Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Subbing tip #11: To err is human – but incorrect

Spotted everywhere, and now on the BBC, people going “err” when they want to indicate a certain uncertainty. This is odd – there’s a perfectly legitimate word for this, but it only has one “r”. Adding more because you think it makes it sound more hesitant has a certain logic, but is just plain wrong. […]

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

Subbing tip #10: Where’s the question?

Normally, the Radio Times is the most rigorously proofread magazine on the newsstand, so it’s a shame that this bit of sloppiness slipped into print. From Stuart Maconie’s “Maconie’s People” column of 3-9 July 2010 comes this: Forget what they say about James Brown. Damon Albarn is surely the hardest working man in showbiz? Whether […]

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

Subbing tip #9: Faze or phase?

“Faze”: “to cause to be disturbed or disconcerted”. As in: the journalism lecturer was seldom fazed by the constant mis-spellings and poor grammar of his students. “Phase”: “a stage in a process of change or development”. As in: she wanted to work in the media, but luckily it was just a phase she was going through. This pairing can be a bit of a puzzle, but don’t be fazed. […]

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Subbing tip #8: the bare facts

Spotted twice yesterday in papers that should know better – two stories baring the writer’s ignorance of simple English. The London Standard story This isn’t just a decline … it’s a Marks and Spencer decline noted: The store front is fading and a little grotty. The shop sign seems left over from the Fifties, baring […]

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

Subbing tip #7: Out there? Don’t go there

Every journalist and his dog seems to add this redundant phrase to whatever story they’re writing (or presenting, if it’s on TV or radio). Here’s a typical example (from the Telegraph): “Amazon releases Kindle for iPhone but are there enough ebooks out there?” Uh – out where, exactly? If the story is asking whether there are enough enough […]

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

Subbing tip #6: flak or flack?

When someone comes under attack for something or other, many journalists pull out the old anti-aircraft metaphor to describe it. But here, sadly, their ignorance starts to show. “Flak” comes from a German acronym for anti aircraft fire – Fl(ieger)a(bwehr)k(anone). A “flack” is a slightly derogatory North American term for a publicity agent. So ditch […]

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

Subbing tip #5: bellwether or bellweather?

According to, this is the word that means “a person or thing that shows the existence or direction of a trend”. But it’s nothing to do with the way the wind is blowing. So it’s nothing to do with the weather.  “Bellwether”: a sheep (wether: a castrated ram) with a bell around its neck […]

Monday, April 7th, 2008

Subbing tip #4: lose vs loose

“Lose” is a verb that describes how one may mislay something – like punctuation.  “Loose” is an adjective that describes something that is not tight – like much writing. (Though sometimes, but not often, it’s a verb that means “to set free”.)

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008

Subbing tip #3: free rein vs free reign

“Free rein” is when you give something considerable freedom of movement, like loosening the reins on your horse. “Free reign” might be something to do with the monarch if it even existed as an expression.  It doesn’t – ditch that “g” people…

Monday, March 17th, 2008

Subbing tip #2: just deserts

“Just deserts” are the justice that someone richly deserves. “Just desserts” is a restaurant that someone should open that only serves pudding. Only one “s”, people!