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News & views

Apostrophe worry – the least of our problems

[1 Aug 2013] ‘A school dinner lady with 11 years service has been sacked after she accidentally served pork to a Muslim pupil,’ begins a newspaper story today.

Language zealots will be appalled by this, because years should have an apostrophe after the s, the rule being that the service ‘belongs’ to the 11 years – just as in one year’s pay, the pay belongs (in traditional grammar) to the singular year.

Another eye-catching feature of the story is the comment from Lunchtime UK, the catering firm that runs the school’s canteen. Its operations manager Peter McAleese said: ‘Anyone losing their job is regretful. But there was a full and transparent procedure that Alison [Waldock] went through, as well as an appeal procedure, which she lost.’

So let’s just look at the meaning here. McAleese says ‘anyone losing their job is regretful’. This means that anyone who loses their job is in a state of regret. That may be true. But what he meant to say was: ‘Anyone losing their job is regrettable’ or ‘That anyone should lose their job is regrettable’ or ‘The fact that anyone has lost their job is regrettable.’

The words ‘regretful’ and ‘regrettable’ are not interchangeable, though we’ve commented before on how ‘Sir Alan’ alias ‘Lord’ Sugar misuses these words when addressing his young contestants on ‘The Apprentice’. [cont]

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