Anti-Ageing Breakthrough’s [sic]

Today’s headline, Anti-Ageing Breakthrough’s,  comes from a subject line on an email I received this week from a major online cosmetics company. It annoyed me so much, I had to write a blog post about it.

Given their subject line, I wasn’t surprised when I read in the body of the email that their products could help “restore your skin to it’s [sic] most youthful state”.

As I’ve often repeated, a relative 20 years my junior retorted when asked why well educated professional people made so many basic grammatical errors these days, “What’s the problem? We know what we mean”.

It’s true. I do know what that cosmetic company’s subject line means. But I’d love to know the rationale behind putting an apostrophe in such a straightforward plural. On this topic, I once queried a student of mine, who did excellent work but who always used apostrophes with simple plural’s (like that). When I asked him why, he said he didn’t know and that he’d never thought about it. Another teenager told me they were taught at school to put apostrophes “with s words”.

Could this be true? It can be the only answer.

I can understand some confusion about its and it’s: the possessive version is an exception to the usual in NOT taking an apostrophe, though it’s easily explained  (use it’s only when you mean “it is” or “it has”). I can understand the coffee-shop blackboard error, cappuccino’s $4, it being a ‘foreign’ word and all (the plural is cappuccini if you want to be strictly correct, but it has become anglicised in Australia to cappuccinos). I can even understand another one I saw recently, holiday’s (the writer knows that words ending in –y often become –ies in plural, but holidaies is clearly impossible, so the writer has become confused).

There’s the old joke about the grocer’s apostrophe, depicted so well in the illustration on this page (thanks to Juliet Fay for allowing me to use her cartoon, and you can read her excellent blog post on such apostrophes here).

But breakthrough’s?

While we all make errors in our writing and informal correspondence, through haste, a casual approach, or the fact that our work isn’t edited by anyone else, I’d expect professional companies to be just that. To me, it looks unprofessional when I see grammatical errors in publicly released advertising or editorial material, and I wonder in what other ways the company is unprofessional. Get a good sub-editor, or just someone who knows basic grammar, to check the work of your copywriter, companies!

Or am I asking too much? Does it even matter?

7 thoughts on “Anti-Ageing Breakthrough’s [sic]

  1. I understand exactly what you mean, Caron. On the one hand, I am linguistically egalitarian in that I don’t think there’s anything inherently ‘better’ about standard English of any form (e.g. Australian, UK, Canadian, US). Nothing makes that dialect ‘superior.’ For instance,I often use ‘text language’ when I am, well, texting. It’s quick, efficient, and more appropriate for that context. And there are times when I code mix (for me, usually Spanish and English) or code switch (from one to the other). And absolutely nothing makes standard English ‘better’ than, say, Hindi, Finnish or Zulu.
    That said though, some things are standard English (e.g. a group of breakthroughs). Some things are not (e.g. a group of breakthrough’s). I think it’s important if you’re going to choose that dialect to use it consistently. That’s why I insist that my students observe those details such as pronoun/antecedent agreement (e.g. When a teacher tells their students… is not standard English. When teachers tell their students… is). Make sense?

  2. It’s especially annoying for someone who isn’t a native speaker – a) I don’t want to get used to seeing wrong spellings etc. because the brain stores everything), b) noticing how some native speakers make more obvious spelling mistakes than me makes me want to bang my head against a wall. Seeing such sloppyness makes trying hard feel pretty useless.
    A similar problem is the use of quotes. A door sign in a shop saying “You are very ‘welcome'” doesn’t really feel like a warm welcome to customers …
    And don’t get me started on people confusing basic words like knew/new, right/ride, light/lied, had/hat, there/their, etc. When a non-scholar has trouble with pairs like effect/affect I understand, but the basics should be clear to anyone who is literate enough to roam the internet, ugh!

    • Yes, Starfish, you make great points. I have a lot of international students, mostly Chinese. Because they have learnt at least one second language in a formal way, I can talk to them about “subjects”, “objects”, “adverbs” etc and they know what I mean. I once asked a class of mostly native English speakers in a university class what a noun was, and only 50% knew. This is in a communications class! However, I notice many of my international students making the same errors with apostrophes, and I know they must have been told or taught that way.

  3. You’re not asking too much. It does matter; and it drives me NUTS! It not only says we are doing a lousy job of educating our children, it also says we’re all too lazy to check whatever it is we’ve written and use a dictionary. What’s happened to taking pride in a job WELL done? (well, you’ve certainly gotten me going this morning 🙂 Thanks for getting my blood circulating.) Have a great day!

    • As always, I agree with your points. Glad to share the “blood boiling” load! I also think it’s because companies won’t spend enough money on this area – even big companies with lots of money. There’s often some poor over-worked under-paid young comms person doing the job of three people with no editor. I wish companies would realise that their media releases, social media and e-advertising are their showcase, not “just words”, and leave a lasting impression on consumers, particularly those of us who grew up in an era when we were taught that grammar and spelling were important.

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