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Last Updated: Monday, 19 August, 2002, 17:10 GMT 18:10 UK
Alphabetical checklist



Abbreviations and Acronyms
Some - BBC, NATO, FBI - are so well known as not to require spelling out. Most are not, and should be spelled out, or accompanied by an explanatory phrase: "The employers' organisation, the CBI". Avoid cluttering a story with acronyms, and discourage correspondents from the deplorable habit of beginning a voice piece thus: "NACRO says....."

of responsibility are preferable to claims. Better still is a straightforward: " The IRA/UFF admitted killing/said it killed...."

Take care with "admit", which carries the implication that the speaker has accepted some guilt. "Acknowledge" is more neutral.

too often precedes nonsense: "Four people have died after a plane crash..." So they survived the impact, and perished of unexplained causes soon after? It is better to put it in the past definite tense, with "when": "Four people were killed when their plane crashed". "Celtic have reached the semi final after beating Kilmarnock." Actually, reaching the semi final is simultaneous with beating the other team so the sentence should be "have reached the semi final by beating..." At other times the correct word is "because": "Petrol prices will go up because OPEC have decided..."

One is HIV-positive until one becomes ill; then one has AIDS. One is a patient, not a victim.

as a verb, grossly over-used, rarely encountered in everyday conversation except with shooting enthusiasts or archers. Proposals can be intended or designed to achieve something. Target as a verb (qv) is even worse.

All up
a vile expression.

Mr Big does not face charges of "alleged corruption", because no such charge exists. The verb is useful when distancing yourself from an untested claim. But, where possible, give a source for the allegation.

to a country, in a capital. "The British ambassador to Italy, in Rome."

We should not use this as a synonym for British; some Scottish and Welsh people are offended by terms such as Anglo-American and Anglo-Irish.

use with care. "Another person has been charged in connection with....." means nothing unless you disclose how many others have been.

means to act in expectation of something; to forestall. To use it as a synonym for expect is to sacrifice its useful particularity. It may be a losing battle, but we should persevere.

is going the way of the skylark, but should still be treasured. It has disappeared from Regents Park, Kings Road, Barclays, but should be protected in Lord's (the cricket ground). It is not needed in MPs, QCs; and is unwanted in the possessive "its". But it is essential in place of the missing letter in "it's". Thus: "It's a damn shame that its (the skylark's) future is so uncertain".

not The Argentine. Its people are Argentines, not Argentinians.

only political and religious leaders can be assassinated. Lesser mortals are murdered.

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its use as an adjective is frequently redundant, as in "Gave birth to a baby boy" and "a six-month-old baby girl".

the subjective character of bad and good mean they must be used with extreme caution. Bad news for a mother trying to reclaim her children may be good news for their father. But a three per cent rise in inflation, combined with a 300 point fall in the One Hundred Share Index, and an extra half-million unemployed could reasonably be described as bad news for almost everyone.

is singular. Bacteria are plural. Do not confuse with virus, which cannot be treated with antibiotics.

means twice a year; biennial means once every two years. Avoid both.

Black box
"The black box flight recorder" is permissible. "Black box" on its own is not. Many of them are in fact orange.

be cautious, particularly with football. "England fans rampaged", "Scotland fans drank the place dry"; not British fans.

as a verb is NOT in common usage apart from in the United States, therefore should be avoided. Use "arrange" or "negotiate".

Do not use Brussels as a synonym for the European Commission or any other European institution.

is a vehicle. People are taken by bus, not bussed.

overused, and abused. It should appear only to draw attention to a contrast or change of narrative direction. It is often unnecessary: "Mr Blair said his government was wonderful. But Mr Hague disagreed".

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acceptable alternative to Roman Catholic.

when united with "optimism" has become cliche. "So-and-so has expressed cautious optimism about the outcome of something" usually means that he or she is vaguely hopeful, but could well be wrong.

means to criticise severely; censor is to delete or suppress.

as a verb "centre on", not round or around.

a male who presides over a meeting. A female in the same position is a chairwoman. He or she may sit on a chair.

OF England. Other Anglican bodies: The Church OF Ireland, the Episcopal Church IN Scotland, the Church IN Wales.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Doctor George Carey; thereafter Doctor Carey or the Archbishop. The Bishop of Bath and Wells, the Right Reverend Clive Thistledowne; thereafter Doctor Thistledowne, or the Bishop (when you're not sure if he has a doctorate). The Reverend Gilbert Bladder; thereafter Mr Bladder, or - if he insists - Father Bladder. NEVER the Reverend Bladder, or Reverend Bladder.

Collective nouns
can be singular or plural. The only rule is: you must be consistent. "Marks and Spencer is selling a new biscuit. They say it's the best ever made" is the type of rubbish we broadcast far too often. In a sporting context, teams are always plural: "England are in the soup", "Manchester United are finished", "Wales are resurgent".

with, rather than to, unless you are stressing similarity.

Losers concede victory and admit (or acknowledge) defeat.

is a word you will almost never hear. You might read it in newspapers, but the only time you will hear it is in radio and television news bulletins, as in "Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart..." Does this mean Tony Blair and the Irish Tony Blair? Or Tony Blair and the Irish prime minister?
"The prime minister and his Irish counterpart..." at least makes sense, but it employs a technical and unfamiliar word. If you feel inclined to use the word "counterpart" try if you have time to come up with an alternative.

a review of the criminal code is beyond the scope of this guide. You are strongly recommended to attend one of the BBC's law courses. Do remember that defendants are always Mr, Mrs, Miss until convicted, however obvious their guilt and appalling their crimes. When people are remanded, always say for how long.

means increase in volume or intensity. Usually, but not always, it reaches a climax.

not cutbacks.

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cannot be worth anything. Say "damage put at" or "damage estimated at".

Death toll
Ugly and cliched. Try "the number of people who've been killed.."

precise meaning is to kill one in ten, and therefore was not used much. The meaning "to destroy or kill on a large scale" is just about acceptable. But "the boot-making industry has been decimated" is not.

has several possible synonyms -- for example "reject", or "rebut". However "refute" is not among them; it means to prove wrong. Thus to deny an accusation is merely to assert its falsehood; to refute it is rather harder to achieve.

to is not wrong, but common usage is "different from".

not just a difficulty, but to be faced by two (and no more) possible courses of action, both problematic.

means neutral or impartial. Uninterested means not interested.

or disassociate.

is police- or court-speak. Say "drinking and driving" or "driving while drunk".

Due to
strictly, means "caused by". Using it to mean "because of" is deprecated by some, but is now almost standard.

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another battle almost lost, but still worth fighting. To use "effectively" when you mean "in effect" is to steal from a useful word its precise meaning. It also creates ambiguity: Does "the ban has effectively been implemented" mean that a course of action is in progress which amounts to a ban, or that the ban is achieving its purpose by being efficiently implemented?

invariably causes death.

the phrase "it's emerged" is used far too much. It might once have been helpful in signalling news of an important event or unexpected development which happened some time ago but is only now reaching the public arena. But we have fallen into the bad habit of using it either when we are coming late to a story that everyone else has carried; or without any meaning at all. "It's emerged tonight that the government is considering banning the pouring of double cream on apple pie" is carrying four unnecessary words.

used so often in conjunction with "appeal" as to be meaningless.

strictly means extreme wickedness, not great size. But recent dictionary definitions include the latter. Our best policy is to avoid the word, lest we either sound pedantic or offend pedants.

... is the correct term, and NOT European Community, which refers to only one pillar of the EU.

... stands for Economic and Monetary Union.

European Commission
The EU's civil service, headed by 20 European Commissioners. The abbreviation EC is not strictly accurate: EC refers to the European Community. (The European Commission of Human Rights is unrelated -- see below). The European Commission ensures EU laws are followed, and proposes new ones. It cannot, however, enact legislation: that's the job of the....

Council of Ministers
The main law-making body of the EU, it acts only on proposals submitted by the European Commission. Comprises the minister from each member state responsible for whichever topic is under discussion, for example, the Chancellor of the Exchequer attends regular meetings of the council of EU economic and finance ministers, known as Ecofin. The Council of Ministers should not be confused with the ...

European Council
The (usually) twice-yearly summit meeting of member states' heads of government.

European Parliament
Sits in Brussels and Strasbourg. Consists of 626 members (87 from the UK), elected for terms of five years. It scrutinises draft legislation, and may table amendments which are then sent to the Council of Ministers for approval. It has the final say on the European Commission's annual budget, the appointment of European Commissioners and applications from countries hoping to join the EU. It can dismiss the European Commission by a motion of censure.

Committee of Permanent Representatives
Made up of member states' ambassadors to the EU. Prepares meetings of the Council of Ministers.

European Investment Bank
Owned by the 15 member states of the EU. It raises funds on the capital markets, and makes loans to finance investment projects in the EU and in developing countries.

European Central Bank
became operational on January 1, 1999. It controls monetary policy -- interest rates, exchange rates and money supply -- in countries taking part in EMU.

Council of Europe
Based in Strasbourg. An organisation set up to promote European cultural values. It has forty member states, stretching as far east as Russia and Ukraine. Its activities are decided by the Committee of Ministers, made up of foreign ministers from each member state.

Western European Union
An autonomous grouping of European nations which co-operates with the EU on matters of defence. Since it tries to avoid both prejudicing national defence policies and interfering with NATO, its influence is somewhat limited.

Do not confuse:
European Court of Justice (or Court of Justice of the European Communities) Established in Luxembourg, its function is to apply and interpret EU law. Initially, one judge, the Advocate General, forms an opinion on a case. The full court then passes judgement. Countries which fall foul of EU law can be fined. Britain took its objection to the EU's worldwide ban on British beef to the ECJ.

International Court of Justice
Sits at The Hague. Sometimes referred to as the `World Court', it is one of the principal bodies of the United Nations. Its objective is the peaceful settlement of disputes between states. If one of the states involved fails to comply with the court's ruling, the other party can appeal to the UN Security Council to enforce the verdict. The UN's International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, although it too sits at The Hague, is a separate body. By way of example: in 1986, the court ruled that American support for the Contras in Nicaragua was illegal, and demanded that the US pay compensation. The US rejected the judgement, and the Nicaraguans took their complaint to the Security Council. On this occasion, the court's ruling was vetoed -- by the US, one of the five permanent members of the Security Council with the power to veto.

European Court of Human Rights
Sits in Strasbourg. Established by the Council of Europe, its task is to ensure the observance of the principles contained in the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. A case is initially heard by the European Commission of Human Rights. If ruled admissible, it is then heard by the Court. Its judgements are binding on member states, including Britain.

Examples: in 1995, the court ruled that the shooting dead of three IRA bombers by the SAS in Gibraltar was a violation of their human rights. In 1996, the court ruled that the British Home Secretary should no longer have the power to detain indefinitely children convicted of murder. The Human Rights Act of 2000 incorporated the the European Convention on Human Rights into British Law. British courts and judges now interpret the Convention, instead of litigants having to apply to Strasbourg.

Note that European directives issued remain "European COMMUNITY Directives". (the term simply means that every member is "directed" to enforce a particular piece of law once it has been agreed).

Be aware, too that the European Commission has no power to "issue" a directive. What it does have is the power to propose a directive. It's the member states who dispose. They do this by either unanimity or qualified majority voting -- depending on the subject -- in the Council of Ministers, with some input from the European Parliament. It is therefore wrong to say anything which suggests that the Commission, or its President, can determine what member states should do.

we used to insist that only places or buildings could be evacuated. This is unsustainable. Let the people be evacuated.

terrorists kill or murder their victims. They do not execute them. In the legal sense "to execute" means to carry out the death penalty, under the law.

overused. "Witness" will almost always do.

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False possessives
are to be avoided at all times. We should never talk of "Washington's Lincoln Memorial", "London's West End", "London's Docklands", "Rugby's Calcutta Cup" etc.). People don't talk like that; we shouldn't write like that.

is a legal opinion delivered by an Islamic court; not necessarily a sentence of death or some other punishment.

in general refers to numbers, and less to quantity. But "less than ten years" is common usage, and acceptable.

is a noun and male. Females are Filipinas. The adjective is Philippine.

Avoid fire brigade jargon: "house fire" is not a phrase in spoken English. "well alight", "wearing breathing apparatus|" etc - shun them all.

means to display proudly; flout means to to disobey openly.

Follows, following
are monstrously over-used. Consider these sentences: " The UN's special commission is reported to have said it's withdrawing its weapons inspectors from Iraq. The move follows increasing tension over Iraq's refusal etc etc......" There is no sequence of events here. The inspectors are pulling out BECAUSE OF the tension. The word "move" has also been flogged into meaninglessness. "Following" should almost always be replaced with "after".

Please, never "soccer".

For free
An ungrammatical Americanism. It's much better to say "for nothing", or simply "free".

troops or police open fire. It is not for us to say they were forced to do so.

Foreign words
use English if possible: "a head" rather than "per capita"; "a year" rather than "per annum".

means pertaining to courts of law. We should not say "forensic experts" (who are experts on the law) when we mean "forensic scientists", whose evidence may be useful in legal proceedings. The word is almost always useless; forensic scientists and forensic tests might just as well be called scientists and tests.

is what ships do when they sink. Flounder is what survivors might do trying to reach the shore.

usually used in the stalest of situations - "a fresh attempt is being made to break the deadlock in the Northern Ireland/Middle East peace process". Avoid.

a very useful perjorative word, meaning excessive or insincere. It does NOT mean lavish.

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In most cases it is wrong to put the definite article in front of countries' names: the Lebanon, the Ukraine, the Sudan. But in this case we should say The Gambia.

some people believe the word "homosexual" has negative overtones, even that it is demeaning. Most homosexual men and women prefer the words "gay" and "lesbian". Either word is acceptable as an alternative to homosexual, but "gay" should be used only as an adjective. "Gay" as a noun - "gays gathered for a demonstration" - is not acceptable. If you wish to use homosexual, as adjective or noun, do so. It is also useful, as it applies to men and women.

Great Britain
comprises England, Scotland, and Wales. It is a geographical term; "Great" in the sense of the largest island in the British Isles. The British Isles include Ireland and the phrase is therefore used only by geographers; it does not refer to a political entity. This country's full title is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The preferred usage is "United Kingdom", NOT "UK". We would not, after all, start a story: "The President of the U.S...." but "the President of the United States". Lamentably, we are more often using phrases like "The U.S. President" and "U.K. Industry". "UK-wide" is ugly; why not "across the country"? Britain remains, just about, an acceptable substitute for the United Kingdom in some contexts, but we should NEVER say Britain if the story refers only to England or England and Wales. And remember that many people in Northern Ireland object strongly to being called British and to the idea that they live in Britain. All BBC journalists are urged to study the contents of the BBC booklet "The Changing UK".

The word "Briton" - as in "Seven Britons have been hurt in a coach crash in Spain" - is an absurdity. Is it ever used in ordinary speech except when prefaced by the word "ancient"? Say "British people", please.

Green Paper
parliamentary term for a consultative document, which means very little to most people. Find an alternative - ideas, suggestions, even scheme - or add a line explaining what it is.

as applied to tension, concern etc is over-used. There must, surely come a point at which fears can grow no more; and we rarely hear of concerns diminishing (although they do occasionally "ease"). Be sparing.

normally engaged in an irregular war against official security forces. They become terrorists when carrying out an act of terrorism; say, blowing up a school bus.

in the City of London. Not The Guildhall

a French method of execution, fallen into disuse; also another impenetrable Parliamentary term requiring explanation.

Gunshot wounds
are either bullet wounds or - if a shotgun was used - shotgun wounds. What does "gunshot" mean? Police spokesmen and women and agency reporters might well use the word; we don't have to. While we're on guns: "armed gunmen" is ridiculous; and "gunned down" is an ugly expression.

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can be singular or plural: half the oranges were eaten; half the food was eaten.

The most important things we write, and the most difficult to do well. One tip to make things easier for yourself: avoid the historic present tense, as in "Sixty people die in an air crash". Headlines should be in the present tense only when the event is still happening. Things that have already happened belong in the past tense.

Also, be sparing with the headline cliché words: bid, probe, plea, plan, crisis, clash, chief, row etc.

rather than headmaster or headmistress.

is a pain behind the eyes, not a synonym for a problem.

sits on the shoulders. It is also a verb meaning to be in charge of. The compound verb "to head up" is horrible, and has no place in broadcast English.

Heads of State
Remember they are not always the same as heads of government. It's not just monarchies; many countries (eg Germany, Israel, Irish Republic) have presidents who are not heads of government.

An earlier edition of the Style Guide said the word Here was permissible, very occasionally, as a device to introduce a home story when we want to bring the audience back from foreign news. In the context of the changing UK, it's safer to ban the usage.

High Street
with the advance of the "out-of-town retail centre", this handy label for shopping areas must be on borrowed time; but just about survives.

to be used with extreme care. It means notable in history, and journalists are in a very bad position to make that judgement of an event in progress. Also, when something genuinely historic does happen - Nelson Mandela leaving prison - the word gets done to death.

People are appointed CBE, OBE and MBE (the letters mean Commander, Officer and Member of the Order of the British Empire.) They can be made a peer or knight, or can receive a peerage or a knighthood.

should be seen as a useful aid to understanding. Thus, a "little-used car" is clearly not the same as a "little used car". Similarly, newsreaders appreciate correct use of commas or dashes around parenthetical material, especially if you present them with scripts as they are about to go on air.

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to suggest or insinuate. Infer - to deduce. You infer something from what someone else implies.

In connection
in criminal matters we invariably have people being questioned in connection with some foul act when we could just as easily and more simply say that they were being questioned about it.

anyone killed or injured when not committing a crime is innocent. The phrase "innocent victims" is usually one word longer than it need be.

be sparing in using this as a synonym for "said", as it is becoming weary.

too often, we attempt to "refresh" a tired story about a minor accident by saying that: "An investigation has been launched into a gas explosion in which an elderly woman was slightly singed". Since we very rarely report the conclusion of any such investigation, we should be sparing with this cliche.

is an island, comprising Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. We should no longer use Ulster as a synonym for Northern Ireland (one reason is that Northern Ireland has six counties whereas Ulster has nine) though "the province" remains acceptable on second reference.

If we leave out Socratic methods of discussion, irony can be defined as expressing a view by saying the opposite - eg criticising by seeming to praise. We, or our correspondents, tend to use it to mean "oddly" or "coincidentally" or sometimes "paradoxically". The safest course is to avoid the word; a more original course would be to use the adverb which describes what you actually mean.

the abuse of this handy little word has become a disease: " The Prime Minister has choked on a crumpet. It followed news that Saddam Hussein had been bitten by an adder". It - what? To fall into Latin, this non sequitur appears ad nauseam. Say "this", or "the accident", or something else.

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easier said than done, but try not to use, if only because its very nature means that some people will not understand it. Words and phrases like game plan, front-end, core business, user-friendly exclude listeners. Be equally cautious about the use of vogue words (see "Situation" below). Many, if not most of them, are American in origin and at first they seem genuinely useful. Examples are: "virtual" to mean artificial; "gravitas"; "globalisation"; "consensus" to mean agreement. But overuse quickly robs them of their charm; remember "information superhighway"?

don't use when you mean "defend".

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as an adjective applied to decisions, issues etc is much overworked. The phrase "keynote speech" seems to be used only during the party conference season. It should never be used at all; it has become almost meaningless.

on the whole should be restricted to motorcycles. It has become a stale cliche in association with economies.

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Lake District
Mere, as in Windermere, means lake. The only lake in the district with Lake in its title is Bassenthwaite Lake.

often misused instead of past. "Inflation has rocketed over the past year" not "the last year".

this verb has been enfeebled by excessive use, attached to "proposals, schemes, initiatives". It needs a long rest. Use announce, present, introduce, start, or another alternative. Used intransitively - "Channel Five launches tomorrow" - it is plain wrong.

as in "The BBC has learned", a modest way of introducing what other organs of the media might trumpet as an exclusive. We should not be shy about drawing attention to the fact that we have a story no one else has. But we should also be sure that the nature of the story warrants such treatment, and often it doesn't. Correspondents sometimes write "I understand...." as a way of denoting they have an exclusive. It is doubtful whether listeners appreciate this nuance, so the phrase should be used infrequently. An alternative way of signalling an exclusive is in the cue: "Our social affairs editor has established that...." or "This report by our defence correspondent is based on exclusive information...."

Level playing field
an exhausted cliche.

Liberal Democrat
Never to be shortened to Liberal, and LibDem is to be strongly discouraged.

An excitable programme presenter once prefaced an interview with the words: "Mrs ...... is a woman who has literally been to hell and back". A world exclusive, given astonishingly little prominence.

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often used when "small" or "slight" would be better.

is said or celebrated.

A lazy link word, almost always redundant.

Plural. The singular is medium.

The captain of the BBC Golfing Society once gave a speech after a day's play at Northwood Golf Club. Not long before, the Club had been the subject of a television documentary which had shown some of its senior members and officials in a less than flattering light. The Society captain referred to the Club having been given "a very bad press, especially by the media". It's a good idea to narrow down your reference, if possible, to the medium in question.

we still meet people, not meet with them. We consult them, not with them. We talk to them, not with them.

Perhaps it's to time to admit that further resistance against "go missing" is in vain. The problem comes when you are writing about the event in the past. " Mr Childers disappeared last Tuesday" is as improbable as "Mr Childers went missing" is ugly. ".....was last seen" is an acceptable alternative.

The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland is the senior dignitary of an established church on a par with the Archbishop of Canterbury. At first mention, he should have his full title.

binds bricks, fires projectiles. Confusingly, the projectile is also a mortar.

Now so many building societies have become banks, we should be talking about "mortgage lenders"

is where our dead lie. "Morgue" belongs across the Atlantic.

exhausted synonym for deal, development, decision etc etc. Should be rested.

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Naming people
Put the job description first, then the name. "the President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi". If you put the name first, the listener might start wondering who Romani Prodi is - and might miss the information when you do give it. Always name people on first reference. The newspaper style: "The President of the European Commision has criticised Tony Blair. Romani Prodi said" is BANNED. Listeners should not be asked to infer that Mr Prodi is the President of the Commision; they should be told outright.

it is the Scottish National Party. Those calling or campaigning for independence can be called nationalists. National
Be warned that institutions titled "National" often aren't. For example: the National Rivers Authority does not cover Scotland. Likewise, the National Curriculum Council deals only with England; there is a separate National Curriculum Council For Wales. But there is not one for Scotland as the National Curriculum applies neither there nor in Northern Ireland.

we can assume a survey or study whose contents and conclusions we are reporting is new. We should not, therefore, say: "A new report issued today by the British Medical Association...."

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When we write an obituary, pressure of time usually forces us to jump straight to the moment the subject became a celebrity: in the case of writers, the publication of a first succesful novel, for example. We should be sparing with lists of appointments, honours and dates. If we have to give a series of dates, we can use phrases such as `two years later' to help break them up. We should not give just a potted biography. We should offer some assessment of success or failure and some idea of the subject's personality. Phrases such as 'the famous' should be unnecessary. And we should never use that peculiar form of sentence construction 'Born in London eighty years ago, he emigrated to Canada...' If actuality is called for in obituaries of entertainers, it makes much more sense to clip them singing or telling jokes or whatever, rather than talking about what they did.

a precious quality, not to be compromised. The danger can arise when we are dealing with a story grown stale by familiarity, which is not going anywhere. A case in point - when a recent round of Northen Ireland negotiations staggered into its death throes, we opened successive cues with the words "the government is determined not to let the search for peace in Northern Ireland lose momentum" and "the government is wasting no time in trying to push forward the search for peace in Northern Ireland". The intention in each case was honourable: to breathe life into a story dead from the toes upwards. The effect, however, was to make made the cue sound as if we were speaking FOR the government. Let us make sure that we restrict ourselves to reporting what the government is doing, and refrain from reading its mind.

a nasty, unnecessary word.

place it next to whatever it qualifies. To say: "The government only announced the new measures in June" could suggest that it did nothing else in June. "The government announced the measures only in June".

Opinion polls
do not show, they suggest or indicate. Trends in polls are usually more valuable indicators than individual polls. If you have space, it's a good idea to report the sample size and the date on which the poll was carried out.

or the Orkney Islands, not the Orkneys. Inhabited by Orcadians.

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can become too wordy: 'The men will not go back until their demands -- which include extra holidays and the reinstatement of those sacked since the dispute began a fortnight ago -- are met.' There are two obvious solutions: break the thought in two: 'will not go back until their demands are met: these include...'; or construct the sentence so that the dash matter comes at the end: 'will not go back until the management accepts their demands, which include...'

never pee. And never one pence; the singular is penny.

Per cent
There is no such thing as a per cent, so say "a half per cent", not "half a per cent". It is acceptable to use the terms "one percentage point" or even "one point" - mortgages going up from seven to eight per cent show a "one percentage point rise".

very well-known towns and cities do not have to be placed in counties. Others should be. Check the Gazeteer. For Scotland and Wales, see Scotland and Wales.

the media remain plural, agenda has become singular. Refrain from unnecessary Latin plurals: call them referendums, formulas. The singular of "criteria" is "criterion". While on the subject, to write: "One in twenty people believe the world is about to end" is wrong; even if that one in twenty IS right.

Political correctness
use your sense. Much PC terminology is ludicrous - "herstory" for "history", for example. Pensioners remain pensioners, not senior citizens. But the crippled have become disabled people or indeed people with disabilities; those we used to refer as mentally handicapped are now more usually people with learning disabilities. Fires are dealt with by firefighters. Ambulances are driven by ambulance crews or paramedics. Rubbish is taken by refuse collectors etc etc. In the second and subsequent references to a woman, it is better to use the accepted titles - "Miss, Mrs" - if known, rather than "Ms". But "Ms" is acceptable if the title isn't known, or if the woman in question has made known her desire to be so titled.

Post-mortem examination
not post-mortem or autopsy

a clumsy synonym for jobs.

sometimes misused instead of practicable, which means capable of being effected.

Only for Australian states, Canadian provinces and some West Indian islands. Otherwise Prime Minister is correct. Phrases such as "The Israeli premier" will do only for the tabloid press.

ridiculous tautology.

Delete the unnecessary ones: "shut down"; "cut back"; "join up with"; "stop or prevent from"; "meet up with" etc etc

Prison staff
are prison officers, not warders.

used in the United States. We should say "anti-abortion".

is the principal character in a play or story. Strictly speaking, there cannot be more than one. But usage decrees that multiple protagonists are acceptable. And a protagonist is not one who advocates or supports something.

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Radio Ham
is a term to be avoided. A so-called radio ham is a radio amateur, who has a licence to operate an amateur radio station and must abide by the Wireless Telegraphy Act. Under this, no one is permitted to receive any message not intended for him/her, and the contents of transmissions heard inadvertently may not be disclosed to any unauthorised person. Recording is definitely out. Radio amateurs are rather more than Citizen's Band enthusiasts, and many of them hate being called "hams".

frequently redundant, as in "a real danger........"

the insistence that this can only mean "make better" would mean, if strictly applied, that we could never use it on our own behalf, because we cannot judge what is good or bad. "The Health Secretary, Frank Dobson, has been defending what he described as his reforms to the National Health Service" . Since the OED accepts "amend" or "change" as a secondary meaning, so should we.

means to prove something wrong, not to reject.

Reported speech
probably the most fertile ground for incorrect English in our output. Many writers and correspondents do not know what it is. They should. You cannot write good English for radio without some knowledge of how reported speech works. It is wrong to say: "The Prime Minister hinted that he wants to do more to help illiterate journalists". "The Prime Minister hinted that he wanted......" is right. Thus:

RIGHT - Jim says he will be going to the football match. Jim said he would be going to the football match. Jim said he had always wanted to go to the football match. Jim told his aged mother that when he was living in Paris, he often went to (or had gone to) football matches. Jim confided to his ancient hound that he might have been a professional footballer.

WRONG - Albert said Manchester United are rubbish. Albert told his aged mother that he will be going to see his even more aged grandmother, and will therefore not want any supper. Albert confided to his moth-eaten cat that he may be taking her to the vet to have her put down.

The basic rule is that if the main verb ("he said") is in the past tense, the tense of the verb in the indirect speech ("he was going to the football match") must be amended. The application needs to be studied and practised. None of this applies, of course, if you are directly quoting someone: President Nixon told Congress: " I will fall on my sword".

people are responsible, things are not. Therefore, bad weather cannot be responsible for rising food prices.

is not synonymous with theft. It involves threats or violence.

is collected by refuse collectors. It is NOT a verb, at least not in broadcast English, although it has been used as such.

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poses problems of location. NEVER place a town or city "in Scotland". You can place them in regions: Borders, Central, Dumfries and Galloway, Fife, Grampian, Highland, Lothian, Orkney, Shetland, Strathclyde, Tayside, Western Isles. The difficulty is that Grampian, Highland and Strathclyde are enormous, and much of Central is not very central. In these cases, it is safer to use counties: Oban, in Argyll.

Second World War
not World War Two.

people and animals see, years and companies do not. "The Post Office saw its profits collapse" is inelegant.

or the Shetland Islands, never the Shetlands.

the campaign to protect the female virtue of vessels has been lost. They can be feminine or neuter.

Sinn Fein
We should NOT use the term "SinnFein/IRA", a phrase devised by the Unionists, unless we can attribute it. In broader references to the Northern Ireland peace process, remember that Sinn Fein is indisputably both a constitutional party and a main party: so beware of using phrases such as "talks among the main political parties" unless Sinn Fein is involved.

a useful word which has recovered from mockery. But remember that the "economic situation" may often be refined into "the economy".

Split infinitive
do not do so unnecessarily, because it will offend some listeners. Follow Fowler, who says they should be split sooner than be ambiguous or artificial; or Raymond Chandler: "God damn it, I split it so it will stay split".

Sports people
it makes more sense to continue to refer to them by surname when they stray beyond the sporting arena.

An Americanism that appears to mean more than one thing -- occasionally, confrontation; occasionally, stalemate. So, use those words or something similar.

still valid in hypotheses: " If I were to become Controller of Radio Four" is preferable to "If I was to to......."

never say anything or anybody is the highest, tallest, fastest etc unless you are absolutely sure. It is wiser to attribute: " A butcher from St Helens has made what he says is the biggest sausage in the world". While on the subject, the use of superlatives with "ever" - "the biggest sausage ever made" - has been much derided as a tautology. It is tautologous, but the usage is so common as to be acceptable. Always think before using it, though; "his highest ever score" is made to sound a bit daft if he scores even more in his next innings.

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The then
horrid expression. "The then England captain" should be: "So-and-so, who was England captain at the time".

a minefield. The first rule - because it is the one most frequently broken - is that it is wrong to call the wife of Sir Rudolph Snakepit Lady Ludmilla Snakepit. She is Lady Snakepit. If he were a life peer, Lord Snakepit, she would be Lady Snakepit. If Ludmilla's father were a duke, a marquess, or an earl, THEN she would be Lady Ludmilla Snakepit. On second reference she would be Lady Ludmilla, not Lady Snakepit. If she had been made a life peer, Lady Snakepit, in recognition of her lifetime of public service, she might like to call herself Baroness Snakepit. But we should call her Lady Snakepit (Lady Thatcher, Lady Jay). After all, we never refer to the Secretary General of NATO -- Lord Robertson of Port Ellen -- as "Baron Robertson", even though that's what he is. Never, by the way, copy the formulation beloved of the Americans: Lord George Robertson. (That would make his father a duke, or marquess, or an earl, as in the case Lady Ludmilla Snakepit, above. Lord Robertson's father is not a member of the aristocracy.)

in the sense of senior, important, is more often than not superfluous. Most places of private education referred to as "top public schools" are nothing of the sort.

Trade Names
Spoken English is full of examples. We should always avoid them. Jacuzzi: whirlpool bath. Lilo: airbed. Hoover: vacuum cleaner. Portakabin: temporary building. Plasticine: modelling clay. Etc, etc.
Outward Bound is a registered trade mark. Unless you are ABSOLUTELY sure the outdoor activity to which you are referring is run by the Outward Bound Trust, NEVER use the term.

Trooping the colour
not Trooping of the colour.

Try to
not try and.

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Under way
two words, not one. They are used far too much - searches under way, attempt under way, moves under way. Seek an alternative.

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any agreement is verbal, because it consists of words. If they are not written down, it is oral.


more problems of location. Wales now comprises 22 unitary authorities. Many of them - Dwyfor and Meirionydd, Ceredigion, Rhondda Cynon Taff - are, and will continue to be, unfamiliar to many listeners. In some cases, it will be best to locate places in regions: North Wales, West Wales, Mid Wales, South Wales, with the nearest sizeable town if appropriate: Bodelwyddan, near Rhyl in North Wales. There are two exceptions: 1. Where the new authorities correspond more or less with the pre-1974 counties, and are familiar. Thus: Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire, Llangefni in Anglesey, Ruthin in Denbighshire. 2. Where the new authorities are major cities, Cardiff and Swansea. Thus: Lisvane in Cardiff, or Pontardawe near Swansea. You may also use well-known, if vaguer reference points: Aberdare in the South Wales Valleys, Blaenau Ffestiniog in Snowdonia, Aberystwyth on the West Wales coast etc.

another battle lost. Old fogeys may prefer to stick to: "Give a warning that..." But the usage: "Warned that....." is acceptable.

identifies, "that" informs. Thus: "This is the gun that was used in the robbery"; and "This gun, which was used in the robbery, is a Walther PPK".

to be used with people and things. "The tree whose branches were laden with plums" is perfectly correct; or, indeed, correct.

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