In a New York Mimic
Recently, I bought a copy of the New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. I’ve been meaning to do this for years for one reason and one reason only: From time to time while reading the paper I’ve stopped dead in my tracks when I came across a sentence like: “The band was popular in the 1980’s.”
Everyone who knows the first thing about apostrophes knows that they’re not usually used in plurals. One carrot, two carrots. Write it “two carrot’s” and you can end up the butt of jokes that have launched a thousand websites and even a book, “Eats, Shoots and Leaves.”
And though the New York Times doesn't use apostrophes in plurals of carrots, it has long used them in decades. The paper also uses apostrophes in plurals of initials like TV’s, DVD’s, IOU’s, etc. That’s not how others do it. In perhaps 99% of American newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, the plural of TV is TVs. The plural of DVD is DVDs. And so on. No apostrophe needed.
So I long wondered why the New York Times did it the other way – that is, until I got a copy of their style book.
“Use the apostrophe for plurals formed from letters or numerals (p’s and q’s; size 7’s; B-52’s) and terms like PC’s, TV’s and VCR’s. While many authorities prefer to omit the apostrophe in these cases, it is necessary for clarity in all-uppercase headlines. Therefore use it in other kinds of copy also, for consistency.”
There you have it. A headline wouldn’t say “WARNER TO PRODUCE DVDS” because it’s not clear whether the s is there to form a plural of the initialism or whether it’s one of the initials (which would be pronounced dee-vee-dee-ess). So why not, the paper figures, have the text mimic the headline?
There are a couple of problems with this logic. First, the New York Times doesn’t use many all-caps headlines these days. Most editions I’ve seen lately have just one cover page headline in all caps and the rest in upper and lowercase.
What’s more, when I went to their website to search for examples, I found a number of examples that contradict the Times’ own rule: “…a pared-down selection of the couturier’s signature looks, some dating from the 1980s …” is just one of the examples I found with no apostrophe in the decade.
So, after spending $12 on their style book, I’m no closer to understanding what’s going on there.