The Times, April 17, 2019

What a peculiar way to express this, as if he had inflicted all these injuries on himself.

The way to do it is:

He suffered broken wrists and various bones in his legs, a shattered right arm, punctured lungs, liver damage and facial injuries.

Since the story is about a cricketer who is hoping to play again, the interesting injuries are the ones which could affect his playing ability and so should go at the top of the list.


Monterrey Open: Garbine Muguruza defends title as Victoria Azarenka withdraws

BBC Sport website, April 8, 2019

For the nth time, ‘defend’ in this context simply means that the player is taking part in an event which she won last time. It does not imply a result one way or the other. To convey that Muguruza won, this should say that she ‘retains’ the title or ‘successfully defends’ it.


April 6, 2019

A reader writes: I am a regular listener to sports broadcasts on BBC Radio 5 Live. I am irritated that the presenters consistently talk about ‘commentary of’ matches, as in ‘we have commentary of Spurs v Crystal Palace’.

For me, this has the quality of a verbal tic, which interrupts and disturbs the broadcast.

I can find no precedent for saying ‘commentary of’ an event. The OED refers to the 1970 BBC Handbook which says ‘Radio 2 . . . carries commentaries on major sporting events of all kinds’.

The OED does refer to ‘commentaries of’, but only in the instance of Dickens  in Our Mutual Friend, ‘Mortimer laughed again, with his usual commentaries of “How can you be so ridiculous, Eugene!” and “What an absurd fellow you are!”,’ in which the author is referring to the remarks, not something that is being commentated on.

My nasty suspicion is that this is an obsession of some senior executive, inflicted on both unfortunate broadcasters and listeners.

Am I right to be irritated?

My reply: You are certainly right to be irritated. ‘Commentary of’ in this context is not English but gibberish. I would not be at surprised to hear that some ‘senior’ executive, which no doubt means a person aged about 22, has a bee in his or her bonnet. It reminds me of an occasion at the Daily Mail when the then deputy editor insisted that ‘he has another think coming’ was ‘another thing coming’, and forced it into a leader against all protests. Once such people get one of these wrong ideas into their heads, it is the devil’s own job to make them see sense, so I fear you are doomed to irritation for the foreseeable future.


THEY are too young to study Charles Dickens’ classic A Tale Of Two Cities, but children in a new housing development are learning its lessons about class divisions the hard way.

For youngsters living in social housing flats in a multi-million-pound estate have been banned from playing alongide children whose parents own their apartments.

Daily Mail (print version), March 27, 2019

Here is a classic example of someone showing off, trying to be clever, and falling flat on his or her face.  A Tale of Two Cities is about London and Paris. The perpetrator was presumably thinking of Disraeli’s Sybil, or The Two Nations, which examines the contrasts between the luxurious life of the Victorian aristocracy and the extreme poverty of the working people.

In any event, why bother? To my surprise I found that Mail Online had got it right:

Poorer children have been banned from playing alongside richer youngsters whose families have bought £615,000 properties in the multi-million pound development where they all live.

Mail Online, March 27, 2019

I think I might have left this clause out of the intro

whose families have bought £615,000 properties

to make it

Poorer children have been banned from playing alongside richer youngsters in the multi-million pound development where they all live.

But it is to the point, tells the story, and doesn’t make you throw down the paper (or iPad) in despair.

PS The Daily Mail version has ‘Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities‘ – it should be Dickens’s because names ending in ‘s’ are treated like any other,  so Mrs Smith’s house and Mr Dickens’s book.




The Times, March 19, 2019, Page 1

There remains a widespread but wrong belief that putting ‘last night’ in an intro makes it sound immediate. Maybe this was the case when newspapers were the main source of information but in these days of 24-hour news it sounds archaic. In any case, unless something spectacular  happened overnight, if Britain was facing a constitutional crisis last night, it will still be facing it today.

This intro should be on these lines:

John Bercow stands accused of causing a constitutional crisis by ‘sabotaging’ Theresa May’s efforts to rescue her Brexit deal.

Downing Street was stunned . . .


The Times, March 6, 2019, p5

I hate the practice of adding ‘up’ to words that don’t need it, and ‘free up’ is one of the worst examples. Another is ‘park up’. What does ‘up’ add or alter?


i newspaper, February 25, 2019 (17 words)

Whenever you find yourself thinking of writing the word ‘people’, stop and think again. If the story is about human beings, it is about people and the word is just stating the obvious. There are many alternatives, and in this case there is a  word for people fishing: it is ‘anglers’.

Boscombe is part of Bournemouth. What exactly is ‘southerly air’?

There is a mix of tenses: ‘fish’ (present) and ‘brought’ (past).

A better version of this would be:

Anglers at Boscombe Pier in Bournemouth enjoy the mild temperatures brought by southerly winds from the Canary Islands (18 words)

Adding the word ‘enjoy’ makes the caption a little more than a description of what we can all see. The word ‘brought’ in this case is present passive.


i newspaper, February 16, 2019 (56 words)

Where to start?

1. Do you think ‘Airport authorities in Hong Kong’ is going to make the reader keen to find out more?

2. If the men have been arrested but not convicted you should say they are alleged smugglers (as it does lower down). It is no excuse to say it is in Hong Kong so it doesn’t matter.

3. ‘Suspected’ is a word you would use for a possible criminal, not a rhino horn. The horns are not suspected of anything. You need to say ‘horns believed to be from rhinos’ or just say ‘rhino horns’ – I think you can take a gamble on the horns being pretty distinctive. I certainly can’t think of anything similar that might lead to confusion.

4. Is the weight really important? Can you imagine what 40 kg (88lb) of rhino horn looks like? Is the fact that there were 24 not enough?

5. Is it necessary to say the horns were ‘severed’? Might we otherwise assume the rhinos were still attached?

6. If it is a record haul as stated in the first sentence, it goes without saying that it was the largest seizure.

7. ‘What was’ is just about the ugliest construction in creation and here it is unnecessary.

8. Which is the better headline phrase: ’24 rhino horns’ or ‘$1m rhino horns’?

Looking up the story to find a few more facts I see that the BBC did it almost word for word the same way. So just lifted straight from agency copy.

This is how I would have done it:

$1m rhino horns
seized at airport

Twenty-four rhino horns worth $1million (£780,000) have been seized at Hong Kong airport. Two men travelling from South Africa to Vietnam were arrested on suspicion of smuggling the horns, the largest haul recorded in Hong Kong. Rhino horn is used in Vietnam in traditional medicine and more than 1,000 rhinos a year are killed in South Africa. (57 words)