Voices: Mea Culpa: Easy reading

·4-min read
‘She had the look of a woman whose punctuational needs had been satisfied’  (Getty)
‘She had the look of a woman whose punctuational needs had been satisfied’ (Getty)

We seem sometimes to forget that, when people read books, or newspaper reports, or anything else, they are better able to understand what is written when it is given the right punctuation. This serves not just to make writing comprehensible, but to slow it down, which allows us time to process what we are reading.

In an article about the suspension of MP Diane Abbott, we quoted a statement provided by her colleague John McDonnell, which read: “I can completely understand why people are angry but all I can say is that I hope all those now sitting in judgement of her have the generosity of spirit to acknowledge that for decades she has been at the forefront of campaigning against racism and has endured so much herself. Hopefully, we can all learn from this.”

Leaving out the last bit, that’s 51 whole words without a single pause, stop, hesitation or interruption. Which would be wonderful if it were a game of who can hold their breath the longest, but our aim at The Independent is that our copy is comfortable to read, and this requires that we insert at least an occasional comma – even if the original text contains none.

Having said that, we can’t just stick them in anywhere and hope for the best. (Or perhaps we can, but we shouldn’t.) This from our sports section, in which we quoted the Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag talking about his team’s recent performance: “What we can improve is we can deal with setbacks between games, now we have to bounce back in a game in difficult situations or occasions or away stadiums, we have to show personality, carry on, stick to the plan and turn around.” It all sounds a bit like the instructions from that terrible 1980s song about pineapples.

Transcription is an underrated skill. It is true that people giving interviews or press conferences don’t always talk in a way that is easy to write down, but it is our job to make sure that their words are presented in an orderly manner, as it benefits both the reader and the person we are quoting.

Politician, oust thyself: There was a confusing headline in our Daily Edition on Monday, which read: “Raab faces bid to be ousted as MP ahead of election.” “This feels wrong,” said Roger Thetford, and I agree. By using the passive voice (“to be ousted”) we imply, rightly, that Raab would have no control over his proposed removal, but at the same time we suggest that he is being asked (via the “bid”) to allow himself, or even cause himself, to be removed. The ousting party in this scenario was not mentioned, but it certainly wasn’t Raab. As such, Mr Thetford’s suggested fix – “Raab faces bid to oust him as MP” – would have been much better.

Clause for concern: “The Independent has been highlighting the case of the Afghan war hero and pilot who himself arrived in the UK on a small boat. Currently facing deportation, the Iraq war veteran Colonel Tim Collins has now backed our campaign to give him asylum,” we wrote in a leader column last week, suggesting that the retired colonel, rather than the pilot, was at risk of being deported.

Dangling participles like this one are often sortoutable simply by shunting the offending clause back past the preceding full stop and coupling it to the previous sentence, like so: “... and is currently facing deportation.” Needless to say, we shouldn’t be sending either of these chaps to Rwanda or anywhere else.

Everyday is a school day: We managed to join together what God hath put asunder in a round-up of the best purple shampoos – for a moment I wondered if it had been published in tribute to Barry Humphries, but it was just a coincidence that it appeared in the Daily Edition last week. In our review of what is somewhat inconcisely known as Fudge Professional Everyday Clean Blonde Damage Rewind Violet-Toning Shampoo – yes, that is its actual name, and perhaps in this case more is more – we said it was “the perfect solution to use everyday”.

That is an adjective, of the sort we might normally see in a phrase such as “everyday costs” or “everyday grammar mistakes” – or, indeed, “everyday [various random words] shampoo”. Until we’re allowed to write everyfourthsaturday as one word, I’m not going to permit this aberration.

Near miss(es) of the week: We carried a story about a man who we almost said had been “shocked to learn he was conceived via sperm donor in his early thirties”. Everyone knows conception takes place well before that, but the human mind is a mischievous thing, and we didn’t want to leave our readers with the surreal, Pythonesque image of a fully grown adult emerging from the womb.

We also referred, in the same article, to the 2005 law that allows people to “trace their biological routes”. I can see how that one happened, and to be fair it would have made a sort of sense. But it still made me picture the North Circular, and it’s never very restful to think about that.