Fingers and toes
Friday 31 August 2018
With regard to Mark Trevelyan's request for examples where le mot juste did not make it into copy, I had numerous examples on assignment to countries where I didn't speak the language at all - Arabic, Chinese et al.
One rather bizarre incident occurred in Belgrade when standing-in for the bureau chief in January 1993. In the centre of the office was a satellite telephone, used mainly to contact correspondents in the field. One morning it rang with a British army officer on the line informing that "an entire Reuters reporting team" had just been blown up by a landmine somewhere in Bosnia. It was the day that Hugh Pain, Corrine Dufka and a UPI colleague were badly injured, even through the armour-plated chassis of the Reuters Land Rover.
While grappling with this, the satellite phone rang again with a stringer in Sarajevo saying that one of our photographers had just been hit by a sniper, was on his way to hospital and may lose a finger. A short while later it rang yet again with a report that a television cameraman had been wounded by shrapnel in a heavy weapons bombardment. Preoccupied with liaising with the British military on getting Hugh and Corinne out of the firing line, first to a field hospital and then back to Sarajevo to be medivacced out the next day, I was handed an update on the photographer in Sarajevo, to be informed he may lose a toe. Seeing my puzzlement, a local staffer explained they didn't know which it was, as in Serbo-Croat digit covered both fingers and toes. I'm not sure if I ever did find out. ■