“It’s easy to get apostrophes right,” I commented last Saturday on our report of Mid Devon District Council’s policy, since reversed, of leaving punctuation out of road name signs. That will teach me to make sweeping statements. John Housley wrote from Dorset to ask: “Please tell me, should I go to St Nicholas church, St Nicholas’ church or St Nicholas’s church this weekend? Perhaps prayer will help.” I’m not sure about prayer, as I am moderately agnostic about it, but St Nicholas’ is probably best, as it is the church “belonging to” the saint, whose name ends with an S. If you normally pronounce it “Nicholases church”, then option three would be fine, although there is no harm in not using an apostrophe at all. So, yes, it is not always easy to get apostrophes right, but I would say “St Nicholas’ church”.
Heads up: Google Glass, the latest gadget that is not quite ready yet, was described on Monday as “similar to the heads-up display pioneered for use by fighter pilots”. Richard Harvey points out that it should have been “head-up display” or HUD, which allows a pilot to read the instruments while keeping his or her head up, looking ahead. A “heads up” is a briefing, and a phrase which should not be used in any circumstances.
On and offline: Mick O’Hare noticed “the disparity between italicised print publications and non-italicised online publications” on Monday, when we reported the talks about media regulation. As he says, “Where they appear in the same sentence it’s especially jarring”, such as “Huffington Post and National Review”. My view is that we would not write Guido Fawkes, or Harry’s Place or The Daily Dish, so although a website might mimic a newspaper, we should be consistent and not italicise it, even if the result may sometimes appear to be inconsistent. As Mr O’Hare says, though, “It’s a problem that’s going to grow rather than disappear.” It just goes to show what a mess MPs have got themselves into trying to define the “press” which is going to be independently regulated under Royal Charter.
Jargon fail: Sara Neill, a frequent correspondent, wrote to complain about a headline on an opinion article on Tuesday: “Empathy fail: a condition that’s bafflingly rife among our politicians.” That seemed all right to me: there is nothing wrong with inventive and original use of internet-speak. But then I read on to the phrase that gave rise to the headline. After discussing the lack of imagination of some American politicians, our columnist wrote: “Over here, legislators are experiencing a similar empathy fail over food banks.” Why call them “legislators”? Nobody says that, even on Twitter or internet forums. We call them “MPs”. And in such a clunky sentence, “empathy fail” simply read as if someone had left the “-ure” off by mistake.
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