The Times, September 20, 2017

‘Cyclone’ is not an alternative word for ‘hurricane’.  Cyclones, hurricanes and typhoons are all the same weather systems – rotating clouds and thunderstorms originating over warm oceans, with sustained windspeeds of 74mph or more – but they have different names according to location. If the system originates in the Atlantic or Northeast Pacific (the west coast of the US), it is a hurricane. If it is in the Northwest Pacific, it is a typhoon. If it is in the South Pacific or Indian Ocean, it is a cyclone. There is a generic meteorological term of ‘tropical cyclone’ for systems with lower windspeeds, but once they reach 74mph they are given the title relating to where they originated. Occasionally the west coast of the US receives the remains of a typhoon.


i newspaper, September 20, 2019

(45 words)

The two sentences in this story give almost identical information, but do not tell you the answer to the obvious question: Why has this come about?

This is how I would do it:

Red squirrels have made a resurgence in woodlands round Aberdeen, thanks to a campaign to trap their non-native grey cousins organised by Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels. Monitoring of feeding boxes shows that reds are on the increase while no greys have been seen for two years. (46 words)




Look after your shorts

All too often shorts seem to be flung in to fill a hole, but they can be a lot more interesting than some of the other worthy stuff in a paper, and they deserve handling with thought and care. All these examples come from Page 2 of the i newspaper, September 18, 2017.

(41 words) I guessed the ‘Arnie’ referred to here was Schwarzenegger, and I was right. However readers should not have to guess or assume. On the other hand, there can be too much spelling out – you don’t need to say that a bodybuilding contest has been won by a bodybuilder. The heading should not be a short version of the first sentence. I would suggest doing it like this:

Welshman muscles
in on Arnie’s record

A businessman from Wales has matched Arnold Schwarzenegger’s record by winning a sixth consecutive title at the Mr Olympia bodybuilding contest in Las Vegas. A native of Llanelli, James ‘Flex’ Lewis, 33, is a celebrity in the US where he now lives. (42 words)

(40 words) Another assumption – that by calling the lady a ‘fiancee’, we will guess what her answer was. You need to spell it out for the drama. I was puzzled how an ‘agricultural worker’ could also be an engineer. Turns out he is an agricultural engineer.

This would be my effort:

Agricultural engineer Tom Plume, 39, surprised his girlfriend of ten years by ploughing ‘Marry me’ into a field at her family farm in East Anstey, Devon. ‘Astounded but ecstatic’ Jenna Stimpson, 37, accepted and the couple plan to wed next year. (41 words)

(47 words) As it stands, this story is nonsense. It ends with the ban in force, so how can it be ‘reinstated’? It misses out the fact that the ban was overturned in 2015.

This is how I would tackle it:

Animal rights activists are celebrating because California’s ban on foie gras is back on the table. The force-feeding of birds was originally forbidden in 2004 but the ruling was overturned in 2015 when producers of foie gras filed a suit against it. It was reinstated by an appeal court yesterday. (50 words)

Yet again, some unfortunates get through a perilous situation unscathed only for something else to happen and injure them. For the nth time, ‘AFTER’ DOES NOT MEAN ‘AT THE SAME TIME’.



Thirty people were injured after the explosion on a train at Parsons Green.

BBC News Online, September 17, 2017

Has everyone lost all comprehension of what simple words mean? ‘After’ means ‘later’, not ‘at the same time’. This sentence implies that there was an explosion, then an interval, then something else happened and the passengers (or ‘people’, if you need to distinguish them from the giraffes on the train) were injured. It is obvious nonsense, yet I see it all the time.

All you need here is to replace ‘after’ with ‘in’, and ‘people’ with ‘passengers’, and you get a sensible sentence.

Thirty passengers were injured in the explosion on a train at Parsons Green.


i newspaper, September 14, 2017

I see the wretched expression ‘the likes of’ instead of ‘such as’ or ‘including’ all the time. However this is particularly ludicrous – how can you have ‘the likes of’ one person? His twin brother, perhaps? If you feel your fingers starting to tap out ‘the li . . .’ STOP. It is never correct.

PS: ‘Lord Laurence Olivier’ is wrong. It is either ‘Lord Olivier’ or ‘Laurence Olivier’. Since we are talking about a theatrical type, who was not ennobled when he was artistic director of the National Theatre, I think the latter is more appropriate.


i newspaper, September 13, 2017

(63 words) There are many fascinating things to say about the Portuguese man o’ war (not man of war, and the plural is the same as the singular), but none of them appears here. Obviously a beach is on the coast. You never start a story with a place name, unless you want readers with no connection to it to move straight on. How do we know the number was unprecedented? You could only say that if they had been counted on a previous occasion and yesterday. This is how I would do it:

Swimmers were ordered from the beach at Perranporth, Cornwall, yesterday after a large number of Portuguese man o’ war washed up. Though they look like jellyfish, they are actually colonies of individuals with different functions working as one, and have tentacles up to 100ft long which deliver a painful, though not lethal, sting. The beach was reopened after the creatures were removed. (62 words)

Is it not worth spending five minutes on Google to produce a story which readers might talk about?




The Times, September 13, 2017

Another shortlisted entrant in the Worst Intro of the Year So Far contest. What have ancient Chinese practices got to do with putting caps on a cat’s claws? Nothing.

This would have been my first few pars:

A fad for attaching coloured caps to cats’ claws is ‘grotesque’ and ‘extremely cruel’, warn animal experts.

The trend has been popularised on social media, and some owners are apparently buying caps to match their own nail varnish.

The caps, which were originally intended to stop cats scratching furniture, are sold on Amazon and elsewhere for as little as £8, and are glued on to the claws.




The Times, September 12, 2017

Let’s leave aside the clueless intro (do you really think an application to knock down and rebuild a three-storey terrace house to incorporate a massive basement is ever going to be ‘mundane’ or ‘straightforward’?) and turn to the use of the word ‘can’. This means something is possible with or without permission, while ‘may’ implies permission. So ‘the boy can pick apples’, which means the boy is physically capable of picking apples, is not the same as ‘the boy may pick apples’, which means the boy is allowed to pick apples. In this case the owner can demolish the house (with help) if she wishes, but she has obtained permission, so the required word is ‘may’, not ‘can’. I would expect the Times staff to know this, but I am constantly disappointed.



Sunday Times, September 10, 2017

What on earth has Tunisia got to do with it? Turns out to be some complex dispute which could not possibly be explained in the space, so it would have been better not to mention it. Old subs’ maxim: If in doubt, leave it out.