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It’s a new UK record … possibly


I do make a conscious effort not to mock the copy-editing in The Times too often. As I have explained before, it’s my principal daily paper of choice, so it’s inevitably going to be responsible for many of the words that pass in front of my eyes each day. I could certainly produce a daily blog entry culled from its pages alone, though, which really would not be fair to Rupert Murdoch; well, somebody has to be fair to Rupert Murdoch these days.

For reference, the textual quality-control at The Guardian (that beacon of unblushing left-wing hypocrisy) is so hopeless that it is universally and interchangeably known over here as The Grauniad. But revenons à nos moutons, because this morning I saw an error that is getting increasingly common not only in ‘The Thunderer’, but also throughout the British press.

Under the headline “Drink-drive mother five times over limit”, there is a report in today’s paper of some feckless and irresponsible knuckle-dragger who had soloed three bottles of wine. She had then left her child alone at home while she drove off to buy more booze, was stopped by Plod and was said to be “almost five and a half times over the limit”. The report continued, “She had 188mg of alcohol per 100ml of breath, thought to be the highest reading for a woman recorded in Britain.” Pausing only to congratulate Tracey Chambers on her proud achievement in breaking the national record, and to muse whether she will be aiming for world domination in Women’s Freestyle Boozing at the Olympics in July, she was not “five times over limit”.

The current UK limit is 35 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath, equivalent to 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. For most of the EU, the blood-alcohol limit is 50mg/100ml. Sweden, Poland and the Baltic states are even less tolerant, at 20mg/100ml, while some countries such as Romania and Hungary have a zero tolerance, which is utterly impractical as the body always has a subliminal base level for digestive reasons other than booze.

To be “five times over” the limit of 35mg/100ml of breath in the UK requires a score of 210mg/100ml: (35 + 5*35). Our Tracey was, therefore, more than five times the limit, but only (only!) 4.37 times over. Now, I’m not trying to deprive her of the proud accolade of possibly breaking the UK record (which is still before the adjudicators), but she’s not quite as bad as she’s been described.

Incidentally, Times subbies, the correct abbreviation for micrograms is mcg, not mg; mg means milligrams.


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