It’s something Britons have become too familiar this winter – headlines screaming “transport chaos” and “travel misery”. Why are chaos and misery so popular with the nation’s journalists?

The Independent’s Errors and Omissions page may have the answer:

The trouble is that “chaos” is a short word, and short words tend to elbow their way into headlines. So “chaos” has become a mere code for difficulties on the roads. One odd thing is that “chaos” happens only on the roads. Disruption of rail and air travel produces not “chaos” but “misery”.

I suppose we see this a lot in newspapers – a bold and short statement makes for an eye-catching headline after all. It seems to be straying into cliche now though, so congratulations to the reporter who wrote a story in the Independent that omitted both chaos and misery. Impressive.

Here is his opening sentence: “Britain is gritting its teeth and its roads today in anticipation of the return of Arctic conditions, with heavy snow and ice-storms likely to bring wide-scale disruption.” He has made up his own word-play on “gritting”. He knows what “anticipation” means – not expecting something, but taking action about it. And he has called disruption disruption, not chaos.