Snow and ice bring journalistic cliche to the whole of Britain

John Rentoul

Paradise Lost 1 237x300 Snow and ice bring journalistic cliche to the whole of BritainBefore I retire from the pedantry business altogether, I draw the reader’s attention to the work of my fellow stickler (although he shows an unforgivable lenience towards the misuse of eponymous), Guy Keleny, in today’s Independent:

“Britain braces for weeks of transport chaos,” said the headline on yesterday’s cover story about the weather. Is there a single word that has been so devalued by journalistic overuse as “chaos”?

For a description of proper chaos, see Book II of Paradise Lost [right]. This is an eternal abyss of warring elements untouched by the ordering hand of the Creator. Long tailbacks on the M25 don’t get anywhere near it. The trouble is that “chaos” is a short word, and short words tend to elbow their way into headlines. So “chaos” has become a mere code for difficulties on the roads. One odd thing is that “chaos” happens only on the roads. Disruption of rail and air travel produces not “chaos” but “misery”.

Anyway, full marks to Jonathan Brown, the reporter who wrote the story. Here is his opening sentence: “Britain is gritting its teeth and its roads today in anticipation of the return of Arctic conditions, with heavy snow and ice-storms likely to bring wide-scale disruption.” He has made up his own word-play on “gritting”. He knows what “anticipation” means – not expecting something, but taking action about it. And he has called disruption disruption, not chaos.

Well, not quite full marks, perhaps. Marks will be deducted for “Arctic conditions”, “ice-storms” and “wide-scale”. But top marks for trying to avoid the worst of the blizzard of cliché.

Thanks to David Aaronovitch for the headline.

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  • tiddles

    The Archbishops have been very quiet on the subject . Is the Almighty sending Artic weather because we are obsessed by X factor, and is punishing us for our decadence .So far my prayers are being unanswered due to spiritual “chaos” in the freezing air .

  • LancashireLad

    Crucial to establishing if a third party was involved in the death of Dr David Kelly is the position the body was found in. The post mortem examination revealed that the body had been lay on it’s back after death by livor mortis (how blood settles in the body and discolours the skin).

    Dr Kelly’s body was found sat against a tree but was later moved to lying flat on it’s back. Was the body moved because someone had realised that livor mortis may reveal that Dr Kelly did not die where he was found?

    And what about the pool of blood that Dr Kelly knelt in? How did he manage to do that sitting against a tree / lying on his back? And the blood staining to the right sleeve of his coat, the hand that was supposed to be holding the knife.

    Parts of Dr Kelly’s clothing had blood stains that indicate his body was moved after the cuts had been made to his wrist.

    The ambulance crew and police have both stated there was not much blood at the scene; is this because Dr Kelly did not receive the injuries where he was found?

  • Adam Hill

    The snow was wonderful today. London is better for it.

  • AndrewWatt

    LancashireLad makes some good points.

    I discuss evidence that David Kelly was murdered here:

  • Dave_Jones

    John Rentoul overlooks the London effect. Scotland beset by an Ice Age merits 5 seconds in the media whilst a snowflake within the M25 is seen as equivalent to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse mixed with the 10 Plagues of Egypt. London’s public transport system collapses in the summer as well, either because of rain or heat, and the road system is capable of siezing up at any time of year. Heathrow and Gatwick have also been at a standstill this year because of ash clouds and strikes. London is just one big hazard, much as I love the place.
    Meanwhile, out here in the depths of East Anglia, a 4×4 is the only way to get about, we don’t expect to wear T-shirts and shorts all year round (although I’d recommend it for Xmas shopping in Norwich), and snow is an annual event.
    In the past cold weather like this would have brought smog, the Plague, outbreaks of measles and whooping cough, and deaths from hyperthermia. Now that would be something to write about.

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