Rantings of a sub-editor

May 21, 2010

Concave fruit: unpealed

Filed under: peel/peal,spelling — substuff @ 2:51 pm
Tags: , , ,

the bendy yellow favourite

It does make me laugh when writers get so scared of repetition that they tie themselves up in knots trying to make sure they never use a word twice.

Thanks to this regime, we get “Sir Terry Leahy” in the first par, “the Tesco supremo” in the second, “the Cheshunt-based retail mogul” in the third and “the blue and white-striped king” in the fourth. You don’t want to know what he’s called in the final par, believe me.

Today, however, my eyes were opened anew. Subbing a feature about bananas (in which, I admit, there were multiple mentions of bananas), I discovered the following sentence:

She is also in discussions with Corbana about the possibility of setting up the country’s first university dedicated to the study of the concave fruit to help educate the next generation of producers.

The concave fruit? Oh my goodness!

On a different topic, the same feature also yielded the following two gems:

One in every four bananas unpealed in Britain comes from Costa Rica.

The facts: unpealed

I’m seeing bananas hanging silently from bell towers – once they rang proudly, but now their peals have been taken from them!

Ps. Today was the day I decided to take my email address off my site, following a series of emails ranging from the inappropriate to the unwelcome. It’s a shame, as I’ve also had several emails from people who genuinely have something to say and suggestions to make. So if you’re one of the latter, please don’t take it personally – you can always get me through Twitter, or leave a comment and I’ll mail you back.



  1. I was once subbing a story about a llama farmer here in Devon. Having used the word “llamas” in the first paragraph and “animals” in the second, the poor reporter was obviously stumped for a different word in the third. Still, he managed to overcome the block and the llamas became “the South American beasts of burden”. We never let him forget that one.

    Comment by Around My Kitchen Table — May 21, 2010 @ 4:00 pm | Reply

  2. Surely you can’t write a piece about llamas without calling one “the ungulate”, a truly great word.

    “Blue and white-striped king” is just nasty. I hope you slapped the writer across the back of the head. In any case, it could lead to confusion with Mr Colgate.

    Comment by Paddy — May 21, 2010 @ 7:33 pm | Reply

    • Ungulate. Mmm!

      I made up “blue and white-striped king”, I must confess.

      Comment by substuff — May 21, 2010 @ 7:35 pm | Reply

  3. Elegant variations are the curse of many national newspapers, too. Daily Telegraph sport is particularly awful. They can’t mention a football player without referring to him in the second instance as the “23-year-old Italian”, then the “former Inter Milan star”, then “the midfielder” or whatever. Only the geekiest can follow this.

    It’s a different matter at The Times. One of the style gurus there, in a memo to subs, wrote:
    If the ghost of Henry James comes to haunt you, send him round to me and I’ll tell him what I think of his bloody elegant variations.

    Comment by Bertie Blunt — May 24, 2010 @ 2:42 pm | Reply

    • I can’t stand it! I hate reading a story and suddenly thinking “hang on, who’s this 23-year-old Italian, then?” Unless it’s particularly well written or the reader has some prior knowledge, “elegant variations” can easily give the impression that there are five different protagonists in a story that is in fact about just one – or, worse, two (which one is 23 and Italian?). It can be done well, but it can also be done horribly!

      Comment by substuff — May 24, 2010 @ 10:10 pm | Reply

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