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The mark of a pedant

Punctuation pedants (of whom there are a surprisingly large number) are up in arms at the rebranding of bookshop chain Waterstones, whose logo no longer includes an apostrophe.

John Richards, chairman of the Apostrophe Protection Society, fumed: “It’s just plain wrong. It’s grammatically incorrect. If Sainsbury’s and McDonald’s can get it right, then why can’t Waterstone’s? You would really hope that a bookshop is the last place to be so slapdash with English.”

Leaving aside the irony that Mr Richards’ last sentence is itself grammatically suspect (the verb form after ‘bookshop’ ought to match the subjunctive ‘would’ earlier in the sentence, so it should read: “…a bookshop would be the last place...”. ‘Was’ would be correct as well), he’s missing the point. The name ‘Waterstones’, like that of any business, is a brand mark, and thus doesn’t follow the normal rules of grammar.

Any of our sub-editors can confirm this. There are brands that demand to be spelt all in lower case (adidas), or with a capital letter in the middle (eBay), and don’t get a sub started on the companies that throw all the normal rules of grammar and capitalisation out of the window (that means you, PricewaterhouseCoopers). There are plenty of others that have long since dropped the apostrophe, such as Greggs.

In the case of shops, common practice muddies the waters further. How often have you heard someone say they’re going to Tesco’s or WHSmith’s? Neither of them has an apostrophe in their name (indeed, WHSmith eschews spaces as well), but life’s too short to go around correcting people who get it wrong.

There is a point to be made about misuse of the apostrophe in English in general, and I get as angry as anyone when writers confuse ‘it’s’ and ‘its’. But when it comes to brand marks, all grammatical bets are off. Get used to it.

Posted by Martin MacConnol, CEO