What has BlackBerry got against apostrophes?

May 6, 2011

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

Rules for the use of the BlackBerry name

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]

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