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Chief sub lays down the law

By Leo Whitlock

Having an end-of-year clear out of my inbox, I came across a folder called Pet Hates.

It was full of contributions from subs, news editors and editors highlighting their most heinous house style howlers in the same vein as my previous blog posts here and here.

Buried in among them was a copy of a classic rant from a chief sub some 15 years previously which one of his team had saved.

A man escaped a jail sentence - unlikely, he was probably spared a jail sentence

I think it is well worth reproducing below. I especially like the line about Dracula under court reporting. Let me know what you think.


5ft tall (get rid of tall, unless suspect is 5ft wide).

Aged 30 (just 30).

Police want to speak to eye-witnesses (as opposed to what - ear-witnesses? No need for eye).

Police believe he may have ... they either believe he did or say he may have - you don't need both.

He was driving a BMW/Mercedes/Jaguar or whatever car. Rarely need car - the makes usually speak for themselves.

Gained entry...broke in

Conveyed in an ambulance...taken in an ambulance


Dartford Magistrates' Court. Leave out court, and just say, whenever possible, somebody appeared before Dartford magistrates. That also sorts out problem of where to put the apostrophe.

He pleaded guilty to .. should be he admitted.

On seven counts of .... that is archaic in the highest order. So, unless somebody is in court involved with Dracula, the word "count" is banned. Just say is charged with or facing charges of.

He asked the court for seven offences taken into consideration - should be "to be considered".

He was three times over the limit for driving ,,, more often than not, it should be three times the limit. In this example, three times over the limit means a driver has consumed four times the legal limit. Think about it.

A man has been told he may face prison. In most cases, he does face prison. Facing prison means it is a possibility.

A man escaped a jail sentence - unlikely, he was probably spared a jail sentence.

He spoke only to confirm his name and address ... this phrase has been done to death and is usually used in a remand report when there is nothing else to say.


Brutal killer - as opposed to a nice one?

Callous thieves - same applies, unless you believe in Robin Hood.

Mindless vandals - like they are going to have a degree in sociology.

Plucky, intrepid, brave etc .... use when it's appropriate, not, for example, when somebody is doing a sponsored walk.

Violent attack...attack

Aims to or aimed at "the village fair was aimed at raising funds for ... ". Just say it raised funds, unless it was loss-making. Generally avoid "aims to" - totally overdone phrase.

The session runs between 3pm and 4pm. That means any time between those hours and, therefore, it could last for just one minute. Instead, say the session runs from 3pm to 4pm.
Book in advance, pre-book and, worst of all, pre-book in advance. If this really does need an explanation then here it is - when you book, you book in advance. that's the only way - no need for advance etc.

He added ... Why do reporters chuck in "he added ..." halfway through a story and then go on for about another 10 pars? Added means just that - a brief afterthought. The basic rule is this. When you quote somebody, you say John said: " ...." and let the quotes flow until finished. If you must use the word "added" here is when it is appropriate. "Two plus two equals four," he added. Similarly, why break up a story with the phrase "He continued"?

Kent Police is ... I am well aware of the rule regarding groups, organisations being singular, but a bit of common sense is needed here to stop you sounding daft. Kent Police are ... OK?

Police officers arrested a man .. no need for officers.

Last and past - be careful. He has been a gardener for the last 10 years. If he's retired then that's OK, if not, it should be past 10 years. Last means just that - whatever you are referring to is no more, finished. Past means in the years that have gone by so far.

May and might have .. here's a great example "The Gills might have won their match at the weekend, but ... ", "it may have rained on Friday, but ... " Either it did or it didn't. If the Gills did win or it actually did rain on Friday, overcome this silly and inaccurate phrase by saying "Although the Gills won at the weekend, ..." etc.

Some .. use sparingly. He took some money, he needed some clothes etc. You hardly ever need the word some, unless you are putting over that only a part of an item, or whatever, is involved, as in "he took some of the money", when not all of it was taken.

In planning applications .. permission to demolish existing wall, to extending existing house etc. Existing is redundant.

In council stories .. members of the development committee decided at a meeting ... if you've got members, you've got as committee, if you've got a committee, you've got members, if you've got either, you've got a meeting. So, try these "the development committee decided ...", "members decided ...", "councillors decided ...".

Exclamation mark. This piece of punctuation denotes that somebody is exclaiming, usually shouting. Use sparingly and only when appropriate!!

I wonder if this is of interest? It probably is, but it's wrong. Common mistake to put a question mark at the end of a sentence that starts with "I wonder ...". It's a statement.

"The question is, did you understand all this." Now here's a poser, should that sentence end with a question mark? Well, no, because it is a reported question. However, if you segregate it as a question with quote marks, it does. Like this: "The question is, 'did you understand all this?'" However, for the sake of sanity and the avoidance of confusion - and also giving in to public pressure - it's probably better to use the question mark - or avoid the phrase altogether.

Try to, try and .. the expression is "try to". Just to prove the point, put things in the past tense. "He tried to do better ..." or "He tried and do better ...". The exception is when somebody is doing two things, for example "He will try, and also do his homework." The comma then sorts out any confusion.

Bogus caller - no such thing, unless a person isn't really calling. Bogus worker, bogus official are the words to use.

Stole £20 cash - always cash. There's no other way that £20 can exist, except, maybe, for cheques, and then you'd say so.

Christian names, Mr, Mrs etc - just use a bit of common. In a straight story, you'd stick with Mr, Mrs etc. But in other situations - leisure pages, human interest stories etc - use Christian names. Put it another way, how daft does it sound when a famous chef is referred to as Mr Ramsey (subbed when he visited Bluewater)?

In three week's time, in three weeks' time - huh, just where does that apostrophe go? Well, after the "s" of course, but you can overcome that and be neater, too. Just say in three weeks. Simple, eh?

Avoid slang - as in torched, cops, nicked, pinched, would've, could've etc. Also avoid daft references to dogs as pooches and mutts. OK in a really silly story but, come on, it's all been done to death.

He died in a fatal accident. No more need be said.

He leaves a wife ... widow.

Ellipses .. an ellipses is not just a random collection of dots, it represents a word or words missing and should be three dots (but don't take this document as an example - it was typed in haste).

He was a former pop star of the sixties. He still is a pop star of the sixties, although he is a former star.

A song that John Lennon wrote before he died. Just say a song that John Lennon wrote or, maybe, a song he wrote shortly before he died.

Commas before, and after, names. What to do when putting names etc in apposition. Basically, treat commas like brackets. They are there to separate a piece of information that is incidental and that the sentence could do without. For example, Mick Jagger, lead singer with the Rolling Stones, said .. is correct. However, Rolling Stones leader singer, Mick Jagger, said ... isn't. The point being that the commas segregate Mick Jagger and, in effect, make him incidental. The simplest way of figuring it out is to treat anything inside commas as invisible and then see if the sentence still makes sense. Here's another example "Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, said ..." Remove Gordon Brown and you've got "Prime Minister said ..." not making sense. However, "Prime Minister Gordon Brown ..." does make sense. Similarly, "Gordon Brown, Prime Minister, said ... " is OK, but "Gordon Brown Prime Minister said ..." is not only clumsy but wrong. Unfortunately, it's one of those rules that you either understand instinctively or don't.


Here is one of the most loathsome terms known to the universe - spokesperson (or spokeswoman). the word is spokesman - it is a description and is not a gender thing.

Here is THE most loathsome term known to the universe, and way beyond - chairperson or .... I can barely bring myself to type it .... chair. Yes, CHAIR. As in, chair of the committee, chair of the governors. This is THE most yuppy-orientated piece of literary garbage that has ever besmirched the columns of newspapers. People sit on chairs. That's it, period, finished. A chairman is a chairman - not gender-orientated, it is purely and simply a title. Chair? I will not stand for this.

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