‘Shell-like’ refers to a person’s ear. It has been in use since the late 19th century when the shape of an ear was deemed to be like a sea shell.

When we are tired, under pressure or emotional, it is all too easy to make glaring mistakes in our writing. I’m as guilty as anyone and have appalled myself on occasion with errors that must have prompted my mother, an ardent member of the ‘grammar police’, to spin in her grave!

Having said that, there is little excuse on a computer when there are multifarious tools for proof-reading, whether it’s spelling or grammar. True, these tools are not infallible — I say this as WP  has just accepted ‘iff’ on another post I’m writing — but it is the least we owe our readers. Some bloggers, I’ve noticed, have added spelling and grammar disclaimers; this beggars belief.

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While the mistakes listed in the above image are commonplace and infuriating, incorrect plurals seem to have taken over the globe! I’ve just seen a Twitter profile that reads ‘Manages only the best producer’s, artist’s, designer’s and model’s of today’s talent.’ Are they kidding me?

Of all the plural gaffes, there is one in particular that has become all-pervasive and makes me grit my teeth, I confess, with fury. I see it myriad times a day, every day. I’ve even seen it in a captioned prologue to a film. It’s an error that has me wondering if somebody changed the rules and forgot to tell me!

I’m talking about how to use an apostrophe when it comes to years and decades. Confused? Let me show you some examples, all of which I’ve taken from the web. The correct way to express each phrase is on the right.

1960’s Decade Overview • 1960s Decade Overview

Visiting dress, late 1860’s • Visiting dress, late 1860s

Explorers from the 1600’s • Explorers from the 1600s

She was a college student in the early 1990’s • She was a college student in the early 1990s

Where does the 1990’s rank as a decade? • Where do the 1990s rank as a decade? (also note the ‘does’ error in this question taken from the CNN website)

This applies equally when decades are shortened i.e. the ’20s (note the apostrophe before the number to show the elision). The only time you would apply an apostrophe before the ‘s’ is if you were writing about that particular turn-of-the-decade year i.e. 1960’s music charts, meaning the charts of 1960, not the whole decade. If you wanted to refer to the charts of the decade in this context, it would be ‘the 1960s’ music charts’ where the apostrophe after the ‘s’ is possessive in nature.

Incidentally, ages follow the same pattern: you should write ‘I’m in my 30s’ rather than ‘I’m in my 30’s’.

I do know that many are dismissive of grammatical rules and say it really doesn’t matter. But this, as Pippa of The Last Post said, is like declaring that an artist doesn’t need to be able to draw to be a painter, or that a mathematician doesn’t need to know how to add up to create ground-breaking formulae. The more the structure of language is debased, the more incomprehensible it becomes and the less we understand each other, a dangerous path to take, as history shows us all too often.

Here is Lynne Truss on the subject in Eats, Shoots and Leaves, an invaluable and highly entertaining guide to punctuation that has no right not being on every wordsmith’s shelf.

‘The reason it’s worth standing up for punctuation is not that it’s an arbitrary system of notation known only to an over-sensitive élite who have attacks of the vapours when they see it misapplied. The reason to stand up for punctuation is that without it there is no reliable way of communicating meaning.’

‘On the page, punctuation performs its grammatical function, but in the mind of the reader it does more than that. It tells the reader how to hum the tune.’

‘We have a language that is full of ambiguities; we have a way of expressing ourselves that is often complex and elusive, poetic and modulated; all our thoughts can be rendered with absolute clarity if we bother to put the right dots and squiggles between the words in the right places. Proper punctuation is both the sign and the cause of clear thinking. If it goes, the degree of intellectual impoverishment we face is unimaginable.’

‘[…] I apologise if you all know this, but the point is many, many people do not. Why else would they open a large play area for children, hang up a sign saying “Giant Kid’s Playground”, and then wonder why everyone stays away from it? (Answer: everyone is scared of the Giant Kid.)’

All quotes taken from GoodReads.

I could quote from this book forever and a day. Short of that, I urge you to get a copy.

It is also worth looking out for punctuation posts from some of the lovely blogs I follow including but not limited to Nicholas C Rossis and Have We Had Help.

Related

Take care and keep laughing!

Sarah

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