Miscellaneous Errors

These are incorrect or non-recommended examples that do not fit neatly into other categories. Many are simply wrong word choices.

Morocco is truly romantic … coal-eyed women … (STim 28/3/99 p. 10.23)
“Kohl-eyed”, which comes from the Arabic kuhl, “a black powder, usually antimony sulphide or lead sulphide, used as eye make-up especially in Eastern countries” (NODE). An understandable confusion is with “coal-black eyes”, which describes the colour of the irises.

[In a review critical of the misuse of words in a novel:] … Lindy’s “sweet, somewhat strained, somewhat distraining person” – but “distraining” has to do with the seizure of property. (Obs 13/1/08 Review p. 24)

She had large, beautiful, buxom eyes … (Obs 11/9/94 News p. 23)
a buxom armchair (Obs 18/5/08 Magazine p. 31
“Buxom” applies to the body of a woman, not the eyes, and certainly not to a piece of furniture. It means “plump and healthy-looking; large and shapely; busty” (COD).

British golfer Laura Davies has just become the new No One in the world ladies’ rankings … (STim 24/4/94 p. 8.5)
“No One” meaning “Nobody”? Spell out “Number One”.

 … an (innocent) rapist’s struggle to reconcile conscience with the desire for parole … [reviewing Green River Rising by Tim Willocks] (IoS 3/7/94 Review p. 32)
Can a rapist be innocent? See next example.

Each of these three movements are structured around the character of Dr Ray Klein – a (falsely accused)rapist … [reviewing Green River Rising by Tim Willocks] (IoS 22/5/94 Review p. 34)
“A man/prisoner falsely accused of rape.” If he is falsely accused, he is not a rapist.      Also, “each … is”. “Each” is singular.

And anyway, shouldn’t [Jonathan Barnes] have pronounced them weskit and britches? (IoS 3/7/94 News p. 22)
“Britches” for the short trousers spelt “breeches”, yes, but “waistcoat” has been pronounced the way it is spelt for some time now, though sounding the first “t” is optional.

the more-than-500-page report (STim Magazine 10/8/97 p. 38)
Stating the exact number of pages would have been more concise.

mother-in-laws (IoS 31/5/98 Real Life p. 5)
“Mothers-in-law.”

the high level of unreadiness (IoS 31/5/98 Business p. 1)
“Low level of readiness” is more graceful and logical.

Others claim that [Francis Crick’s] theory lacks clarity, that he even obfuscates deliberately because his ideas could be more easily falsified if people understood them. (STim 15/5/94 p. 10.6)
Data can be falsified, but not ideas. The meaning seems to be that Crick’s ideas could be attacked, criticised, rubbished or otherwise made to seem wrong.

The relationship between Ralf [Schumacher] and his more successful sibling has always been something of a milestone around his neck … (Sunday Tribune 4/7/99 Sport p. 8)
“Millstone.”

Which international newspaper broke the fiercesome embargo on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? (Obs 25/11/07 Review p. 27)
“Fearsome” is probably meant here.

He looked as fiercesome as ever, his heavily muscled arms … (STim 19/9/99 p. 1.15)
“Fierce” or “fearsome.”

Only 14 of the original 57 members of the scheme received letters bearing the vital asterix next to their policy numbers … (STel 16/7/00 Family Finances p. 1)
“Asterisk.” Asterix is the comic character.

 Car-boot sales are great hunting-grounds for still lives. (IoS 17/9/00 Sunday Review p. 69)
“Still-lifes”, ie, still-life paintings.

 And yet, [the television show Confess] features a real life Roman Catholic priest in the guise of Father Dermott Donnelly … (Obs 11/6/00 Screen p. 2)
Elsewhere, the article establishes that “Father Dermott Donnelly” is the real name of the real priest who “will bring kudos and the hallmark of authority to Confess”. Change “guise” to “person”.

 … and I know how it feels like to be powerful. (IoS 20/2/00 Real Lives p. 4)
“How it feels” or “what it feels like”. This is a mistake often made by foreign learners of English.

We are served barbecued pork, chicken and french fries, cooked by the ancestors of Koreans dumped here by Stalin. (STim 28/11/04 Magazine p. 60)
“Ancestors” for “descendants” is another typical foreign learner error.

 [Newspaper owner Lord Northcliffe (1865-1922)], to be fair, was originally no manic seeker of power. Rather, the politicians, seeing the influence his papers had begun to wield, crawled to him, just as their ancestors flock to pay court to Rupert Murdoch [b. 1931]. (Obs 21/5/00 Review p. 13)
“Ancestors” should be “descendants”. This appeared under the name of a prominent journalist, who declined to answer my query as to how it crept into his article.

… the novel she wrote when she was 16 and managed to get published with hers and Jennifer’s dole money. (Obs 29/5/94 Magazine p. 35)
Her”, ie, her dole money and Jennifer’s dole money.

In fact, you might come back having improved yours and the kids’ French. (Obs 17/3/02 Escape p. 28)
Your”, ie, your French and the kids’ French.

Michel Faber caught the eye two years ago with Under the Skin … [review by David Robson]
Foden has already caught the eye twice with The Last King of Scotland and Ladysmith. [review by Max Davidson] (STel 13/10/02 Review p. 17)
These two reviews appeared on the same page of The Sunday Telegraph, one beneath the other. The similar phrasing and the similarity in names might not be so suggestive if the articles had been printed on separate pages.

“The truth is I did my meniscus, which is a part of the knee, and there was no recourse but to have an operation. It was just a foolish mistake on my behalf in not stretching [before running at full speed].” [quoting Pierce Brosnan] (STim 17/11/02 p. 8.5)
“On my part.” “Behalf” means benefit or interest. Compare a Citizens Advice Bureau worker’s statement: “I couldn’t face sending the form in on my own behalf …” (STim 16/11/03 Magazine p. 37). Also, “appealing on her daughter’s behalf” (STel 19/8/01 p. 1.22).

It was certainly something that whet the appetite. (Obs 6/7/03 Review p. 18)
“Whetted.” This may be due to the influence of the American past tense of the verb “wet”, which is variable: “wet” or “wetted”.

In any nation the decision to prosecute a crime is an executive one. A prosecutor, a grand jury or a judge must decide to press charges … (Obs 19/10/03 Magazine p. 40)
Judges are part of the judicial branch, not the executive, and do not press charges.

… dealing with an informant by shooting him in the head with a hand-held rocket launcher. (IoS 9/11/03 LifeEtc. p. 15)
“Informer”, one who gives the authorities information that compromises his colleagues.

Condoleezza yawned. Volubly. (STel 23/11/03 p. 1.36)
“Volubly” describes incessant speaking. Perhaps “visibly”, “voluminously” and “loudly” merged in the writer’s mind.

But either he or his publishers have decided to do away with an index. (Obs 16/5/04 Review p. 17)
“Do away with” suggests that an index existed, in which case “the index” would be expected. “Do without” probably more accurately describes the decision.

Back at Dundas Castle the mums are getting ready to pit their driving skills on a specialist off-road course. (STim 30/5/04 Driving Ireland, p. 4)
“Pit their driving skills against” or “test their driving skills on”.

As Williams lowered and folded the four flags … the re-enactor solemnly took his bugle and played the reveille. (STim 18/7/04 p. 5.3)
This occurred in the evening, when Taps would normally be heard. Reveille, from the French réveillez = “wake up”, is played in the morning – and not solemnly.

Passion can be hard to capture on the page but this menage of debutants each makes it the subject of their wildly differing first novels. (Obs 1/8/04 Review p. 17)
All three authors are female, so “debutantes”.

… any attempts to enforce rules, regulations or uniform receive short shift from students. (Obs 30/1/05 Magazine p. 69)
“Shrift”, which is archaic for confession/ penance”. “Short shrift” means little or no patience or forgiveness.

“… we are implicit in the slaughter of large numbers of civilians …” [attributed to Clare Short] (IoS 17/7/05 p. 1.1)
“Complicit.”

2004 has gone … (Obs 7/1/05 p. 1.25)
2004 gaveth – and tooketh away – John Kerry. (Sunday Tribune 2/1/05 p. 1.19)
The long-established style rule forbidding the use of a numeral at the beginning of a sentence is so entrenched that it rarely appears in usage books. “The year 2004” is preferred. Misuse of archaic forms, such as the shudder-inducing “gaveth” and “tooketh”, is dealt with under “Archaic Expressions”.

 … who have effectively claimed huge swaths of land along this coast … (Obs 1/1/06 p. 1. 19)
“Swath”, with a short “a”, is the US form of “swathe” (with a long “a”) and not normal in UK usage.

So that’s where the birds are [in the woods where bugs and caterpillars are abundant]. Scoffing themselves. (Obs 1/1/06 p. 1. 26)
“Scoff” (US: “scarf”), meaning to eat greedily, is transitive – it takes a direct object – not reflexive.

a planet inhabited by aliens. (STim 12/3/95 p. 8.6 [“Funday Times” section])
Most inhabitants, especially of a planet, are more likely to be natives than aliens.

… an imaginative and resourceful little girl who lives an idyllic life on an uninhabited tropical island with her marine biologist father .. (The Irish Mail on Sunday 4/5/08 p. 69)
[Sebastian] Dangerfield’s appetite for women and drink is insatiable and he satisfies it with endless charm. (Irish Daily Mail 1/5/08 p. 33) [article about The Ginger Man by J. P. Donleavy]
Soft targets like tabloids, local papers and street signs are generally left out of this survey, but the concepts of living on an uninhabited island and satisfying an insatiable appetite require attention.

… but “writer in internet cafe (at £1 an hour)” doesn’t have quite the same cache. (Obs 24/9/06 Magazine p. 5)
“Cachet”, ie, prestige.

[In an extended rant against usage nit-pickers who write letters of complaint to the editor:] They’re with Fowler and Gower for Plain English. (IoS 21/1/07 p. 1.61)
The editor of the 1965 second edition of Fowler’s Modern English Usage was Sir Ernest Gowers, with an “s”.

The waiters are friendly. Nothing phases them. (IoS 21/1/07 p. 1.5)
“Fazes.”

A doctor’s authentification of suffering may be more effective than his medication. (ITim 31/3/07 Weekend Review p. 13)
An imagined back-formation from the supposed verb “authentificate”. Even the MS Word spell checker caught this one.

… the biggest collection in the world, which [University College London] loaned from a private collector … (IoS 7/10/07 p. 1.24)
“Borrowed.” Another foreign-learner mistake.

… one of the 20 issues the inquest will spend the next six months pouring over … (IoS 7/10/07 p. 1.30)
“Poring.”

In 1964, the quartercentenary of Shakespeare’s birth was marked … (STel 20/1/08 Seven p. 45)
“Quatercentenary.” The MS Word spell checker doesn’t recognise the difference either, flagging both as incorrect.

His reticence to continue [base-jumping] is not uncommon among base jumpers. (STim 8/3/09 Magazine p. 19)
“Reluctance.” “Reticence” means silence – from the Latin tacere – on the topic of one’s thoughts or emotions.

 “Sadly, incidences of fraud are rising …” (Obs 15/3/09 p. 1.19)
A common error in speaking. “Incidents” or “instances”.

a gigantic home entertainment consul (Obs 17/8/08 p. 16)
“Console.”

… there were those who fermented strikes and those who made bombs. (STel 29/6/08 Seven p. 44)
“Fomented”, ie, instigated.

It was the third Dublin gig by [The Eagles] since they reformed for the Hell Freezes Over album in 1994. (ITim 4/7/09 p. 1.2)
There is no evidence that their behaviour had been any worse than that of other bands, and since they had previously broken up, the word must be re-formed.

But what Mangold has done is taken a rather cold, deliberate work from the classic era and redesigned and decorated it … (Obs 16/9/07 Review p. 16)
“To have taken.” The noun clause “what Mangold has done” is the subject of “is”. The subject complement must be a noun or a part of speech that acts as a noun. “Taken” is not a noun. “To have taken” is a perfect infinitive, which can act as a noun and so is suitable.

… that led one female audient to liken him to a hairdresser. (STim 19/2/95 p. 10.52)
This childish back-formed singular for “audience” is out of place in a newspaper.

The designer himself had nicely trimmed balding hair well set off by quasi-designer stubble. (STel 17/5/98 p. A5)
A person is balding, but hair is “thinning”.

… if it is clear the Serbian army in Kosovo is bereft of fuel and supplies, or in demoralised retreat … (Obs 11/4/99 p. 1.15)
“Bereft” – “archaic past participle of bereave” (NODE) – normally applies to non-material or abstract attributes or feelings, so “deprived of”. Compare: “The exploitation of invention [in the early 20th century] was rapid, bereft though it was of the supposed stimulus of war.” (STim 26/12/99 Magazine p. 13)

Old copies of Carnival and Parade lie pristine and safely cellophane-wrapped besides a reproduction of Dali’s “lips” couch, … (IoS 31/5/98 Real Life p. 3)
“Beside.” “Besides” is the adverb.

 I had heard that Tetley’s float had run into hot water 10 days ago, but a blundering PR man managed to deceive me into not writing about it – “going great guns, old boy. Splendid chaps”. I shall not make the same mistake again. (STel 21/6/98 Business p. 3)
Context does not seem to support “blundering” but rather suggests “blustering”. A PR man who deceives a journalist is only doing his job and cannot be described as “blundering”.

Their comrades man two T55 tanks hidden beneath the hanging bows of the eucalyptus. (STim 14/6/98 p. 1.22)
“Boughs” of a tree, “bow(s)” of a ship.

 … its role is bigger then ever. (Obs 5/7/09 Escape p. 5)
… airports are certainly to be endured rather then celebrated. (STel 8/7/12 Seven p. 10).
“Than.” Almost too common to be included here, this slip of the keyboard or lapse in concentration will not be caught by the writer’s spell checker. That is up to the editors, who are demonstrably not up to it.

Are we not officially [the Queen’s] subjects, lamed by cringing and curtsying, hunched by our forelock-tugging? We do not even possess the status of citizens … (Obs 5/7/98 Review p. 18)
Citizen can be used in relation to countries with any form of government, including republics (‘French citizens’) and monarchies (‘British citizens’).” Citizens of monarchies are also subjects. (TGESU)

… the road that now dissects their reserve … (STim 26/11/00 Magazine p. 63)
“Bisects.” Bisect means divide into two parts; dissect means cut up into pieces. This road, in the reserve of the Jarawa, an aboriginal tribe in the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal, is elsewhere in the article described as “the road that cuts through their reserve”.

Marlene Dietrich doffing her top hat in The Blue Angel, 1930 (STim 23/11/97 p. 8.4)
Wearing her top hat.” “Doff” comes from “do off”, meaning to take off; “don” comes from “do on”, meaning to put on. Compare: “… Dedalus must doff his fedora to Alannah Gallagher on capturing the editor’s post …” (STim 14/6/98 p. 11.8)

Throughout Easter Week, BBC1 screened … (STim 3/4/94 p. 9.10)
This was in Easter Sunday’s issue. The week before Easter Sunday is Holy Week. The week beginning with Easter Sunday is Easter Week.

There is a consensus that the middle of the interview is forgotten easiest. (STel 21/6/98 p. A6)
“Most easily.” “Easy/easier/easiest” as an adverb is at the “vulgar” end of “colloquial”. “Slow” as an adverb – “he drives too slow” – is also non-standard: “that voice that slides slow into the deepest of timbres” (ITim 25/7/09 WeekendReview p. 7). “Quicker” as an adverb seems to be nearly as acceptable as “faster”: “Slang is absorbed quicker now than ever before …” (Obs 17/3/02 Life p. 8)

his 13-year-old daughter Elizabeth’s bar mitzvah (STim 28/6/09 Magazine p. 22)
Bat mitzvah” – “daughter of the commandment” – is for girls. “Bar mitzvah” – “son of the commandment” – is for boys. It is not unusual for non-Jews to be aware of this distinction.

He calls Jeffries, among other unprintable things, an “unpleasant human being and a bad person”. (STim 23/1/00 p. 5.12)
Since the thing printed was demonstrably not unprintable, “other” should be deleted.

 [An unwanted male admirer who had sent unwanted flowers] rang … to enquire if she had received any nice flowers. “No, not one,” she snapped, leaving him to fulmigate with the local Interflora. [from a short story by Polly Samson] (Obs 17/5/98 Life p. 29)
“Fulminate” (“express censure loudly and forcefully” – COD) is usually accompanied by “against”. “Altercate” (“dispute hotly; wrangle” – COD) takes “with”. As a hybrid, “fulmigate” would be a useful word if it existed, but none of the dictionaries consulted seem to have heard of it.

… the bombshell news that [Sarah Palin] is bolting the governor’s office. (STel 12/7/09 p. 1.17)
“Bolting” is fastening and securing something. “Bolting from” means fleeing precipitously from something, which is what Ms Palin was doing.

Do you seriously believe that Eastenders say to their girlfriends, “Oo come here luv, I’ve got a salmon on (prawn)”? I should coco. (STim 1/5/94 p. 9.2)
“Cocoa”, the usual spelling, is short for “coffee and cocoa”, which is rhyming slang for “say so” in the expression “I should say so”, which means “I emphatically agree”, which is the opposite of what the writer seems to have meant.

Shipyards put in invoices for reparations they never made. (STel 16/8/09 Seven p. 13)
Reparations normally refers to compensation for a wrong or damage inflicted, especially payment by the loser to the victor after a war. Several dictionaries accept the word as a synonym for “repairs”, but NODE calls this use “archaic”.

The etiquette, manners, jokes and culture of a polite society are all caught on the tongs of the fork. (STim 3/1/10 News Review p. 3)
“Tines.” Tongs are a tool with two hinged arms for grasping objects, such as sugar lumps or pieces of coal.

His teacher does, however, ring the grammatical error of using “But” at the start of two of [Paul] McCartney’s sentences. (STim 27/9/09 p. 1.20)
This is a typical teacher error, in which the Sunday Times writer and editor are willing accomplices. “But”, to introduce an independent clause in a compound sentence, indicates a change of direction. “But” at the beginning of a sentence shows a stronger change, though not as strong as “however”. Context shows how the 10-year-old future Beatle used “but” correctly in his prize-winning essay.

“On the Coronation Day of William the Conqueror, senseless Saxon folk gathered round Westminster Abbey to cheer their Norman king as he walked down the aisle. The Normans thinking this was an insult turned upon the Saxons killing nearly all of them. But on the Coronation Day of our lovely young queen, Queen Elizabeth II, no rioting, nor killing will take place because present day royalty rules with affection rather than force.”

Theft is on the up and up … (ITim 16/10/09 p. 1.13)
Not an error, this is an example of different usage east and west of the Atlantic. “On the up and up” means “honest” in the US and “on the increase” or “becoming successful” in Britain and Ireland.

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