Inexcusable word?

September 14, 2011

Scores burn to death in Kenya gas fire, police say

Kenyan media put the toll higher, saying more than 100 people were burnt to death and a similar number were taken to hospital in one of the worst fire disasters in the east African country.

Residents said petrol spilled from a fuel depot owned by the Kenya Pipeline Company and ran into a sewage dyke that runs under the slum, which is known as Sinai. The petrol ignited, causing an inferno that left charred corpses and burnt skeletons.

“The scene is bad, there is a large number of people burnt to death,” Owino said.

“There is an informal school inside the slum, they have all been burnt,” Daniel Mutinda, a spokesman for the Kenya Red Cross, said.

Please tell your people how to write the past tense of “burn.”

It is NOT “burnt” but “burned.” Experienced reporters and writers know this, but if it is a newbie who is responsible, where was the supervising editor?

This was inexcusable and suggests that the writer probably has other grammar problems. Get them some help, please, because Reuter’s name is on this stuff…

M.D.

My dictionary says both burned and burnt are valid. Burned is preferred in American English and burnt gets top billing in British English.

Our official style is to follow that distinction, but in an international story it isn’t always going to happen.

Considering that burnt is a part of the language, it seems excessive to call it “inexcusable,” especially as two of the four instances here were in direct quotes: GBU Editor

People watch as rescuers work at the scene of a fire at a slum near the industrial area of Nairobi September 12, 2011. REUTERS/Noor Khamis

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