The Times, September 13, 2019

One thing you learn with experience at subbing is not to try to dress up a perfectly good story. Here is a good example.  Do we think the readers are children who cannot grasp a narrative unless it is reduced to an everyday situation? You could lop off this intro and make the story ten times better.  Everything you need for a good dramatic tale is in the second par.

This is a better way to do it. It’s not perfect but it doesn’t make the reader lose the will to live halfway through the first par:

i newspaper, September 13, 2019




The Times, September 11, 2019

One of the clearest indicators of ignorance is getting the tenses of ‘lay’ and ‘lie’ mixed up. I am staggered that someone calling him or herself a Times journalist, and presumably accepting pay, does not know this most basic English. (By the way, it would have interesting to note that the plant will die after flowering, but I suppose that is too nerdy. The last thing a smart young person wants to admit is to having some general or scientific knowledge.)

This is my Style Matters entry, not that it will filter through to the moron who put ‘laying’ instead of ‘lying’.


  • lay: This is the past tense of the verb ‘to lie’ as in ‘I lay on the ground yesterday’ and is also the transitive verb (transitive means it must take an object; it cannot stand alone) ‘to lay’ as in ‘the hen lays eggs’ or ‘I am going to lay the table’. The past tense of ‘to lay’ is ‘laid’. Of course, as everyone knows, ‘lay’ and ‘laid’ are also colloquial sexual expressions and great care must be taken to avoid an inadvertent double meaning. However the chief offence is using ‘lay’ instead of ‘lie’, as in ‘I’m going to lay down’, ‘She is laying on the bed’ or ‘The lion lays in wait for its prey’, or using ‘laid’ instead of ‘lay’, as in ‘He laid on his bed’. To complete the confusion there is the verb ‘to lie’ or tell an untruth. This one is comparatively simple, however.A brief tour round the tenses:to lie (as in recline)

    present: I lie on the bed, he lies on the bed/I am lying on the bed

    past: I lay on the bed, he lay on the ground

    participle (with a form of have) I/he/we have/has/had lain on the bed

    Note that the word ‘laid’ does not exist in this verb.

    to lay (as in to put or place, followed by an object)

    present: I lay the table, the hen lays eggs/I am laying the table

    past: I laid the table, the hen laid eggs

    participle: I/she have/has/had laid the table

    Note: this is the only polite use for the word ‘laid’.

    to lie (as in to tell an untruth)

    present: I lie, he lies/he is lying

    past: I/he lied

    participle: I/he have/has/had lied

    You will see that there are numerous opportunities for double meanings even if you are being perfectly accurate. If you see such a pitfall looming, at all costs find another form of words. If you are about to use the word ‘lay’ at all, and you are not 100 per cent sure that it is correct, check. There are few errors that betray ignorance as much as this one. Incidentally, British writers use ‘lie of the land’ while Americans say ‘lay of the land’.



Either I am in the throes of dementia (entirely possible) or the Times has given up any attempt at  intelligible captions, instead putting a string of random words to fill the space.

Three examples from today (September 4, 2019):

The ‘toy’ in the washing machine is not the one in the inset pic, and why are there two dogs in that pic?

Eh? What does ‘writing event’ mean?


More eye-catching than what?

I despair. A lifetime spent trying to make things clear for the reader was obviously a waste of time. Just stick any words that occur to you in the hole.



Ann Treneman, The Times, August 30, 2019

Most dictionaries define a ‘heifer’ as a cow over one year old which has not had a calf. One or two extend the definition to a cow which has had one calf. I doubt if the dog-walker would have known the exact maternity history of the animal involved, but ‘cow’ would obviously cover every eventuality. I imagine the sub was one of the familiar type these days who feel it is somehow not cool to have knowledge about the natural world.


i newspaper, August 28, 2019

Shall we declare the concept of singular and plural redundant?

In the intro, ‘Toymakers’ is plural (clue: ends with an ‘s’) so should be ‘have chosen’ and ‘their new’. It would be better to make ‘Toymaker’ singular so that it all hangs together.

In the third par, ‘Also featured’ should be followed by ‘are’ not ‘is’ if, as here, you are mentioning more than one person.

By the end of the third par five women have been named, so why in the last par does it say ‘Both dolls’? If only the first two have been put on the market, the third par should say: ‘Others to be featured are . . .’ (which avoids the much over-used ‘also’). If they are already on sale it should say ‘Others who have featured are . . .’



i newspaper, August 26, 2019

Icy? Biarritz? In August?

According to the Global Sea Temperatures website, the water at Biarritz today (August 26) is 21.6 deg C, 70.9 F. It won’t have been much different yesterday. You can be sure that the G7 leaders would not meet somewhere chilly and uncomfortable.

This is a perfect example of a sub passing the copy through without troubling his or her brain. You have to think about every single word.






Dead Tetra Pak billionaire Hans Rausing’s daughter is set to marry her photographer fiance at his £12million home despite being separated from her parents as a child while they spiralled into a world of drugs

Mail Online, August 25, 2019

Terrible heading – but the worst bit is that Rausing is not dead, as the story makes clear:

Today Hans, 57, who is now clean and has remarried, is a philanthropist, giving money from his £6 billion packaging empire fortune to causes including Action On Addiction, which is supported by the Duchess of Cambridge.

You really need to read the story before you write a heading.

I will try to keep an eye on this and see if it is changed.

PS: Yes, it was changed after some hours.



Daily Express, August 10, 2019

Parents adopt a baby, who is then ‘adopted’.  The parents are ‘adoptive’ parents.

PS A reader writes: Just looked it up – turns out the baby was biologically theirs, so no adoption involved at all. Goodness knows what word was meant to go there.


i newspaper, August 5, 2019

The first person to cross the Channel has by definition been successful – how can you do it unsuccessfully?

Apart from that, ‘to successfully cross’ is an ugly and unnecessary split infinitive. I don’t go to the wire any more about split infinitives, but in this case ‘successfully to cross’ would be much pleasanter and classier to read.