One of the commonest confusions involves “of” and “for” in the titles of institutions. It does not take too long in these days of subeditorial cutbacks, bolstered by the risible conspiracy between editors and bean counters that writers’ copy is now so clean, to find examples.
The Institute for Public Policy Research describes itself as the UK's leading progressive think tank. Others have referred to it as the favourite of Tony Blair, the man latterly also known as GQ’s Philanthropist of the Year.
The IPPR website can be found with no difficulty by anyone with a half-decent broadband connection, and it frequently produces papers on key areas of debate, such as the economy, employment, education and health.
Yet in the past few weeks, news websites including the Hartlepool Mail (in a letter apparently from an MP; which one we are not told), Chronicle Live, the Sunday Telegraph and the Daily Mail have rendered the IPPR’s preposition wrongly as “of” rather than “for”.
The Northern Echo, once edited by W. T. Stead and Harold Evans, sadly goes one better – or one worse – with the stutteringly unsubbed rendition “Institute of Institute of Public Policy Research”. While there is no excuse for getting names wrong, such mix-ups may be explicable, if not forgivable, to a pedant of my vintage.
The usage of “of” speaks of a simple association between two entities, eg, Department of Health. But deployment of “for” for the titles of so many governmental bodies – a phenomenon particularly associated with the Blairite dispensation after the 1997 general election – introduces a whole new shade of meaning.
There is no longer merely the Department of the Environment, the invention of the Conservative administration of Edward Heath in 1970. It has transformed into the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs. The change is not merely in the appendages, but in the preposition: “for” implies being in favour of and supporting.
(Note the designation Department of Energy & Climate Change, not "for", less the domain of Ed Davey, the secretary of state for the moment, is perceived as being in favour of polar bears and humans becoming homeless.)
So maybe journalists who write “of” when there is officially a “for” are subconsciously rejecting perceived political manipulation of language. But that does not mean they are right.
Or to apply what Bishop noted in the intro of his second verse: “Correctness is my vade mecum.”