Mea Culpa: warp factor one in the State of the Union address
Questions of style and usage in this week’s Independent
Donald Trump in his State of the Union address announced another summit with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader. In a comment article, our correspondent was unimpressed: “This had been well trailed and expected; and it is the second one – the novelty factor of the first meeting is no longer there.”
Nothing wrong with that, except that “factor” is a dead word. It is often used as a way of avoiding the prosaic “thing”, in what I think is the mistaken belief that it sounds more intellectual to write, for example, about “another factor to be considered”. But here it could just disappear and the sentence would read better.
Your money and your life: In the same article about President Trump’s speech, we commented that two decades of wars in the Middle East, which he pledged to bring to an end, were “a terrible waste of American blood and treasure”. That phrase sounds like JRR Tolkien or George RR Martin fanfiction, something shouted by a pillaging orc; it is a terrible cliche and should be avoided.
Disutilisation: Our software for putting articles on the website has a button called “Apply formatting”, which automatically changes quotation marks into better looking curvy ones, and makes dashes the right length. I wish it would also turn any instance of “utilise” into “use”, but it doesn’t, so we let a couple of them through this week. We’ll try not to do it again.
Brutish and tall: In an article about Singapore’s buildings, we mentioned “landmarks of so-called brutalist architecture, like Golden Mile Tower”. What does “so-called” mean there? Brutalism is a well-defined style of architecture, taking its name from béton brut, the French for raw concrete. That it is mostly hideous and therefore brutish is a fine punning coincidence.
Anyway, I had a look at images of the Golden Mile Tower just so that I could disapprove of it, and I can confirm that it is horrible. Nothing “so-called” about it.
Down-scale: The article said there were a lot of brutalist landmarks built soon after Singapore became independent in 1965, “when the city’s growth was fuelled by large-scale urban renewal projects”. There is no need for the “-scale”, a component sometimes bolted on to make ugly compound words. I have seen “wide-scale”, “mass-scale” and even “huge-scale”. Time for the scales to fall.
Iconic update: My campaign to get rid of “icon” and “iconic” except when discussing devotional art of Byzantine and other Eastern churches is running against a strong cultural tide. We used one or other 23 times this week, partly because of the BBC2 programme, Icons, wittily reviewed by Sean O’Grady.
He pointed out that the programme’s use of the word compared people – all men – who were famous for disparate things. But they were also “so goody goody”. As he said: “An ‘icon’ doesn’t have to be saintly, unless you take this badly abused word literally, for a change.”