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 and looks the opposite of “cool” to the people he’s trying to impress. Waterstone’s have made the same kind of mistake. By trying to appear attuned to the digital age, they have enraged a huge number of people and impressed nobody.
There is, of course, the added factor that Waterstone’s without the apostrophe is just bad English. People aren’t being petty or pedantic in not liking this decision—we just don’t like the idea that Britain’s largest bookseller has started to pretend that grammar is optional. What next? Will Waterstone’s decide to remove full stops or commas because they are no longer relevant in a digital world? The reasoning is maddening.
Waterstone’s should see themselves as the custodian of the English language. Instead, they have decided to declare war on the English language. That’s rather a ridiculous position for a chain of booksellers to find themselves in.
David Skelton is Deputy Director of Policy Exchange. You can follow him on Twitter @djskelton