BBC writing

BBC writing

Not that good

The BBC crows constantly about its high standards. It is especially proud of its journalism. It runs a journalism academy and has a whole section of its site devoted to grammar and reporting.

So is it any great shakes in the stringing of words together? Well, not really.

Despite the millions devoted to news and current affairs, rather a lot of grammar fails, tautology and clichés make their way on air and online. And the odd large spelling howler. Such things would not be allowed on less well funded commercial news sites.

Just for the fun of it – and while fully accepting that this site is not perfect – here are some examples of less than perfect editing and use of English.

Summit meeting. Example one of tautology, that is the use of two words which mean the same. A summit is a meeting.

Mr Tusk will chair a crucial summit meeting in Brussels on Thursday on the controversial proposals

Mass exodus. Example two of tautology. An exodus is mass.

Ralph Krueger: Southampton stronger after mass exodus


Syria's Mass Exodus - Views from Inside the Country

Strike action. Example three of tautology. Strikes are action and action could well be a strike.

The walkout comes after doctors took part in strike action on 12 January, which led to 4,000 operations and treatments being cancelled - one in 10 of the total


The union balloted its members in the autumn, and 98% of those who voted backed strike action


Damming report. My favourite howler. It's huge but no one noticed.

An historic. I’ll let Fowler’s Dictionary Of Modern English Usage explain why this is wrong. “An was formerly usual before an unaccented syllable beginning with an ‘h’ (an historical work) but now the ‘h’ in such words is pronounced the distinction has become pedantic. ‘A historical’ should be said and written.” That was published nearly a century ago. ‘An historic’ was an affectation in 1926. Now it’s just daft.

It is hoped that an historic agreement on the protection of huge areas of the Antarctic can be reached in the next week


The BBC Trust and the S4C Authority have reached an historic agreement enshrining a new partnership between the broadcasters

Completely bonkers headllines. I adore this for its sheer silliness.

The village of 4,000 where only 18 remain

Excuse me, can I have some more clichés with that? So we all use the odd hackneyed phrase but to get this many into a single paragraph requires skill.

After hours of heated debate, they will probably give it to him. If not, the plot really does thicken. And we're in the realms of improvisation. The European Commission says there's no Plan B

Ultimate. It is actually defined as last, final or fundamental, but has been eroded to mean merely ‘best’ or perhaps just ‘quite good’.

Short for Waste Allocation Loader Lift Earth-Class, Wall-E is the ultimate in loveable machines


Ava - the lifelike android from 2015 science fiction film Ex-Machina, is the ultimate in AIs


Spiegelhalter's: The ultimate symbol of holding out

Oddly, the following turns out to be exactly the correct use. It’s about people who died taking photos of themselves.

The dangerous art of the ultimate selfie

Iconic. Really shouldn’t be used except speaking about Russian religious art. It has been eroded to mean ‘familiar’, ‘nice looking’ or ‘good’ and sometimes not even in the visual sense.

America's iconic war machine


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Claire Sharp
Claire Sharp

Finance Director and founder