Apple has made a serious gramatical error in the naming of its products [irony], as one reader has gone to great lengths to point out to us. 

Who’d have thought a simple story about Apple’s MacBook Pro with Retina Display could offend a Macworld reader so greatly.

Yesterday we published this story: Apple replacing MacBook Pros with faulty Retina displays

One reader was so incensed by our use of the plural form of MacBook Pro that he took it upon himself to educate us as to the correct use of the word.

We had written MacBook Pros.

He insists the correct way to describe the plural of MacBook Pro would be MacBooks Pro.

Sit back and enjoy the email exchange…

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The original email

 

From: [Pedantic reader]
Date: Tue, 26 Jun 2012 19:32:25 +0100
To: karen haslam
Subject: Illiteracy (yours).

       I realise that it may be unreasonable to expect a British journalist to  have any command of literacy, these days, but if you could grasp the fact that the plural form of MacBook Pro is MacBooks Pro, not "MacBook Pros", you would make yourself look a lot less foolish and uneducated when you write.

       "MacBook" is a noun; "Pro" is an adjective applied to it.  When you are referring to more than one MacBook Pro, the correct grammar is to pluralise the noun, not the adjective.

       (Does the Haslam household, when discussing  two cars that are red in colour describe them as "reds car"?)

       You need to address this perpetual sloppiness in your publication if you expect anyone to treat it with any respect.

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A polite response from myself

 

From: Karen Haslam
Date: Tue, 26 Jun 2012 21:06:36 +0100
From: [Pedantic reader]
Subject: Re: Illiteracy (yours).

I'm very confused by your reasoning. Maybe you should take that issue up with Apple, since in this case the MacBook Pro is the name of a product. In plural those Macs would be known as MacBook Pros. Like a group of iMacs. 

Thanks for your comments though. 

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Here’s his response …

 

From: [Pedantic reader]
Date: Wed, 27 Jun 2012 12:55:30 +0100
To: Karen Haslam
Subject: Re: Illiteracy (yours).

       Well, I'm surprised by your confusion and lack of education.

       In the absence of the latter you need to address this from first principles.

       What is actually confusing you is basic English grammar.

       It is the noun (in this case MacBook) that one pluralises, not the adjective (Pro) in the title pertaining to the MacBook.

       One doesn't pluralise adjectives, in English.

       (The French do - in French, plurally, they're called MacBooks Pros.)

       Perhaps red cars (as opposed to "reds cars") was a bad example for me to choose in trying to explain it to you because in that case the adjective precedes the noun.  A better automotive one  would have been the Audi quattro. A group of those cars would be Audis quattro, not "Audi quattros".  It's the Audis that there are a bunch of; it isn't a pile of drive systems for an Audi.

       An example easier for you to grasp, perhaps, would be court martial.  The plural of court martial is courts martial, not "court martials".  If you don't believe me, look it up.

       The plural of Sergeant Major is Sergeants Major, not "Sergeant Majors".  You can look that up, too.  They're Sergeants in rank, not a variety of Major.  See how confusing things can get when one is imprecise and adds the "s" to the wrong word?

       It isn't just restricted to military titles and ranks.  Consider judges.  The plural of Lord Justice is Lords Justice, not "Lord Justices".

       A group of businessmen may all be managing directors but a group of BBC chief executives are Directors General, not "Director Generals" and a bunch of Rupert's finest are Editors-in-Chief, not "Editor-in-Chiefs".

       These are fundamental rules of the English language.  You should have been taught them at school.

       Whether or not Apple always gets its grammar correct in referring to its products is neither here nor there.  Illiteracy by Apple (or anyone else) does not change the rules of grammar nor render it excusable in journalists.  Grammar, not Macs, is what should be sacrosanct to a writer.  It, like spelling, is a basic imperative for a journalist.  And yours is deficient.

       Like it or understand it you may not, but the plural of MacBook Pro is MacBooks Pro and the plural of MacBook Air is MacBooks Air.

       That's just the way it is, in English.

       ("British English" as Apple has the outstanding arrogance and impertinence to call it.)

       Apple may name its product the MacBook Pro or the MacBook Air - which is fair enough - but Apple can't then change the rules of English language when it refers to more than one of them: it has no status nor authority so to do.

       You seek justification by pointing out that the plural of iMac is iMacs.  Indeed it is.  But consider the PowerPC variants.  Would you call those, say, a G5 iMac or an iMac G5?

       In plurality, a G5 iMac would become G5 iMacs but an iMac G5 would become iMacs G5, not "iMac G5s".  Whichever way round you put it, the plural form becomes iMacs and the G5 - be that as an adjectival prefix or an adjectival suffix -  remains singular.

       These distinctions matter because, correctly applied, they prevent confusion.  And one of the most important things for a journalist to do is to avoid creating ambiguity.

       Consider this disambiguation: MacBooks Pro are computers for professional people; whereas MacBook Pros are people who are professional at using MacBooks. 

       If you were brought up by folk who said things like "It's me" instead of "It's I" or "Who do you mean?" instead of "Whom do you mean?", such grammatical errors can become deeply ingrained and hard to eradicate.  But eradicated they need to be, because they betray ignorance by the perpetrator of them in understanding how a language is constructed.  And, more importantly, such mistakes aren't acceptable in journalism or in any other professional writing.

       The worrying thing is that you are described as an editor.  It's an editor's job to instil grammar into journalists.  You are teaching yours that grammar doesn't matter.

       At the end of the day, you have two choices here.  I've pointed out to you a persistent, published shortcoming in your grammar.  Either you can sit down, work out the logic of it and then correct your terminology (even if Apple doesn't), or you can choose to ignore this, carry on regardless and continue to demonstrate to anyone with an education that you are illiterate every time you write "Macbook Pros" and "Macbook Airs" (irrespective of whatever Apple may call them).

       What and who you humiliate publicly if you persist in doing this is your magazine and yourself.  Your readers you merely irritate.

       My own advice to you would be to think all this through carefully, instead of simply firing back inaccurately from the hip as an immediate and unconsidered reflex action.

       I don't suppose you will be able to grasp this but what I'm actually trying to achieve, here, is to do you (and your publication) a favour by stopping you from repeatedly - and apparently unwittingly - making a fool of yourself to educated people with your illiteracy.  Because much of your readership is educated, even if you aren't.

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By this point a colleague has also sent a response…

 

From: Mark Hattersley
Date: Wed, 27 Jun 2012 09:50:30 +0100
To: [Pedantic reader]
Subject: Re: Illiteracy (yours).

MacBook Pro is a compound noun

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Which gains the following response from our reader…

 

From: [Pedantic reader]
Date: Wed, 27 Jun 2012 13:52:23 +0100
To: Mark Hattersley
Subject: Re: Illiteracy (yours).

       Indeed.

       So is "court martial".

       So is Sergeant Major".

       So is "Lord Justice".

       So is "Sergeant Major".

       So is Director General".

       So is "Editor-in-Chief".

       They're all compound nouns and, in English. the correct plural form of all these examples adds the "s" to the first word, not to the final word. 

       How can anyone educated possibly think that MacBook should be pluralised to MacBooks but that MacBook Pro should be pluralised to "MacBook Pros"?

       And, for your own part, those who presume to lecture me on literacy would do well to learn how to punctuate a sentence with a full stop before they try to.

       Sloppiness seems to pervade your publication.  Sadly, it would appear to filter down from the top.

       :-)

PS.  Apple's OS 10.7.4 in-built spelling-checker tried to force me to spell the word education "educatation", and kept changing it to that, when I wrote to Karen.

So, I don't think we should attach too much importance to Apple's concept of spelling, now that Steve Jobs and his zeal for perfection has passed away.

At least it taught me to switch off OS 10.7's default "automatic correction" option with this glaringly obvious misspelling before it started introducing unnoticed errors retrospectively into what I write.

Perhaps that's something to which you should alert your readers (and even, dare one suggest it, your staff) ?

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Lucky for us, we know a investigative journalist who put her exploratory skills to use to uncover the following from Apple’s website

 

Exhibit 1: MacBook Pros returns 6 results on Apple’s website

 

Exhibit 2: MacBooks Pro returns 0 results on Apple’s website

 

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A further response from our very own Mark Hattersley pointed to the Smart Car

 

From: Mark Hattersley
Subject: Re: Illiteracy (yours).
Date: 27 June 2012 14:34:40 GMT+01:00
To: [Pedantic reader]

 Well language is mutable so you're welcome to your own opinion. But...

 

What it generally isn't referred to is two 'Smarts Car'. 

(Editor's note: ok, this isn't a great example because Smart is an adjective, but it's funny!) 

You're welcome to write your own rules at any time though. That's the joy of life.

But you will have to put up with people mocking you in the Apple Store. Or at least glancing weirdly behind your back. You don't hear children asking for two Cocas Cola because their friends will laugh at them. But you know... Free country and all that.

If you're a stickler for explanation it's to do with base words and objects (trademarks) - but am sure you already know all that. You could argue (not that many people do) that trademarks should never be pluralized. We think it's perfectly fine to pluralize objects. 

If it's all the same to you we'll stick with what we've got. But we're totally fine for you to keep on referring to them as MacBooks Pro and we'll stick with MacBook Pros if you don't mind. 

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Tune in for the response we are bound to get soon...

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*No readers were harmed in the posting of this blog

(We've been directed to this post that demonstrates that Apple would side with us on this subject.)