Continuing on the theme of apostrophes and their use and abuse, here’s a great cartoon from The New Yorker, 25 April 2011 issue (http://www.newyorker.com/humor/issuecartoons/2011/05/02/cartoons_20110425#slide=11):
Posts Tagged ‘apostrophes’
A long-time reader of this blog, J, emailed me the other day about more apostrophe anomalies. This time he was upset and amazed by what a BlackBerry smartphone did to the emails between him and his colleague. In the example he sent (below), I’ve replaced real names with fictitious ones.
His colleague — let’s call him David — works for a company that I’ll call Orefields Exploration. ‘Orefields Exploration’ is the registered name of the company and it is the plural form of ‘orefield’, which is a combined word from ‘ore’ and ‘field’. That’s the company name and how they want to be known. That’s what David has in his signature.
When David sends an email to J from his PC, Outlook leaves Orefields Exploration as written. Sure, Outlook may have flagged ‘Orefields’ as a spelling error at some point, but it’s likely that David told Outlook to add this word to the dictionary or to ignore it and not treat it as an error.
However, when David sends J an email from his BlackBerry, the company name in his signature is automatically changed to Orefield’s Exploration, without David’s knowledge or permission.
J noticed this and sent an email back to David from PC (it’s OK — they know each other well!):
I just noticed that your Blackberry signature has a typo: “Orefield’s Exploration”
This would either mean “Orefield is Exploration” or that the exploration of owned by Orefields (possessive). Neither would be correct in this context.
It should therefore be: “Orefields Exploration” (plural, meaning you examine more than one orefield exploration site).
Hope it’s correct on your business card!
The problem was that this is what David saw on his BlackBerry:
I just noticed that your Blackberry signature has a typo: Orefields Exploration
This would either mean Orefield is Exploration or that the exploration of owned by Orefields (possessive). Neither would be correct in this context.
It should therefore be: Orefields Exploration (plural, meaning you examine more than one orefield exploration site).
Hope its correct on your business card!
David’s BlackBerry is playing fast and loose with apostrophes and quotation marks!
In the original email from David’s PC, Orefields Exploration is correctly punctated, but when he sends from his BlackBerry, it becomes Orefield’s Exploration with an apostrophe that indicates possession or contraction.
When J queries him about it, the reply email from David has NONE of the apostrophes or quotation marks that J’s original email had.
So what’s BlackBerry up to with this? I don’t have a BlackBerry (or even any sort of vaguely smart phone), so I can’t check the settings. But even if I could, I doubt it’s something in the settings as the behavior is different each time — sometimes it adds unrequired punctation; other times, it removes required punctuation.
The other surprising thing is that BlackBerry does this at all. My understanding is that BlackBerry products (there’s a reason I called them that, as you’ll see in a moment) connect to corporate Microsoft Exchange Servers. So I’d expect any emails delivered to a BlackBerry via Exchange Server to retain all punctuation and words, even if the formatting is altered. That doesn’t appear to be the case. The device appears to strip out or add punctuation as well.
BlackBerry may think that punctuation is not important, but there are plenty of court cases that have cost companies and governments lots of money over the placement or omission of punctuation such as commas, apostrophes, and the like (Google ‘rogers comma million dollars’ or ‘nasa measurement mistake’ for two examples that spring to my mind immediately).
Interestingly, when I looked at the legal usage of the BlackBerry name, the web page clearly states that you cannot call multiple BlackBerry products ‘Blackberries’ or ‘BlackBerrys’ (see
So while BlackBerry insists that people not use their product name in a plural or possessive form, they don’t seem to respect the right of a person sending an email to use words in plural or possessive or quoted form without changing them. Assuming this can all be traced back to what BlackBerry is or isn’t doing to the words in an email, that smacks of hypocrisy to me.
If anyone can explain why these punctuation changes are occurring, please comment. So far the evidence I have is that the BlackBerry software is making the changes without the permission of the user. And that’s not right.
[Links last checked May 2011]
J, a long-time reader of this blog, sent me these two photos he took in the NewsLink bookstore at Sydney’s international terminal.
NewsLink has more than 40 stores in all major Australian airports and at Hong Kong’s international airport — I suspect this apostrophe abuse is in all their stores.
You’d think the person responsible for approving the copy for their signs (perhaps the company’s Marketing and Merchandising Manager?) would know the difference between a plural (DVDs) and a possessive (Children’s [books]).
Obviously not <sigh>.
And no, I won’t comment on the offerings in the Children’s section…
[Links last checked April 2011; thanks for letting me use your photos, J]
Having been referred to as the ‘apostrophe nazi’ on the odd occasion, I found the Apostrophe Protection Society’s website an absolute delight. Not only does it clearly and simply set out the rules for when to use an apostrophe (and when not to), but there are some great photographic examples of apostrophe abuses—especially “greengrocer’s apostrophes”. More details at: http://www.apostrophe.fsnet.co.uk/
If you want a fun apostrophe usage guide for your office, take a look at angryflower.com/bobsqu.gif
[This article was first published in the December 2003 CyberText Newsletter; links last checked January 2008]
Started in 2001, the Apostrophe Protection Society has the noble aim of:
preserving the correct use of this currently much abused punctuation mark in all forms of text written in the English language.
Their home page lists the simple rules for apostrophe use, and there are links to photos of examples of apostrophe abuse, as well as a bulletin board where you can ask your own questions about whether or not to use an apostrophe and where to place it.
Update 2 June 2008: The May 2008 issue of STC’s Intercom has a small piece about the adventures of typo evangelist Jeff Deck. Jeff and various friends have just completed some three months travelling around the US politely correcting typos and punctuation errors—such as misplaced apostrophes—in signs across America! Way to go, Jeff! Here are some links:
- ABC News (US) report
- TEAL: Jeff’s website about the journey and TEAL—the Typo Eradication Advancement Leagues. You can even buy a T-shirt.
[This article was first published in the September 2005 CyberText Newsletter; link last checked December 2007]
Lynne Truss has a lot to say about all the glaring (and not so glaring) punctuation errors that abound in modern life in her best-selling Eats Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.
If you feel like joining her movement for the correct use of punctuation, the book even includes punctuation stickers (large black apostrophes, commas, semi-colons, and the like) that you can surreptitiously place on signs, menus, etc.
[This article was first published in the June 2006 CyberText Newsletter; link last checked January 2008]