Punctuation marks – how confident are you that you’re using the right one?

No time for a proper blog post this week (paid work has to take over, I’m afraid), so instead I hope you’ll enjoy this blog post from Oxford Dictionaries’, 6 punctuation marks you might be using incorrectly. I’ve talked about some of these tricksy characters in past posts (see for example February’s post Colons in the red corner, semicolons in the blue…which one will win?), but the OED’s guide goes a step further.

If you’ve ever found yourself unsure about using any of the following: possessive apostrophes, semicolons, colons, ellipses, hyphens or dashes, then it’s well worth a read.

‘Til next time…

Hey, tweeps and bezzies! New Scrabble words: ridic, or long overdue?

In light of yesterday’s news that Collins Dictionaries have updated the Scrabble dictionary to include around 6,500 new entries, it got me wondering if this would put younger players at an advantage for possibly the first time in the game’s history. Before the 2015 update (the first in four years), older participants have often been ahead of the game due to having had more years to gather interesting vocabulary.

All this could now be changing, as many words commonly associated with social media and the ‘younger generation’ have crept into the latest Scrabble dictionary. (I know there are plenty of over-30s who are fluent in their use of social media and modern parlance, but based on my circle of friends I know relatively few who are totally comfortable using terms such as ‘lolz’, ’emoji’ and ‘thanx’.)

Before I started working as a copy-editor and proofreader, I considered myself to have a pretty wide vocabulary, and over the course of my work I’ve become familiar with the definitions of many more words. However, these are ones which already appear in standard dictionaries. I’m far less sure of the meaning of many terms which my much younger cousins and their friends think nothing of using on a day-to-day basis.

Many of the people they spoke to for New Zealand website Stuff seemed to echo my bewilderment at some of the terms used. Dench*, anyone?

I was surprised when I got 5/7 on BBC Newsbeat’s quiz on the meanings of some of these new words, but suspect that if it hadn’t been multiple choice I might have failed a little harder.

Metro also brought out their own quiz, this time without the multiple choice option. This time I got 27/42. Why not give it a go and see if you can beat my score? Shouldn’t be too difficult to manage!

In light of my poor performance, I think it’s time I got reading through the full list and doing some revision, otherwise I might get left behind in the digital age! I’m not sure I’ll be able to make full use of some of them in everyday conversation without sounding like Nathan Barley (“What’s up, my tweeps**?”), though…

* Excellent.

** Twitter users.

When Spellcheck won’t help you…and Autocorrect fails.

Spellcheck is many people’s favourite tool when writing; it’s great for picking out niggly spelling and grammatical errors. However, what it’s less good at is spotting words used out of context. If it’s in the dictionary, it’s deemed ‘acceptable’.

So you get odd things happening at times, such as articles where the writer has obviously become confused by two homonyms, and the results come out something like these (the below come from a Digital Tutors blog post about the game engines Unity and Unreal):

one engine might rain supreme

And this particularly poorly structured sentence – who are its ‘dominants’, exactly? The people who’ve been oppressing a game engine?

When it comes to mobile games that is where Unity really shows its dominants, with many popular mobile games created with it, it’s really become a mobile developers go-to game engine.

Finally, the penultimate paragraph has this recommendation:

My new reference tool – an investment purchase!

It’s half term this week, and I’ve been in charge of finding activities for the kids, so it’s been quiet on the work front. However, I did manage to add a new dictionary to my collection during the last week before the holidays:


I figure that I’ll soon be able to subcontract work out to the two five-year-olds, which will have the double bonus of keeping them occupied during school holidays and increasing our income. I’m sure the £4 I spent with The Book People will turn out to be the best investment I’ve ever made.

Who needs a red pen when a crayon will do just as well?

Apostrophe or no apostrophe? That is the question…

As I mentioned last week, one of my 2015 resolutions is to read up more on grammar, and I thought I’d share some tips/thoughts every now and again.

I thought I’d start small, with the humble apostrophe.

Why do I still see so many people and companies – both big and small – opting to precede their ‘s’ with an apostrophe when pluralizing? Why are people still struggling with ‘it’s’ and ‘its’? I thought I’d try and clear up a couple of issues with this week’s post.

It’s vs. Its: a simple question.

It helps to remember that ‘it’s’ is just a contraction of ‘it is’. So simply write down a sentence including ‘it’s’, then insert ‘it is’ in its place. If the sentence doesn’t make sense, you should most likely be using ‘its’- or else another word entirely!

Another way to look at it is this: his means ‘belonging to him’ and hers means ‘belonging to her’; therefore its means ‘belonging to it’. For example: She looked up at the building. Its windows were lit up.

Grocer’s apostrophes*


I’m sure a lot of you will have seen this cartoon already, but it’s so good I thought I’d share it again…

Wherever I go, it seems like more and more people are falling in love with the grocer’s apostrophe. I’m pretty sure that when I was at school (not that long ago – and grammar certainly hasn’t changed that much since!) we were taught that to create most plurals you simply add the letter ‘s’ to the end of a word.

You might have seen my tweets before about misuse of these little fellows (Lidl’s ‘Grocers Case Clementine’s’ and the card in Tesco proclaiming ‘Birthday’s Rock’ being cases in point), but they are everywhere. The OxfordWords blog quotes from the Guardian in 2002:

The apostrophe, it sometimes seems, is like an insect – an apostrofly – over the dining table, alighting where it will.

It really rankles every time I see a ‘Brian’s Taxi’s’ cab drive past. Perhaps it’ll bother me less if I imagine one of those pesky apostroflies has come to a sticky end on the side of the cab.

I can kind of understand wanting to use an apostrophe in an abbreviation (such as signs reading Not suitable for HGV’s, garages offering MOT’s or an old Island Records poster mentioning CD’s) or to refer to years (e.g. ‘1980’s); although it’s still incorrect, it doesn’t look as odd. Or perhaps I’ve just become so accustomed to it that it doesn’t stand out as much.

The good old Oxford English Dictionary points out that there are instances where you can use an apostrophe before a plural ‘s’:

  • you can use an apostrophe to show the plurals of single letters:

I’ve dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s.

Find all the p’s in appear.

  • you can use an apostrophe to show the plurals of single numbers:

Find all the number 7’s.

They then go on to use bold type, which shows how strongly they feel about the matter:

remember that an apostrophe should never be used to form the plural of ordinary nouns, names, abbreviations, or numerical dates.

There are a couple other uses of the apostrophe that I could go into in more detail, but I’d suggest heading over to the OED’s website, where you can find more detail on how to use the apostrophe in the following contexts:

  • possession (as in ‘its’ above, and also when dealing with nouns and proper nouns ending in ‘s’); and
  • to denote omission (as in ‘it’s’, for example).

To end off, let me quote verbatim from a sign I saw recently:

We are looking for a professional person to join our successful team, the hour’s will be 10 or more, the job will include bar work, kitchen work, and to help set up conference’s, and holiday relief in general dutie’s.

The apostroflies have landed again.

Until next week…

* My husband just suggested I insert a grocer’s apostrophe into the title as a joke, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.