I was going to post about this last week when the furore was still raging, but the death of one of my favourite authors pushed it to the back of my mind. Which, actually, is where it belongs. But it does serve to illustrate at least one valid point, so I think I’ll go with it anyway.
(Cries of, what’s she blethering about? and get to the point, woman!)
OK. If you live in the UK, you won’t have missed it. If you live in the US, you probably did.
Waterstone’s. Or more recently, Waterstones.
For the benefit of blog-followers across the water, Waterstones is as close as the UK comes to Barnes and Noble. Not as big, and these days a tad less like a supermarket and more like an old-fashioned bookshop, but nonetheless a large national chain of shops with a branch in just about every town.
It recently changed hands, and for the third time in less than six years is undergoing what the marketing guys call a rebranding.
And boy, have they caused a commotion. And all because of an apostrophe.
Don’t get me wrong. I can and do wax eloquent on the subject of misplaced apostrophes. The correct use of it’s and its is right at the top of my list of issues to address when I’m line-editing. And if there’s one thing guaranteed to make my teeth grind of their own accord, it’s the all-too-ubiquitous greengrocer’s apostrophe (APPLE’S 50p A POUND, POTATO’S 12p. You probably call it something else in the US – the Dan Quayle syndrome, perhaps) which seems to drop like litter into brochures, website text and all manner of public communication. There’s even a shop a few miles from us which welcomes customers with a board that reads WE ARE O’PEN. (Yes, really.)
But Waterstone’s, or Waterstones. OK, so they’ve decided to remove the apostrophe from the name, partly in a bid to make it easier to search for on the www, and partly, I’m guessing, just because they wanted to change something now they’re under new management, and the brand is so well established that changing anything major wasn’t an option. But honestly, what’s the problem here? Why is it such a huge issue for punctuation purists, including the National Society of the Prevention of Abuse of the Apostrophe, or whatever politically correct moniker they give themselves?
It’s a name, and the last I heard, the law said you could name yourself, or your child, or your business, whatever you like. I was reminded of a guy I knew many years ago, who used to get on his high horse about someone who worked for him whose name was Derrick. A derrick, he’d say, was a kind of crane; the ‘correct’ spelling of the man’s name was Derek.
I forbore to point out that the crane derrick was actually named for its inventor, who was called, yes, you guessed – Derrick. But I did (gently; he was bigger than me) suggest that the poor guy was entitled to call himself whatever he liked.
And so are Waterstones. Removing that apostrophe isn’t setting a bad example to customers whose understanding of the apostrophe is a tad hazy. Nor is it an illustration of falling standards in the correct use of grammar and punctuation.
It’s an exercising of a democratic right to spell your name exactly as you choose. Or a big fuss about nothing at all from some people who need to get a life.