Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

Tabloid construction that will always remain an eyesore

Perhaps the teachers of English who tell me they read this column, and others in positions of influence, will profess themselves equally opposed to linguistic vulgarisms

Nigella Lawson, the celebrity chef whose suggestive body language attracts as much attention as her recipes, is not the only high-flying offspring of the former British cabinet minister Lord Lawson. Her brother Dominic was for 10 years the editor of The Sunday Telegraph, London. Anyone who regards me as a pedant should consider the role he found for my former colleague Chris Boffey. Boffey, as well as being excellent company, is a versatile journalist who has worked for one of Britain's trashiest tabloid newspapers and also four of its most respected broadsheets.

One of his duties as Lawson's news editor was to comb all page proofs before the presses began to roll each Saturday. Whenever he spotted a particular sort of tabloid construction, he was required to eliminate it. Thus, a sentence beginning "Journalist Chris Boffey ..." or "Celebrity chef Nigella Lawson ..." would be changed to "Chris Boffey, the journalist, ..." and Nigella Lawson, the celebrity chef, ...", although he might sometimes have settled for the simple addition of a definite article, as in "the journalist Chris Boffey...".

I share Lawson's distaste for the practice of placing a noun or adjective, or both, in front of a name without the definite or indefinite article. The point is fully covered in The National's style guide, which requires staff should not write "teacher Peter Sixsmith ..." or "rock star Bono ...", but "Peter Sixsmith, a teacher, ..." or "the rock star Bono ...". In other words, the description should appear before the name only if it is a formal title (President Barack Obama, for example) or when preceded by a, an or the.

Most readers of English language newspapers will have come across the shorthand device that Lawson and I find so annoying. The reason it irritates is that it not only reflects lazy use of English, but is unreal. No one actually speaks like that. If you doubt my word, try to remember the last time you heard someone talk about "Slumdog Millionaire star Freida Pinto" or "England striker Wayne Rooney". If such phrases sound foolish when spoken out loud, there is no justification for writing them.

Much as I try, I cannot prevent occasional incursions at The National. Most old habits die hard, and this one comes naturally to people who have previously worked for news agencies or tabloids. One colleague promised faithfully to observe our style rule, only to repeat the offence in his next article. "I spent too long at Reuters," he explained, blaming the urgent style adopted by the international news agency. "Still trying to get it out of my system."

Inevitably, the usage has spread from journalism to other forms of written English. Lynne Truss uses at least one such construction in her paean to pedantry, Eats, Shoots & Leaves. Advertisers and publicists would be lost without it. Resisting it has become a lonely battle. But I hope I am being unduly pessimistic in fearing that most people do not notice, or do not care. Perhaps the teachers of English who tell me they read this column, and others in positions of influence, will profess themselves equally opposed to linguistic vulgarisms.

But I look in vain for assistance from my favourite British newspaper, The Observer. Good as it is, The Observer would be a lot better if its news pages were not littered with such phrases as "documentary polemicist Michael Moore", "property developer Sir Timothy Lipton" and even "performer Denise van Outen". Where is Chris Boffey when you need him? Alas, the gamekeeper has taken up poaching. He is now head of news at The Observer.

Colin Randall is the executive editor of The National and can be contacted at crandall@thenational.ae

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Al Rayyan's Yakubu Ayegbeni, left, tries to escape the attention of Jazira's Khamis Ismail. Karim Jaafar / AFP Photo

Late strike puts Al Jazira on verge of qualifying for the last 16 of Asian Champions League

All to play for across East Asia during final round of group phase.

 Manchester City's Vincent Kompany reacts after being sent off by referee Lee Mason during their English Premier League soccer match against Hull City at the KC stadium in Hull, northern England March 15, 2014. REUTERS/Nigel Roddis

Man City’s Manuel Pellegrini says Vincent Kompany is an important player

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini defends team captain and talks about team's injuries ahead of clash with Sunderland at home on Wednesday night.

 Supporters of China during the Asian Cup Qualifier match between Iraq vs China at Sharjah football stadium in Sharjah. Iraq won the match by 3-1. Pawan Singh / The National

Asian Cup expanding to 24 football teams in 2019

As part of a regional shake-up, the 2019 Asian Cup will climb to 24 teams but next month’s Challenge Cup in the Maldives will be the last, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) announced.

 Latifa Ali Al Shamsi of UAE fights compatriot Boshra Ghanem Al Zadjali in their 38.5kg match at the Junior World Jiu-Jitsu Championship. Christopher Pike / The National

Competitors at Abu Dhabi Junior World Jiu-Jitsu Championship target world domination

All of Wednesday’s winners at the tournament, being held in the UAE capital, are ambitious enough to target a black belt and reach the pinnacle of the sport, Amith Passela reports.

 Jacques Kallis top-scored with 72 for Kolkata Knight Riders against Mumbai Indians at Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday. Pawan Singh / The National

Kallis kicks off IPL 7 with fifty as Kolkata thrash Mumbai

South African legend shows class is permanent as Knight Riders beat defending champions by 41 runs. Osman Samiuddin reports from Abu Dhabi.

 Amir Khan, during a workout at the Gloves Community Centre on March 24, 2014 in Bolton, England, says his fight will be the real main event in Las Vegas on May 3. Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Amir Khan says bout with Luis Collazo ‘will steal the show’ in Las Vegas on May 3

British-Pakistani boxer Amir Khan says his fight with Luis Collazo will be the main attraction on same fight card led by Floyd Mayweather Jr and Marcos Maidana, writes Omar Al Raisi.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National