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.


The Times, August 21, 2020

A spellcheck would have picked up the misspelling of pharaoh.

However to my dismay it would have accepted this version of ‘humorist’ from the same diary column even though in my book it is wrong, and not as far as I know considered correct by reputable dictionaries. Which goes to show that spellchecks are not infallible, or maybe they are ahead of the curve in legitimising ignorance. There can, however, be no doubt that Hoffnung’s name was Gerard, not Gerrard. Still, maybe he was wrong.


Japan’s Naomi Osaka tops the list with earnings of $37.4m (£26.3m), ahead of Serena Williams with $36m (£27.2m).

BBC Sport Online, August 20, 2020

It’s good to do a conversion from dollars to sterling, but for goodness sake check the figures and make sure you have copied them correctly or you could get a nonsense like this, with Williams in second place apparently earning more in sterling than Osaka in first place. The error is in the Osaka earnings, which should be something like £28.6m.


i newspaper, August 10, 2020

For a start, ‘going under the hammer’ is a cliche. But how can you possibly use it in reference to a pair of spectacles? You must have your brain switched off not to be able to see the image the words conjure up.  This would be better:

Gandhi’s glasses
may fetch £15,000


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.