The falling grammatical standards of John Lewis

There are certain companies that I believe to be exemplars in upholding grammatical standards. In the retail world, I’ve always seen Marks and Spencer and John Lewis as examples of such companies.

While I don’t expect other companies to make grammatical faux pas, I’m less surprised when they do. And on the rare occasions when M&S and John Lewis fall short of the mark, I’ve always thought it to be a temporary thing. I imagine someone being berated in Head Office for the error of their ways, and a speedy retraction or correction flying in from left field.

That is, until recently.

In the retail world, companies have recently become wilful in their disregard for English grammar. And I blame the “wear” suffix.

Shops have had signage for a long time directing customers to Menswear, Womenswear and Childrenswear. (The opportunity for parsing this last one incorrectly has made my inner self smile on many occasions.)

All three are fine words. They don’t need apostrophes as they are constructs in themselves. Inserting an apostrophe would necessitate splitting the word into two, which destroys the beauty of mashing up words. Children’swear would be ugly and open to misinterpretation; Children’s Wear is awkward and unnecessary.

But then companies started abbreviating further, having departments titled Men’s, Children’s and Women’s. Except that in creating these shortened department names, they opted to leave out the apostrophes. Their argument might be that the shortened form of Menswear is Mens. I think it’s a weak argument.

The shoe shop Clarks has banished the apostrophe altogether, with sections titled Womens, Mens, Girls, Boys and Babies. In some respects, I admire this clear stance. “We know that we’re flouting the rules, but at least we’re being consistent to allow our branding to be clean.” (That said, their website rather delightfully has an FAQ’s section.)

But I don’t expect this of M&S or John Lewis. Indeed the M&S website avoids the topic altogether by having Men, Women and Kids across their primary navigation.

But I recently discovered that John Lewis wilfully flouts the rules.

John Lewis: Childrens [sic]

 

 

 

 

 

This is clearly a decision they’ve made to make their branding cleaner, and it will ultimately quicken the demise of the possessive apostrophe from the English language.

My worry is that if standards slip in areas such as these – where decisions are being taken to actively flout rules – less negotiable rules might also be seen as optional. Without looking particularly hard today in John Lewis, I spotted this:

You say stationary; I say stationery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You say stationary; I say stationery.

And while the one below is slightly more subtle, it would certainly be at best frowned upon by Apple. A MacBook Pro has become a Macbook pro.

I almost expect to be given a fake, non-Apple product. When it doesn’t work, John Lewis will perhaps accept no liability, claiming that the branding was clearly differentiated from that of the genuine Apple offering.

Macbook pro or MacBook Pro?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Dan, 29 March, 2015 under Uncategorized

Proofreading: It’s not about knowing when you’re wrong

As a proofreader, knowing what’s right and what’s wrong is not important. Instead, it’s important to know what is right, and what *might be* wrong.

As communicating humans, we build up a base of knowledge about writing over time. Most of us know how to spell common words. Many of us are competent at spelling more cumbersome words, perhaps those with idiosyncrasies. (See what I did there?) And almost everyone knows that sentences should start with a capital letter.

Some of the more subtle rules people may not be aware of. (Prepositions at the end of sentences? Oh, do be quiet!) I know double-spacers – people who put two spaces after a full stop. Hell, I used to be one of them. I know lots of people who introduce bullets with the mouthless colon–hyphen :- emoticon. (This is not good form, btw.) And there are people who understand why the aforementioned colon–hyphen construct has been separated with an en dash as opposed to a hyphen. (These people are few, far between and mostly virgins.)

To this day, I don’t know the full ruleset for the ordering of full stops/commas and quotation marks. (Indeed the rules differ between American and British English.) I know that a full sentence should have its associated full stop enclosed in the quotation marks, and that a partial sentence should have its full stop sit outside the quotation marks. But I struggle when things become more complex than that.

I don’t know the postcode address file by rote. But I know to check every address I proofread. So when I stumble upon a cover letter for a multi-million pound bid, I know to correct the mis-typed address. I don’t know the product number for every single Cisco switch and router, but I will Google every single one that I see to make sure it’s a genuine product, and that the hyphens and capitals are correct.

When I figuratively hit a principle/principal, it takes me five seconds or so to figure out the correct spelling. Regardless of context, I have to picture a headmaster’s office door, imagine the PRINCIPAL sign that it might display, establish that in this situation, the word means important, and then figure out whether that meaning applies here.

The point is, I am aware of my limited knowledge in these areas, and I know to look things up when I need to review such text. The sign of a good proofreader is not someone who knows every single rule. Yes, a good proofreader will know lots of rules. But for any rule (s)he doesn’t know, (s)he will know to question it, and will hunt it down until it’s right.

Posted by Dan, 13 February, 2015 under Life

Proofreading process cannot be terminated

Ever since becoming a professional proofreader, I read everything I see with a critical eye.

If I receive documents in my non-proofreading job, I try to find errors. The same goes for emails, flyers that come through the door, takeaway and restaurant menus, letters from my utility providers, shop signage (one of my favourites), my daughter’s party invites, Facebook updates, news articles, school newsletters, updates from the headmistress (on a par with shop signage for enjoyment), instruction manuals, product packaging, pub blackboards, the list goes on.

While in the main I enjoy it, it’s also a hindrance. It’s not something I can just switch off.

Wherever English is written, I will try to pull it apart. For that is my job.

Posted by Dan, 1 June, 2014 under Life

Proofreaders need proofreaders

When reading things, I read in one of two modes. I either read assuming the text is right; or I read assuming there are errors.

When reading something that I’ve written, I’m in the former mode. After all, why would I make mistakes? (That’s not arrogance. Just human nature.) When reading something that someone else has written, I assume there are mistakes, and I try to find them. After all, I’m a proofreader. That’s my job. You can’t just turn it off. (Pointing out said mistakes is the only thing you can turn off.) I expect people in other industries behave similarly.

Part of the reason for the different modes is the aforementioned human nature. We assume things that we’ve done are correct, because our aim when doing them was to do them correctly. But familiarity also plays a part. If I’ve just typed an email, I know what I intended to write, and so when reading it back five minutes later, I read what I intended as opposed to what is necessarily written. If there’s a missing “an”, then I’ll assume the “an” is there, because that was my intention when writing it. And so I won’t spot the error.

For this reason, I am unable to proofread something that I’ve written to the same standard as I would someone else’s work. This issue is maximised when it’s just been written.

*Awaits comments about grammatical errors in the above post*

Posted by Dan, under Life

That odd plural apostrophe: a simple way to figure it out

People often come to me asking whether an apostrophe is needed for a plural word. It’s always in relation to that slightly odd time-, money- or distance-based possessive apostrophe. Three months pregnant; two hours’ respite; four pounds’ worth. Etc.

The rule is difficult to explain in grammatical terms. Language has evolved such that there are inconsistencies. Technically, all of the above should carry an apostrophe: pregnant by three months; respite of two hours; to the value of four pounds.

But modern usage must be adhered to.

So. The best way to figure it out is to make it singular. If the singular version needs an S, then it needs an apostrophe, as does its plural equivalent. If it doesn’t, then you shouldn’t use an apostrophe.

  • One month pregnant. An S would be madness. So no need for an apostrophe: three months pregnant
  • One hour’s respite. The S is needed. And so we need an apostrophe: two hours’ respite
  • One pound’s worth. The S is again needed. And so we need an apostrophe: four pounds’ worth.

Of course when used, the apostrophe needs to go in its normal position, which will depend on whether you’re in plural or singular mode.

Posted by Dan, 9 April, 2014 under Rules

Our biggest undertaking to date

At the end of August, our biggest client informed us that there were two big pieces of proofreading work coming up. One would land early- to mid-September; the other would be more towards the end of September. Together, the two projects were estimated to total 119,000 words.

On 17 September, we received the first document for review. It arrived later than we’d hoped, but we’re here to manage such things. Delays to one of the pieces meant that there would be far more overlap between the two pieces of work than I had hoped for. This created resource contention and meant that I needed to bring additional resource onto the projects.

The documents kept coming. In the end, the smaller of the two pieces of work exceeded the total word estimated count for the pair of bids: a whopping 130,000. But the other piece was larger still, 319,000 words spread across 14 separate documents. The task was 277% bigger than the one we’d envisaged!

To put that into context, that’s like proofreading the Lord of the Rings trilogy. All three books. Cover to cover. (Although the content was very different. Arguably more enjoyable. *ducks*) My personal contribution was 162,000 words, a smidgen short of the Fellowship of the Ring word count.

From the first document landing to the last deliverable being sent back to the client, 22 days elapsed. In those 22 days, four of us worked rather unsociable hours to get the job done. Between us, we made 53,236 changes across 23 documents.

The client appears to be delighted with our work, likening our skills to those of a “delicate butcher”.

And I am delighted that, once again, we rose to the challenge.

Posted by Dan, 13 October, 2013 under Life

What is the singular of Portuguese?

What in English is the singular noun for people from Portugal? Countryfolks’ plurals are easy. The French, Germans, Spaniards, Portuguese, Americans, Canadians etc. (I won’t go on.)

But when you move to the singular, things become a bit more awkward. For some we’re fine – an American, a Canadian and a German can quite easily walk into a bar as a premise for a joke. And if you aren’t bothered about gender equality, you can probably introduce a Frenchman for good measure. (“Frenchy” is frowned upon.)

But what if you want to bring along a western Iberian, I think you’ll struggle. The best I can do is “Portuguese person”. But the BBC recently opted simply for “Portuguese” in reference to Mr. Mourinho:

“That’s what I read –  it was a disaster,” said the Portuguese.

I have to say, I don’t like it. It just doesn’t sit comfortably.

The problem seems unique to those countryfolk whose names end with an “ese”: Lebanese, Vietnamese, Balinese, Chinese. Although perhaps Thai suffers from the same problem.

What say you? Portugalian? Lebanonian? Chinan?

Posted by Dan, 22 September, 2013 under Grammar

Insubordinate conjunctions

In certain situations, the word “that” seems to be falling by the wayside.

The following sentence in the BBC’s article about the tragic death of a 14-year-old as a result of an alleged dog attack prompted the post:

Early indications were two of the dogs put down were bull mastiffs and two may be Staffordshire bull terriers, officers said.

Now traditionally, you’d see the word “that” after the word “were”: Early indications were that two of the dogs…”

Technically speaking, what we’re talking about is a subordinating conjunction. And my view is that the addition of the that helps with the flow of the sentence. Its omission can have you retracing your steps to make sure you’re interpreting the sentence correctly.

I’ve read many a technical spec. and business plan of late, and the same seems to be happening after the word “ensure”.

We will ensure services are restored with minimum disruption.

Ten years ago, that would never have stood. Back then, we would have ensured that services were restored. But it’s becoming more commonplace not to bother with the that.

I can’t say I like it. But I guess [that] over time, the shorter version will become the norm, and that eventually, the traditional inclusion of the word will come across as stilted and archaic.

Posted by Dan, 26 March, 2013 under Grammar | Rules

Because noun: my response

My good friend Paul today highlighted to me a rather interesting blogpost. It talks of the recent removal of a preposition after the word “because”. Examples cited include:

We invaded Iraq because freedom.

I ate all of my dessert because chocolate.

I must admit, I’ve not heard of this contraction, either in written or spoken English. Perhaps it’s an American thing, as the blog’s author is Boston-based.

It reminds me of the American English rule that the verb “to write” can be transitive when referring to a recipient. So the following is just fine and dandy in American English.

I am going to write my local senator to articulate my disappointment.

The sentence would cause all sorts of consternation in the UK, not least because we don’t have senators. When the verb “to write” is used transitively in British English, the object refers to what is being written, as opposed to who is being written to. But there’s rarely an instance where the two can be confused, so I’m not troubled by it. Indeed, I quite like the shortened American version.

Michael Ondaatje wrote the English Patient.
Oh really? And how did they respond?

Americans are also more likely to remove the preposition when referring to recent past and imminent future events, a behaviour that I simply love.

American: Can you attend the meeting Monday?
Brit: I can’t attend the meeting on Monday because I’ll be busy being pompous about transatlantic grammar differences.

But with the new “because” clause, my immediate reaction is to wait for the remainder of the trailing clause. After hearing “We invaded Iraq because freedom”, I’m awaiting something along the lines of “We invaded Iraq because freedom was the only choice”.

And because this awkwardness [sic], I’m not keen on the contraction.

Posted by Dan, 12 January, 2013 under Grammar

Proofreading: what constitutes the extra mile (1.6km)?

Proofreading: it isn’t what it used to be.

In the olden days, yesteryear and indeed days of yore, proofreading was a very different task to what it has become. Back then, it involved sitting down in front of a paper manuscript with some weighty tomes within arm’s reach for reference—likely a dictionary or two and a thesaurus, be it Roget’s or someone else’s.

Apart from the move to almost exclusively electronic editing, there are two key ways in which proofreading has evolved. First, the research tools available are much richer; and second, clients’ expectations have rightly increased.

Every resource you could ever want is available at your fingertips. If you’re unsure as to the spelling of something, you can check. If you’re adopting an American English style guide, you can validate the American spelling of “artefact”. And you can see what other people think about different from/than/to. The internet offers a wealth of documentation, official and otherwise, helping you improve the document you’re working on.

But the potential for research goes further than this. Way further. Almost every element of a document can be checked now that the internet’s to hand.

In recent documents, we’ve corrected people’s own addresses on their CVs and cover letters. I kid you not. The Royal Mail’s postcode checker allows us to do that in a jiffy. We’ve checked and corrected people’s job titles using LinkedIn, only where appropriate, mind. We’ve corrected the names of hospitals in documents written by those hospitals’ management. And we’ve corrected the product numbers of obscure Cisco routers that appear 180,000 words into a 187,000-word document. I tell you, that was a wonderful feeling!

Now this is the extra mile. We pride ourselves on ensuring that every aspect of a document that can be checked by us is checked by us. We strive to find those wrong postcodes, those wrong product codes and those subtly wrong hospital names. We strive and we thrive on this.

Clients are quite often mesmerised by some of the errors we correct. And I think that’s why they so regularly come back for more.

Posted by Dan, 9 January, 2013 under Life

The change from read to red, with associated changes

Yesterday my friend Paul suggested evolving the English language to change the perfect tense of the verb “read” to “red”. This change has been endorsed by the Brit. Eng. language committee, and will come into effect, incorporated with the necessary and associated changes below, on 1 July 2012.

  • Red: Despite possible confusion with the colour, the perfect tense of read will change to “red”. This brings it in line with the verb lead/led. “I am not going to read that book because I have red it already.”
  • Insted: To avoid people mispronouncing words ending in “ead” that rhyme with “red”, the “a” will be removed. These include, but are not limited to, insted (instead), sted (stead), ded (dead), hed (head), led (lead, as in the metal; leads for dogs will remain unchanged), bred (bread), tred (tread).
  • Mead and bead will remain unaffected by the change.
  • To avoid confusion, present-tense verbs containing “ed” will be changed to incorporate an “a”, their pronunciation changing accordingly. People will wead, but will have wed, and people will attend weadings. And the slang term for “bedding someone” will become “beading”.

Full details of the change can be red by writing to the Hed of the British English society, or insted on their website.

Posted by Dan, 13 May, 2012 under Rules

Syllepsis

I learnt a new word today: syllepsis.

A syllepsis is a specific type of zeugma, which begs the question: what’s a zeugma.

A zeugma is a figure of speech in which multiple parts of a sentence are joined with a single verb or noun.

Family, religion, friendship. These are the three demons you must slay if you wish to succeed in business.

The verb is operating on three objects, but means something subtly different in each case.

A syllepsis (also known as a semantic zeugma) is a zeugma in which the grammar becomes stilted, either because of a change in meaning or through a grammatical inconsistency.

He carried a strobe light and the responsibility for the lives of his men.

She lowered her standards by raising her glass.

The sky—and my hopes—is falling.

Syllepses are intended constructs. And I rather like them.

Posted by Dan, 6 April, 2012 under Grammar

Staff is vs. staff are

A friend emailed yesterday asking why Microsoft tried to change “staff are” to “staffs are”. Here’s some background.

Imagine the following sentence.

The staff are going to go bananas when they find out.

Now taking aside whether you’re happy about the word “bananas” in the above sentence, my understanding is that most Brits will find this sentence perfectly fine, while many Americans will smart at it. And here’s why.

Americans are much more loyal to the rule that a group noun must be treated as singular. In the main, they will treat family, team, staff as singular and the verb will obey this rule. So the England team is without a manager, my family is so dysfunctional, and the staff is going to go bananas when they find out.

Meanwhile, British people deem those sentences to read awkwardly. So in the main, we’ll tend towards adopting the plural form of the noun: the England team are going to struggle in Euro 2012, my family are going on holiday without me, and the staff are going to go bananas.

Microsoft Word, whether it’s set to UK or US English, underlines “staff are” in green, flagging it as a potential grammar violation. It suggests “staff is” or staffs are”. The former bows to the American English strictness for treating group nouns as singular; the latter suggests you may be writing about shepherds’ staffs.

I expect that American English has its limits when it comes to the pluralisation of group nouns. “Number”, for example, is one that should strictly be singular, but I expect is treated as plural on both sides of the Pond. “A number of people is going out tonight” would, I expect, cause consternation regardless of nationality.

Posted by Dan, 5 April, 2012 under Grammar

Eleven days; 119,754 words; 31,587 changes

Last month, one of our biggest clients forewarned us of a proofreading project coming up in late February.

At the time, they indicated it would be around 25,000 words, “with a few other documents in the mix”.

Even when the documents started coming through a week last Thursday, we weren’t fully aware of the scale of this project, the deadline for which was today (eleven days in total).

All told, the client delivered 34 documents, with a total word count of 119,754.

Not knowing the full scale of the job meant that it was a difficult project to resource. I knew we’d need two people, and there was a possibility that we’d need a third.

In some respects, having it split into 34 documents makes a job like this easier. Having the work split up into bite-size chunks gives lower-level milestones against which progress can be measured, and more easily allows the work to be divided between different proofreaders. A single 120,000-word document might have been more daunting. But each document was written by a different set of authors, each with their own style, their own idiosyncrasies, their own types of mistake.

The last week has meant some very late nights for three people, myself included. But the last document was sent to the client on schedule this morning.

The highlight for me was spotting that the product number for an obscure piece of hardware was missing a letter. My hope is that this change alone will astound the client at the level of rigour we apply to the task. (Google means that anything and everything can be checked.) The lowlight was undoubtedly my overwriting a 2,000-word proofread document on the final evening. Huge thanks to Steve for stepping in to re-review it to save my addled brain, which was barely running on empty at the time.

It was a marvellous team effort. I’m hugely indebted to Steve and Paul for their extraordinary efforts on this one. They’ve been instrumental to the success of this project.

Now, hopefully some respite before the next big project arrives.

Posted by Dan, 27 February, 2012 under Life

The introduction of the asterisk

As a proofreader, many would think that I’m averse to changes in language. But I’m not. I welcome change. While I’m not one to fully embrace txtspk, there are certain features that I enjoy and adopt.

The asterisk is one such feature. I use it in two contexts.

First, I use it to emphasise.

To quote Chandler in Friends, “could this *be* any more lame?” Underlining is now largely frowned upon given its use in hyperlinks; and bold is considered harsh. Italics has various other uses (see Friends earlier in this paragraph), and so the asterisks are a welcome addition.

I wouldn’t use them in an overly formal letter, but I regularly use them in relatively formal work-related emails. And I admit, part of me does so to invite question.

Second, I use it to indicate an action.

This one is used in online conversations to indicate what you’re doing, usually in a non-factual way. *puts kettle on* or *puts on loungin’ pants*. It’s used to evoke a sense of what you might be doing in response to some preceding comment in the conversation.

Oddly, even though it’s a reference to the first person, yourself, it’s always phrased without the subject, yet in the third person. A bit like Jimmy in Seinfeld.

I wouldn’t write this in work emails, except in an informal manner to people more savvy in Twitter and txtspk. In the main, I’d save this for a Facebook conversation or a Twitter retort.

Posted by Dan, 28 January, 2012 under Life

Are you trying to write a letter?

At work the other day, someone was writing a letter. A traditional, formal letter on letterhead and everything. It was to a client, for audit purposes. Hence the formality.

There was question about which valediction should be paired with “To whom it may concern”. (Yours faithfully.) And then discussion turned to questions of format: where to put the date, how much space to leave before the sign-off name, how many spaces thereafter before any enclosures were listed etc.

My view is that in letters, most things are stylistic rather than formulaic. That is, how you structure things is your call. There are, however, a few things that are sacred.

  • Your own address should either be part of the letterhead or should appear at the top, on the right-hand side
  • The recipient’s name and address should appear on the left, either beneath the letterhead or lower on the page than your own address details. Basically, it should be positioned to hit the window of a DL envelope when the A4 page is folded into three, even if a different delivery mechanism is being used
  • If there is a subject, this should appear directly beneath the salutation
  • The valediction should be in keeping with the salutation. Dear Sir/Madam or To whom it may concern should be paired with a Yours faithfully. Letters to a named individual can be paired with anything.

To me, Yours sincerely is no longer necessary. A more friendly valediction can be used without causing offence. But Yours faithfully is still sacrosanct. I often simply use Sincerely, which softens the harshness of the traditional version, and puts emphasis on the sentiment (sincerity) rather than the formal construct.

Whether you put the date on the left or right is a decision of style, as is spacing.

Posted by Dan, under Rules

Grammatical renegades

There are three types of shop.

There are the grammatical stalwarts, clinging to the apostrophe in their Men’s, Women’s and Children’s departments, no doubt seething at the lacking punctuation in Menswear and the like.

There are the grammatical heathens, with signs directing you to the Childrens’ Department or the Womens’ Toilets, but correctly to the Men’s Shoes. Inconsistency abounds.

And finally, there are the grammatical renegades. These are the ones that have actively shunned the awkward apostrophe that sits within departments’ signage, but that have done so consistently, resolutely and boldly.

Clarks is a good example of the latter. You won’t find a single apostrophe on their website. Their departments are Boys, Girls, Mens, Womens. It’s clear that they’ve made an active choice to shun it, possibly for SEO reasons, possibly for typographical beauty and neatness, likely a combination of the two.

And while it may grate at first, I have to respect them for the decision. The fact that it is an active decision makes it admirable. They know what they’re doing, and they know that it’s technically wrong, but they’re pushing forward regardless, on the basis that life without it will be easier than that with it. Just as Waterstone’s announced last week.

(The slight awkwardness comes when branding meets the written word. Their marketing emails talk of savings on men’s boots, with graphics advertising great savings on mens styles.)

Notwithstanding, as long as people know what they’re doing, I’m all for a bold move like this. It’s the grammatical heathens that you’ve got to worry about.

Posted by Dan, 21 January, 2012 under Life

That vs. which

That and which have become interchangeable in certain aspects of their use. Take the sentence below.

We have overtaken the car that/which was holding us up.

Either is fine. Traditionalists, and those over 60, will default to using which. But many style guides have moved to endorse that.

My preferred style is to use that. My loose rule: which follows a comma, that does not. Take the two sentences below.

We have overtaken the car that was holding us up.

We have overtaken the car, which was holding us up.

While the two sentences are pretty similar in their sense and meaning, there’s an important distinction. In the former, the car that was holding us up is, in its entirety, the object of the sentence, modified by what’s known as a restrictive clause. In the latter, the car is the object, a subsequent clause (called non-restrictive) giving some further information about its annoying slowness.

My view is that while the comma distinguishes between the two sentences, further distinguishing them by using opposing pronouns can do nothing but good.

Posted by Dan, 14 January, 2012 under Rules

How to apply for a proofreading post

You’re no doubt reading this post because you’ve seen we’re always looking for new talent; fresh eyes to peruse the documents that we receive and polish them like they’ve never been polished before. You’re interested in what makes us tick, and which buttons to push to ensure that your own application makes its way to the top of the pile.

You’re in luck, because here’s some advice for those looking for work in this arena, specifically with osirra: mistakes in your application are not an option.

You see, we operate in a line of work where we correct mistakes. We correct mistakes in the written word. So if we at osirra stumble upon a CV or a covering letter that contains mistakes, we aren’t going to look upon it too favourably. In fact, we’ll probably think that if you make mistakes like this in your application, there’s nothing to stop you allowing similar mistakes through in reviewing our clients’ work.

If you apply for a proof reading position, we’re likely to bin your application in favour of someone applying for a proofreading position. If your salutation is to Mr. Ossira, we’d much rather this was spelt with a solitary S and a couple of Rs, consistent with the logo at the top of our website. And if you sign that same application off with “Yours faithfully”, then please include your home address to allow us to hang, draw and quarter you.

If you were applying for a position as a bricklayer, then where/whether you put an apostrophe in the word “its” matters not one jot. (We’re not currently recruiting any bricklayers, by the way, but if that changes, you’ll be the first to know.)

But the people we work with are of a certain ilk. We have a passion for detail. We adore finding errant apostrophes; a customer compliant (where a complaint would be more logical); incorrectly-spelled hospital names in the Black Country; and even executives’ names spelt incorrectly, something that the writer should rightly know better than we do.

We’re passionate about content. We’re passionate about researching where we’re not quite sure. And we’re passionate about getting things right.

Don’t get me wrong: we all make mistakes. I’ve sent emails that I’ve looked back on months after the event that contain howling typos that scream at you when read cold. But here’s the important thing: I’ve never done so when applying for a proofreading position. Such applications are unique in their self-referential quality.

So please, before you submit your CV or hit send on a covering email, stop. Read it again. And again. Send it to a similar-minded friend to proofread on your behalf. And read it again. Make sure it’s absolutely watertight before it reaches us. Because anything less simply won’t do.

Posted by Dan, 7 January, 2012 under Life

The apostrophe that few people get

Most professionals get the apostrophe. They understand when to use it, when not to, what it signifies and most of the rules associated with it. They know that it’s important that its use is correct. And they’re confident in their ability to use them correctly.

But there is one apostrophe use that always divides opinion and gets people debating, often vehemently. I have no idea what it’s called. But I know how to use it. Below is an example sentence.

Please can you give me two hundred pounds’ worth of dollars?

From the discussions I’ve had about it, most people will not use an apostrophe. Nor will they think one’s necessary when prompted. But the apostrophe is necessary, and not using one is, technically, grammatically incorrect.

For a moment, consider its singular equivalent.

Please can you give me a pound’s worth of gobstoppers?

Now apart from swapping dollars for gobstoppers, mainly to lighten the mood, the only change is reducing the two hundred to one.

In this latter example, I don’t think any semi-educated person in their right mind would think of leaving the apostrophe out. But by pluralising the amount, suddenly it becomes confusing.

This apostrophe will be the first to disappear as English changes and grammatical correctness becomes compromised with time. And eventually, likely in my lifetime, it will become grammatically incorrect to use one.

Posted by Dan, 21 December, 2011 under Grammar