Bar Man, by Jeff Hoyle, July 14, 2017
The Bar Wife is a stickler for punctuation and spelling.
No matter how many times I tell her that every time she corrects my grammar I love her a little bit fewer, she says: “You are not funny”, and proceeds to put me right anyway.
It has become a bit of a game that when we go out for a meal, we can’t eat anything that is spelt incorrectly on the menu.
No mackeral or brockolli. If we have panini, it has to be at least two, and the rules did prevent me having a pint of cheap larger I saw advertised at a pub in Liverpool.
Most of the time this is not too onerous, after all it is difficult to spell steak or pie incorrectly, but it could have become an issue in the Globe. Nothing wrong with the menu or the drinks, but later in the evening comes the time when one is ready for a trip out the back. There is no problem finding the toilets, but when you arrive it is labelled ‘Gentlemens’. Is it an attempt at a plural possessive which lacks an apostrophe or simply a mistake? Who knows? Needless to say, this was one occasion where the rules were ignored.
Apostrophes are tricky things. When I write about breweries I am never sure whether the correct form is Adnams or Adnam’s, Elgoods or Elgood’s or Batemans/Bateman’s. I was in Nottingham recently when this very topic caused a heated debate.
One of the great breweries in the city was Shipstones or Shipstone’s or even Shipstone. As it happened we were staying with Cathy, who has amassed a collection of Shipstone breweriana over the years and it was easy to look at the various advertising material, letter heads and old documents to come up with the definitive answer. Except there isn’t one.
Over the years all three forms have appeared on various documents and objects, so we are none the wiser.
Why does it matter? In a sense, it doesn’t unless you have the mind of an adolescent schoolboy. Shipstone is an anagram of ‘On the p**s’, but it doesn’t work with the extra ‘s’.
So, in the end, does it matter that much it we get a letter wrong or misplace an apostrophe? It may make a company look a bit foolish and unprofessional, but no real damage is done. Or is it? In 2007 the auction site eBay listed for sale an extremely rare bottle of ‘Allsops’ Arctic Ale, full and corked, with a wax seal’ This attracted two bids and sold for $304. A few weeks later the same bottle was re-advertised as ‘Museum quality ALLSOPPS’ ARCTIC ALE 1852 SEALED/FULL’. This listing attracted 157 bids and sold for over half a million dollars. Did you notice the difference? In the first listing, the vendor had missed a letter p from the name of the brewery and therefore most of the collectors did not pick up the sale using the site’s search engine.
Was this the most expensive mistake ever? Nowhere near. Look up how the Pacific Bell Yellow Pages listed a travel agent as a specialist in erotic travel instead of exotic travel and had to pay $19 million as compensation for loss of bookings. Check out how Chile issued a 50 peso coin in 2008 with the countries name spelt as Chiie, or how copy mistakes in navigation tables lead to the loss of four battleships and 2,000 men in the English Channel in 1707. Perhaps the Bar Wife has a point.