The Apprentice and the apostrophe

I know that I blogged about The Apprentice only very recently, but today I'm going to do so again – after all, it's not often that you see a debate over the positioning of an apostrophe on prime-time television.

For those who had the misfortune not to see yesterday's episode, the teams' task was to design greetings cards based around a new 'special occasion' of their choice. One of the teams decided to designate February 13 as a national day for single people, but had trouble deciding on the correct punctuation to use (see poll on the right).

At one point during the three or four hours of apostrophe-related debate (which, fortunately, was edited down for the benefit of viewers), team leader Michael Sophocles even attempted to phone the editor of national paper the Telegraph to ask his opinion. The nice lady at the British Library was a little more helpful but not too authoritative.

I've embedded some of the footage here (thanks, YouTube), so you can see what Sophocles finally decides. Enjoy!



BBC Apprentice website entry for week 6

UPDATE: Our friends at GrammarBlog have also been discussing this...

10 comments:

Gez said...

What is it they say about great minds, JD? We have been discussing this at GrammarBlog. I think either Singles' or Singles could be correct. The justification for Singles' is obvious - plural and possessive.
It could be argued that the word "singles" is not a noun in this case, but an adjective used to describe the day. A Cattle Market does not belong to the I pondered the same problem when it was the writers strike. Does the strike belong to the writers or is that the type of strike?

In the case of making a card for National Singles Day, despite the fact that it does sound possessed, I would go sans apostrophe. If you can get away without using a punctuation mark, it looks cleaner without. Especially in the context of a greetings card.

Gareth said...

My initial thoughts were that it should be National Singles Day.

If you have a day to celebrate cheesecake, it would be National Cheesecake Day. If you had a day to celebrate Singles, it should be National Singles Day.

Then I confused myself, and starting wondering why it wouldn't be National Cheesecakes Day. Then I started dreaming about cheesecake, and forgot all about the apostrophe.

In the end, I couldn't argue with their suggestion (Singles'), but thought a card company would probably reject it on the basis that it looked awkward, and National Singles Day would be equally acceptable. I mean, Hollywood got away with the film Two Weeks Notice, so I don't see why Clinton Cards shouldn't pull the same stunt.

Mmmmm.... cheesecake.

Sarah said...

I would write National Singles Day, but only because I don't know where the apostrophe would go and therefore would just leave it out...I shouldn't admit that on a language blog should I?

terrycollmann said...

"attempted to phone the editor of national paper the Telegraph..."

Is this the sort of writing you alow on your magazine? For a start it's The Daily Telegraph (look at its masthead), but more importantly "national newspaper" is a noun phrase, not an adjectival phrase, so it takes an article. Your sentence should read "attempted to phone the editor of a national newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, or "attempted to phone the editor of the national newspaper The Daily Telegraph ...".

Roy said...

If we are being critical I suppose that I should mention that the spelling of "allow" mis like this, not like that.

Roy said...

....and I should also check for "typos"!

JD said...

Terry, thanks for your comment but I'm not convinced I agree with any of your points.

Yes, The Daily Telegraph (if you like) does cap up its own definite article, but that doesn't mean I have to. Different publications have their own house styles. The Beeb, for example, doesn't appear to cap up any definite articles preceding newspaper titles:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/3814417.stm

I will concede that I have probably been inconsistent in my approach on my blog! And yes, the publication I work for would write 'The Daily Telegraph' – and I keep a list at work of which papers have 'The' in their masthead.

Incidentally, I dropped the 'Daily' because I couldn't recall whether Sophocles had phoned the editor of The Daily Telegraph or its Sunday sister. Yes I should have checked – but as I said in my post on Friday evening, I was terribly rushed at work last week.

As to your other point, I don't agree that an article was needed before 'national newspaper'. Granted, omitting it can sound a bit journalese, but nevertheless it is quite common. Read the first sentence of the Beeb story I've linked to above for another example:

"The Daily Mail has confirmed it has pulled out of the bidding for rival newspaper the Daily Telegraph"

So says blog editor and definite-article avoider JD...

Opinions, anyone?

rhi said...

I believe the correct term would be "National Singles Day" because it is a day FOR singles and not OF singles, therefore it does not require the apostrophe to denote possession. This should also be the case for "Mothers day" and "parents evening", although these are usually given apostrophes because I don't think this rule is widely known. I've only heard of it because The Independent gave away a grammar book a couple of years ago!

JD said...

Rhi, nice and neat explanation – but the OED gives 'Mother's Day', ie the day of the mother (singular). If The Independent disagrees, perhaps we should set up a grudge match...

JD said...

Just for the record, the final results of the poll are: National Singles Day, 27 (54%); National Single Day, 0 (0%); National Single's Day, 2 (4%), National Singles' Day, 21 (42%). Wow, so that's the most popular poll we've ever run.