The Independent

Mea culpa: northern lights and contrastin­g conditions

Style and usage in last week’s Independen­t,

- by John Rentoul

In an article about the ways in which the El Nino and La Nina climate patterns might affect world temperatur­es in the next few years, we used the phrase “boreal summer”. Quite right, too. We said: “The current La Nina began in September 2020 with a brief break in the boreal summer of 2021.” Most readers might have been unsure

what it meant, but could guess that it referred to the northern hemisphere – Aurora Borealis and all that.

I am all for using rare words if they sound good and enlarge my vocabulary, but the article also used some rather deadening language that muffled what might otherwise have been a display of scientific virtuosity. We said: “La Nina refers to the largescale cooling of the ocean surface temperatur­es in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean.” There is no excuse for “largescale”, which could safely be deleted as it adds nothing. The scale is apparent from reference to whole regions of the Pacific.

The report went on: “It usually has the opposite effect on weather and climate as El Nino.” That should be “opposite ... to”.

Elsewhere in the report there was a reference to “a period of neutral conditions”, which is the language of unimaginat­ive weather forecasts – I have noticed the weather app on my phone keeps telling me about “conditions”. I think we could simply have said “a neutral period”, between El Nino warming and La Nina cooling.

Five significan­t digits? There was an odd example of spurious precision in a report about the effect of A&E delays. We said that the Royal College of Emergency Medicine estimated that “23,003 ‘excess patient deaths’ may be linked to these delays”.

At the start of the report, we rounded this figure to 23,000 patient deaths last year, which is what we should have stuck to. It is an estimate, after all. Thanks to John Harrison for drawing it to my attention.

Also, there was no need to put “excess patient deaths” in quotation marks. These are normal English words for a wellknown concept, namely more deaths than would otherwise have been expected.

The trunk of the train: We slipped up when a comment article asked: “Is the next step going to be people hopping on the Eurostar to fill the boot up with fruit and veg for happy salad

making?” Filling up the boot implies a car journey, so we meant the Eurotunnel Shuttle, not the Eurostar passenger train.

Jarring: We referred, more than once, to the death of more than 50 migrants on the Calabrian coast of southern Italy as the result of a “crash”, as though it happened on a motorway, rather than a “wreck” or “shipwreck”, which is the usual word for a boat sinking after hitting rocks. Thanks to Richard Thomas for pointing it out.

Pouring coffee? In a report of the Windsor Framework, the agreement agreed between the UK and the EU about Northern Ireland, we said “... as the unionists and backbenche­rs pour over the details of the deal”. We did this last week, too. We meant “pore over”, meaning “inspect thoroughly”.

Less is not more: The danger of pomposific­ation was well illustrate­d by our editorial this weekend, in which we said that the provisiona­l conclusion­s of the privileges committee inquiry into whether Boris Johnson misled parliament are “never more than well supported” by the evidence. We meant “less” rather than “more” (thanks to Bernard Theobald for pointing it out). That was easily put right by deleting the excess verbiage, so it now reads “provisiona­l conclusion­s that are well supported ...”

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 ?? ?? Trainspott­ing: the Eurostar and Eurotunnel shuttle are not the same thing (PA)
Trainspott­ing: the Eurostar and Eurotunnel shuttle are not the same thing (PA)

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