The Grammar Factor – dates, apostrophes, translation glitches


Several readers pointed out that last month I didn’t mention how to write dates in numerals.

Because I see so many numeral variants, I turned to the Australian government style guide (Style manual), which says:

‘Dates expressed entirely in numerals have the potential to create ambiguity because different countries have different conventions. In Australia and the United Kingdom the conventional sequence is day, month, year; in North America and on many international web sites it is month, day, year; and in Sweden and Germany it is year, month, day.’

Style manual recommends restricting numeral use to where space is limited and your communications are local. If you do use numerals, you can use full stops or forward slashes, and single or double digits:

7/11/2013 or 07/11/2013
7.11.2013 or 07.11.2013

International standard

An international standard (IS) 8601:2000 exists to facilitate international communication. The order is year (four digits), month (two digits) and day (two digits). The digits are either unspaced or separated by hyphens.



Plurals of shortened names

Question: I have a question about plurals for shortened names, for example, CDs or CD’s; pdfs, pdf’s or .pdfs?

Answer: You don’t need apostrophes with plurals. In the examples given, I would write CDs and PDFs (not ‘pdfs’). The only time I would use a full stop before ‘pdf’ is when it is part of a file name (accounts.pdf).


Ten most common words in English

What do you think are the most common words in English? Have a guess before reading the article. According to an Oxford University project, these top 10 words comprise 25 per cent of our vocab. I guessed the first one right: ‘the’.

If they use these words, don’t buy their shares

Terry Smith has been involved in financial analysis for nearly four decades and writes about words we should be wary of. As soon as I saw the word ‘granularity’ on his list, I agreed with him. Other words include ‘leverage’, ‘runway’ and ‘reaching out’. Worth a read:

Apple bans words in iPhone advertising

Apple banned its distributors from using certain words when advertising the new iPhone. They included any reference to the Chief Executive Tim Cook, YouTube, glitches or hacking. The use of the word ‘new’ and exclamation marks were also frowned upon.

Marketing mistranslations A newsletter from UK translation company, Tongue Tied (, had some amusing marketing mistranslations. They included:

  • Translated into Spanish, Coors Beer’s ‘Turn it loose’ became ‘Suffer from Diarrhoea’ and the Braniff Airlines slogan, ‘Fly in leather’, publicising their new leather seats in First Class became ‘Fly naked’.
  • General Motors soon changed the name of Chevy Nova in Spanish-speaking markets because ‘no va’ means ‘it won’t go’.
  • In Chinese, the KFC ‘Finger-lickin’ good’ slogan was mistranslated as ‘eat your fingers off’.
  • The Swedish vacuum-cleaner manufacturer Electrolux used ‘Nothing sucks like an Electrolux’ for an American campaign.


‘Fiscal cliff’ enters the Macquarie Dictionary.


‘The greatest dividing line between success and failure can be stated in five words: I did not have time.’

Henry Davenport, 19th century English writer and journalist


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