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For some reason, people don't like being corrected

Let's face it. My apostrophe quibbles are not necessarily everyone's top priority; if they were, I would probably not need to quibble. This apostrophell comes courtesy of the folks at RDC one of the UK's computer component recycling companies. RDC have a component auction site that, along with a ludicrous system for finding out what's on offer, provided a wealth of apostrophe errors - mainly the greengrocer's plural (vagrant 's).

Here's what happened when I tried to get their errors fixed. Please note, I tried to be upbeat in this email.

From: Ashley Frieze
Sent: 15 January 2001 13:40
Subject: Website error

Hi there,

sorry to be picky, but you have an error repeating all over your website.

Here is an example:

Container 55811
2 x 540MB System Hard Drive's (IDE)

You have made the word "drive" into its plural by adding "'s". This is incorrect use of the apostrophe. It gives a very poor impression. I have found the error in a large proportion of your auction lot pages.

It would be good if you could fix these errors sometime.


Ashley Frieze

Unfortunately, they chose not to respond. I left it for a while. In fact, I successfully won a couple of their auctions. As I painstakingly attempted to view their next round of auctions, I discovered some classic apostrophe errors, the like of which we'll probably never see again. I sent a follow-up email:

From: Ashley Frieze
Sent: 18 January 2001 17:04
Subject: More errors on your site

I reported some problems with apostrophes on your site the other day. Since then, not only have you not fixed the problems, but your new content is even worse!

Here is an excerpt from the description of one of your lots.

Container 57155
3 x 1.44' System Floppy Disk Drive's

In this instance, not only have you used 's to make a word into its plural, but you have declared the drive as 1.44' - meaning that it is 1.44 feet wide - that's a big disk drive! In fact, you probably mean that it is 1.44Mb and 3.5"...

These errors are, individually, nothing major, but as a group suggest a lack of care from someone within your organisation - this will put people off using you.

Surely it can't be too difficult to fix these problems?

I look forward to your comments on this and my previous email.


Ashley Frieze

Ok, so I'm sounding less polite and upbeat. As it happens, the concept of three 1.44 feet drives selling for six pounds was making me giggle. The 144 feet drives, advertised elsewhere on the site were making me laugh out loud. The following email came back from RDC.

-----Original Message-----
From: Faye Kneale []
Sent: 19 January 2001 15:42
To: Ashley Frieze
Subject: Errors on the site.

Dear Sir

Thank you for comments made about our site.

For your information this site has been up and running for over a year now.

The content and general format of the site has always been the same.

We have never before had any complaints about the way the component auction is structured, until now. I am sorry that you feel aggrieved by the apostrophe problem that you have pointed out in your last two emails.

In the instance that you have mentioned below where you have commented on the fact we have used 's to make a word plural indeed this was the desired effect. The reason for this is because there are three items. I know that the ' perhaps should not have been used but that is actually quite trivial.

I have taken on board your comments about the fact that there is a typing error to which I have had corrected already. I can not see how the apostrophe problem would stop someone from buying a product from us, after all you were a successful bidder yourself this week.

The site will continue to run the way it always has done, obviously I will bring it to someone's attention about the 's that you appear to be concerned about.


RDC Component Auction Online

This letter probably belongs in the backlash section. There are a number of reasons why this boiled my blood when I read it. The thin veneer of professional courtesy, which surrounds her ignorant and derogatory attitude, is too thin. Of course, I fired off a reply. I even managed to avoid criticising the poor way she handled her own use of English. I did rub it in about the apostrophe, though. Perhaps the way she had grudgingly accepted my criticism about the incorrect plural set me off on one...

From: Ashley Frieze
Sent: 19 January 2001 16:55
Subject: More errors on your site

Dear Faye,

Do you treat all customer comments in such a hostile manner? I am disappointed with your attitude. In fact, it is an indication of a defensive attitude to a mistake on your part.

I will now explain why your use of punctuation is incorrect. I am doing this to attempt to help you improve your site. If you find it offensive to be told that you are wrong, then I apologise. However, I find it unprofessional to be dealing with a company who cannot use punctuation, and there are other people who will take one look at such errors and leave your site for good.

Just because your site has been running in this fashion for over a year does not make it any more correct.

Firstly, I accept that your intention to make words into their plural is correct - I never disputed that. However, you never add "'s" to a word in order to make it into its plural (except in a few unusual cases). The correct way to refer to more than one hard drive (for example) is to add an "s" - the apostrophe is used to make a word possessive or to indicate missing letters in the contraction of two words.

[here we go...]


1 Hard Drive
2 Hard Drives
3 Hard Drives and so on

for the plural


My dog's bone - the bone belonging to my dog
My dogs' bones - the bones belonging to my dogs

for the possessive.

I'm glad to hear that you'll be passing my comments on. I agree that punctuation is fairly trivial, but if it's so trivial, then it should be no effort for you to get it right in future.


Ashley Frieze

Surprise surprise, no replies... at least not yet. Perhaps I will hear back from her one day. Perhaps someone will forward the link to this page to her boss. I will add one final thought. I have thrown companies' leaflets in the bin, resolving not even to consider using them, simply on the grounds of printing and apostrophe errors in their literature. Call me pernickety, but if someone cannot get that right, in what else will they excel in their mediocrity?

For the record, RDC seem to have fixed a lot of their errors. So maybe it's not all bad news.

30 January 2001
Ashley Frieze