Daunting grammar

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Daunting grammar


Waterstone's MD James Daunt should be ashamed of banishing the apostrophe from the bookseller's name

In a desperate exercise of re-branding, Waterstone’s have decided to remove the apostrophe from their name. According to James Daunt, recently appointed managing director, “Waterstones [sic] without an apostrophe is, in a digital world of URLs and email addresses, a more versatile and practical spelling.”

This, of course, is arrant nonsense. The march of the digital world, as Daunt puts it, is no excuse for misuse of the English language. Indeed, in many ways, the digital world has given written English a new lease of life through the proliferation of blogs and online journals.

Waterstone’s decision screams of a scramble for credibility.  It’s rather like the middle-aged classical music fan who suddenly develops a taste for hip hop and trance in order to impress his kids. In doing so, he loses credibility amongst his peers

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  1. January 13, 2012

    Stephen Alexander

    Is this not simply a case of a company wanting the name on their shops to be the same as that in their online selling points URL?

    I think bad grammar for the sake of it or in an attempt to look cool should be condemned. In this case though the change seems to me to be wholly appropriate from a business perspective.

  2. January 13, 2012

    Simon Collinson

    The bookstore chain I work for here in Australia dropped its apostrophe a few years ago. The world didn’t end.

  3. January 14, 2012

    Timothy Blake

    I think this reaction is exaggerated. I am quite a pedant when it comes to language, and punctuation in particular, but does anyone who sees the shop name think that they are going to a shop run by Mr Waterstone? It’s just a name – like Boots or Harrods. Does Mr Skelton feel that these are unacceptable? They seem to have been around for quite some time without causing too much fuss.

  4. January 15, 2012


    Firstly, it’s a name. They could call themselves Wate%h”stoss@@@s and it wouldn’t really matter.

    Second, there are reasons why dropping the apostrophe makes at least some sense: I see for example that the web address for this magazine is not http://www.prospect magazine.co.uk for example as the space would play havoc with the URL. I hope we wouldn’t condemn Waterstone’s to having to accept http://www.waterstone's.com or @waterstone’s. Given the importance of the public presence of these last two, I think I can understand why they might want to align their name with them.

    Third, the English language is I think fortunate in not having a custodian. If we must have one, can we please not appoint a retail chain to the position?

    Fourth, if grammar becomes a mere albatross round our necks than an aid to understanding (I fail to see how the apostrophe either way), then it starts to become a hindrance rather than a help. My only worry now- and one which will not prevent me sleeping at night- is what the possessive form of Waterstones should be.

    Lastly, since when it is acceptable to use “don’t” in formal writing?

  5. January 17, 2012

    contessa kopashki

    all part of the process next will be

    - remove capital letters: waterstones
    - remove vowels: wtrstns
    - san serif font
    - rebrand in white with garish background colour
    - replace text with symbol

    by that time all books will be condensed down to 140 characters and only be available as an electronic download on a hand held device

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David Skelton is Deputy Director and Head of Research at Policy Exchange 

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