Today’s presumable cutnpaste

From World Wide Words #752 9/3/11:

This grisly story may remind you of an ancient horror film. Part of a long-dead body had been found in Peckham, south London, the Daily Mail reported on 25 August: “The hand, thought to be Mr Benit’s, was discovered by council workers at the run-down third-floor flat on the Tustin estate and immediately alerted police.”

It’s hard to imagine how this sentence could have come about except through a shift, in editing, from one formulation of the account to another, without fully adjusting the first: a cutnpaste error.

From a 2008 posting of mine:

A classic cutnpaste error, in which the writer starts one version … and then the writer, or an editor, thinks of an improvement … but changes only part of the first version, so producing a combination of the two versions.

(I see that on different occasions I’ve referred to these things as cut ‘n’ paste errors, cut’n’paste errors, and cutnpaste errors. Here I’m opting for the third, simplest, label.)

The original formulation might have been:

was discovered by council workers … and they immediately alerted police.


was discovered by council workers …, who immediately alerted police.

or even the active-voice version:

Council workers … discovered the hand … and immediately alerted the police.

But there’s no way in the account as published to get council workers … to be the subject of immediately alerted police.



2 Responses to “Today’s presumable cutnpaste”

  1. Rick Sprague Says:

    It makes a bit more sense if you read the story. The rest of the body had been discovered in July, stuffed in a bag and hidden under some bushes in south London. The hand, found in the deceased man’s lover’s flat, alerted police to the fact that the lover has been committing benefit fraud for several years. (Warning: It is indeed a grisly story.)

  2. Rick Wojcik Says:

    It is clear from the original story that ‘alert’ was being used in the sense of people notifying the police. The hand itself did not alert the police. I’m not sure that this is a cutnpaste error, however. It is possible that the writer just left out ‘they’ and proofreading didn’t catch it.

    Because I work with a grammar checking program at Boeing, I see a lot of cutnpaste errors. I like the name of this type of error and will make an effort to spread its usage.

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