chipping Sodbury (which is most readers) will consciously or subconsciously think: ‘That is of no relevance to me’  and move on, saying: ‘This is a really boring paper, nothing in it I want to read.’ If the subs at the i have discarded this rule, I wish them luck.

Let’s look at the lemur story in more detail.

(72 words). It is not the young lemur which is endangered (though it may be if they don’t look after it properly) but the species. I would not say something the size of a tennis ball was tiny (you can leave that to the reader to judge) and why ‘but its birth is crucial’? ‘But’ means something surprising, so are we suggesting that if it were the size of a football its birth would be less crucial? We have said that it is critically endangered, so it is obviously ‘rare’. Frankly, what a team leader has to say is not as interesting as getting in a few more facts.

This is how I would do it, having spent five minutes or less on Google:

Zoo lifeline for
threatened lemurs

A critically endangered species has been given a boost with the birth of a Lake Alaotra gentle lemur at the Wild Place Project in Gloucestershire, part of Bristol Zoo.

The primate is close to extinction in its native Madagascar because of  hunting, destruction of the reed beds on which it feeds and illegal capture for the pet trade – Gerald Durrell described it as a honey-coloured teddy bear – with only 2,500 remaining. (72 words)

By the way, if you want to see how much work the i put into this story, see this press release.




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.


The Times, May 8, 2020

Here is a good example of someone putting zero thought into a cross-reference and being content with rubbish. A swap means an exchange and it is obviously nonsensical to suggest that shoes could be exchanged for compost. A better word would have been ‘wellies’, perhaps, or ‘gardening clogs’ – something which is the opposite of high heels.


The Times, April 30, 2020

This could have been set as a test paper for aspiring subs. In this case, the candidate failed miserably.

First, it is not clear how many chicks have hatched. The intro says two, but the rest of the copy suggests only one at time of writing. The intro also says ‘this week’ when the first chick is said to have hatched yesterday. You should never waste a yesterday line – ‘this week’ sounds like a local paper.

Second, of course they were unaware that they were being watched – they are birds. This kind of statement of the obvious is juvenile and tiresome.

In the third par, we have ‘hatch’ twice and ‘hatching’ once. One is enough. The second sentence could have been: ‘The whole process takes about 72 hours from pipping, when the shell is breached by the chick within.’

Par 4: ‘the female was laying on the eggs’. This is badly wrong. ‘Laying’ is a present tense form of ‘to lay’, which is a transitive verb, meaning that it is accompanied by an object. Examples would be ‘She is laying the table’ or ‘the bird is laying eggs’. Presumably the word was meant to be ‘lying on the eggs’, a present tense form of the word ‘to lie’. But birds don’t ‘lie’ on their eggs, they ‘sit’ on them.

Par 5: ‘Raise’ means to lift, to gain height, so ‘up’ is redundant.

In the third leg, if you are telling the story of the development of the chick, do it chronologically. Don’t start with it flying, then go back to being newly hatched. I have shown how the pars should be re-arranged.

‘Weigh in’: Jockeys weigh in after a race, and this is the only use for the expression. Babies or chicks weigh a certain amount.

Last par but one: We know the birds have a chick so by definition they are ‘successful’. Another redundant word.

Last par: We have established quite thoroughly that the story is about peregrines, so you don’t need two more repetitions of the name.




This is the weekly column which deals with readers’ criticisms of perceived inaccuracies in the Times. Oddly enough, the readers are often in the wrong. You would expect such an oracle to have a perfect grasp of English.

The Times, April 25, 2020 (I managed to cross out ‘added’ by accident)

‘Bonus’ means added or extra. ‘Added bonus’ is therefore a tautology, or a way of saying the same thing twice, as in ‘razed to the ground’.