It had to happen. I knew I’d end up blogging about the apostrophe sooner or later. Today – the vexed question of do’s and don’ts. Or dos and don’ts. Or just “do’s”.
I first remember pondering this a few years ago, after reading a salon sign that offered “ Hairdo’s”. First thought – has anyone actually had a “hairdo” since the 1960s? Second thought – hum, apostrophe. Shortly afterwards I saw a catering van offering “food and beverages to suit do’s of all sizes”. My gut reaction was typical – is it acceptable to apply Tipp-Ex to someone else’s property in the name of correct punctuation?
But some innate sixth sense of pedantry told me that it wasn’t that straightforward , so I spoke with my Grammar Guru (everyone should have one). “Do’s has to have an apostrophe”, said The Wise One. “Otherwise readers wouldn’t be able to make sense of it or pronounce it, and that catering van would be offering food to a Microsoft disc operating system, which would just be weird.”
So, lesson learned – I could write “I have been to a lot of hen do’s this summer” and be absolutely correct (although the statement itself is disappointingly untrue). But it did feel dirty.
However, ten short years later and the do’s and don’ts of dos and don’ts has changed (don’t say that the world of grammar and punctuation is a staid and boring place – it’s fast-paced! It moves forward!). There’s a lot of debate on this.
I’m not sure if I’d go to The Guardian for spelling advice; however its Style Guide is splendid, and they say “dos and don’ts”. (Quick aside – while looking into this, I learned that the correct way of writing Homer Simpson’s famous uttering is “D’oh!”) The Oxford Style Guide uses the “dos” version. However, that doesn’t mean that “do’s” has become a Tipp-Ex case: the University of Central Lancashire’s journalism website comments that “probably the only legitimate reason for using an apostrophe to form a plural is in dealing with lower-case letters, as in mind your p’s and q’s or in referring to do’s and don’ts.”
By the time I’d scrolled down my second Google page, even I was bored. Yes, I am one of the anal breed who care about apostrophes. A single misplaced apostrophe can destroy professional credibility with one simple hit of a key. But – it’s not worth losing sleep or wasting time over. If you’re not sure, stick to a style guide that you trust and refer back to it to double-check your writing. If the BBC and The Times are using certain conventions, they are probably safe. The Guardian’s Style Guide is good, as I mentioned above. Or, just employ a good proof-reader (smiles winningly).
So, both versions are acceptable, but I’ve decided to go with “dos” as the preferred contemporary option. This is a rare occasion where you can follow your heart apostrophe-wise – just be consistent (and consistency is definitely on my list of dos and don’ts).