U of S | Mailing List Archive | alt-photo-process-l | Re: the grammar of spam

Re: the grammar of spam

Before I comment on Don's comment, I share some spam arrived in my inbox tonight:

The sender was listed as "Cornell," I suppose to imply or associate with Cornell University. The message began, "Here's how much you can expect to earn in your life with the following degrees:"

High School Diploma: $1,100,000
Bachelor's Degree: $2,100,000
Master's Degree: $2,500,000
Doctorate: $4,400,000

You Need a Better Degree, and we can Help!
Obtain degrees from Prestigious non-accredited
Universities based on you life experience.
NO ONE is turned down.
Call Now 7 days a week.

Meanwhile, I hesitate to argue with Don, whose knowledge of grammar is formidable, tho I cannot resist pointing out that he is bound to be much closer to the time of having learned it than I am, which makes it so much easier to recall...

But he says "Pro's...
.... 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."
Actually "pro" *is* an abbreviation.... for "professional," but I was thinking in terms of a noun ending in a vowel... and, tho it's too long ago to recall specifics, as I mentioned, there is some rule about inserting an apostrophe when proper nouns ending in a vowel are pluralized. I was suggesting that by stretching the point, a non-proper noun could get that courtesy, perhaps so that, tho it was still wrong, it wasn't AS wrong as some others.

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.
Maybe here two mistakes cancel each other out... To be written correctly I'd say it requires a hyphen, as in "nappy-headed ho'", otherwise it could be read as "nappy headed-ho," and what a "headed-ho" would be is not universally agreed upon.

(And by the way Catherine, although some folks may be born with a limited number of apostrophes, as you so aptly point out, many more seem to have been born with no hyphens at all !)


Don Sweet

----- Original Message -----
From: "Judy Seigel" <jseigel@panix.com>
To: <alt-photo-process-l@usask.ca>
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
form of
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