This isn’t about critical thinking or skepticism, but it bugs the hell out of me so I’m going to blog about it anyway. Bite me.
I found this abysmal sentence in the New York Times on Tuesday:
On Wednesday, the Bush administration published new standards for S.U.V.'s and other light trucks…
Ugh! In the English language the apostrophe is used to denote possession not plural. Thus “S.U.V.'s” means “belonging to an S.U.V.” (for example, “the S.U.V.'s tire was flat”). The plural of S.U.V. is S.U.V.s, not S.U.V.’s. It makes no sense to write S.U.V.'s as the plural of S.U.V. You wouldn’t write the plural of “sport utility vehicle” as “sport utility vehicle’s”, so why write the plural of “S.U.V.” as “S.U.V.'s”?
I wrote to the NYT and someone called Joe Plambeck from the Office of the Public Editor responded: “It is straight from the paper's stylebook”, as if that makes it correct. When I pushed him further to explain why it is in the stylebook, he responded:
While many authorities prefer to omit the apostrophe in these cases, it is necessary for clarity in all-uppercase headlines. Therefore use it in other kinds of copy also, for consistency.
So consistency is the goal. Never mind they are inconsistent about their use of periods in initials (for example, they write C.P.A. but VCR), and never mind they would write “sport utility vehicles”. Never mind that this wasn’t an all capitals headline, or that (as far as I can tell) they don’t use all capitals headlines anyway (well, I can’t see any). Or that it is confusing – I read quickly and was starting the next sentence before I realized that what I had just read made no sense – I had to go back and read it again. So this “style” hardly aids comprehension, as they imply: it is actually confusing. And that is why it is wrong.
I sent another email to Joe Plambeck to express these thoughts, but with no reply. I guess when you work for the high and mighty New York Times, small matters such as what is correct and what is incorrect don’t bother you too much.
“The Complete Plain Words”, Sir Ernest Gowers – page 237