Re: the grammar of spam
Your continued interest in grammar is welcome (not only because I won a copy
of your wonderful T-shirt book in a competition you generously ran earlier
this year). But I think your justification of the apostrophe in "Working
with the Pro's" is too kind. That could be a plural form in only two cases
I can think of:
- if the apostrophe took the place of a missing letter, which is unusual
in a word of one syllable, or
- if "pro" is an abbreviation.
English has an inconsistent practice in forming plurals of words ending in
"o", with some such as "heroes" signalling the correct pronunciation by
adding an "e" (which in Dan Quayle's orthography can also occur in singular
forms such as "tomatoe"), and others such as "pianos" not bothering.
One of the few times I can remember seeing an apostrophe used in formal
English in the plural form of a normal o-ending word is in reports of Don
Imus' celebrated remark "nappy headed ho's" (New York Times transcription) .
Of course the phrase creates problems on a number of levels, not least
because "nappy headed hoes" would mean something even weirder, but even so
it seems to be another case of a greengrocer's apostrophe.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Judy Seigel" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Monday, October 08, 2007 10:28 AM
Subject: Re: the grammar of spam
> > My pet peeve lately has been the inappropriate use of the possessive
> > a noun instead of the plural form. I just received an email yesterday
> > Phase One, the digital back makers, with the following heading:
> > Capture One 4: Working with the Pro's
> Judy Seigel writes:
> I don't know all the rules offhand, but there are some cases where plurals
> of, for instance, proper nouns ending in "o" or other vowels, are
> correctly spelled with an apostrophe, so THIS example of terribleness may
> be acceptable, or nearly so. I suspect if we weren't so beset with
> (especially) "it's" when we mean "its," as in "we love the list for its
> variety and atmosphere" -- and it's written, "we love the list for it's
> variety and atmosphere" we'd be more accepting of, say, an apostrophe
> after "o" in the plural.
> But if the message is "We had dinner with the Shapiro's last night," or
> "The trouble with this country is that there's only one Chicago; we need a
> country FULL of Chicago's," I myself would tend to use an apostrophe ---
> because if you follow the rules of -- the word "phonics" comes to mind, I
> think that's it -- by the time the word "phonics" entered the language, I
> was in high school studying French, and they taught us rules of
> pronunciation according to the spelling -- the pronunciation of "pros"
> would NOT be the way we actually say the word.
> As I recall the rules of pronunciation, if we spelled the plural of "pro"
> simply as "pros" it could be pronounced "prahss" as in "prostitute," or
> "pross," to rhyme with gross. In any event, it wouldn't be pronounced
> "prose" which is the way we actually pronounce the word. True, English
> spelling is infinitely irregular, which makes room for many mistakes, but
> adding an apostrophe to a plural of a word ending in "o" is more
> defensible than many others.
> As for McDonald's, I believe that's meant to mean the restaurant of Mr.
> MacDonald (tho I think the name was chosen abritrarily... that's still the
> > I notice this particular mistake popping up quite frequently on the
> > I guess good grammar is optional nowadays. One clue might be the answer
> > received from my youngest daughter the other night when I asked her if
> > knew the difference between an infinitive and a gerund.
> So ask her if she knows the difference between a gerund & a participle...
> that's the one I keep losing... (AFAIK an infinitive in English begins
> with "to," as in "to pontificate", but for a long time competitive
> grammarians declared a split infinitive bad form ["I promise to not
> pontificate about grammar"]. Fortunately that, among other such rules, is
> now scotched (the prohibition, not the pontification).
> But fashions in education change... and even the best schools are subject
> to fashion. If the fashion at your school was/is content rather than "free
> spirit" you were lucky. I have a friend who went to a fancy private
> school where the fashion was printing, not "palmer method" of handwriting,
> which involved rote copying, which supposedly "stifled their creativity."
> To this day, circa 80 years old, friend's "handwriting" is a form of
> chicken scratching, except less legible.
> Meanwhile, I promise to not pontificate about grammar again, at least not