Updated: Dec 12, 2020
My book, A Thousand NO's, won two awards in 2017. However, it was rejected from consideration by an additional award because "there is a typo in your book, and in particular, in your book's title, which we were simply not able to ignore." Then they cut and paste an annotation of correct grammar and why it's a typo. So I defended the indefensible.
In 2013, Apple Inc. released a video titled “Intention.” The video described how Apple innovates and the purpose behind its process. Within that video, a single phrase stood out, “...a thousand no’s for every yes.”
As stated in their video, Apple is very intentional with every single detail, especially concerning a video that would go out globally that describes their purpose.
I started looking up any information related to the issue. What I found was a very amusing debate going on in the English writing world. There were two categories arguments fell into. 1. One simply does not change the grammatical rules or 2. The purpose of the written word is to convey a specific idea and rules can be changed to be as effective as possible. (Usually this is in defense of creative writing).
As a writer I initially wanted to be correct so I started playing with the two “correct” plurals of NO. First, NOES just did not look right in text and in the logo. When I asked people to identify the word, almost no one knew what it was. Second, I used NOS. This was a little better in terms of aesthetics, especially when using NOs (with a lower case s). But something looked off to me as well, so I then searched “nos” for definitions.
Today, when someone wants to look something up they type it into their search bar. In this case, typing in “NOS” brings up nothing regarding it being the plural of NO. This sparked concern immediately. When specifically searched in Merriam-Webster dictionary the first definition comes up as “numbers.” It was clear that using NOS or NOES would confuse readers.
It started to make sense why Apple would use an apostrophe. It most easily conveyed the correct intention. As I dug deeper into grammar websites and discussion boards there was a growing number of voices saying “NO’s” is becoming more acceptable, however wrong it may be “officially.”
As discussed in a recent TED talk by John McWhorter, a linguist who is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, the phrase LOL initially was an abbreviation for laughing out loud. However, it has since evolved to mean something much more subtle. He says it has become a marker of empathy or what linguists call a pragmatic particle (a word or phrase used to fill gaps of discourse).
The apostrophe in NO’s is not a pragmatic particle in this sense, but its use in the context of the Apple Intention video and consequently in my book, A Thousand NO’s marks a change to its purpose to be more effective in its messaging. That change, along with the growing number of people willing to accept its use, was enough for me to choose, as Apple did, to use the apostrophe in the title and consistently throughout the story. The alternatives were not only NOT effective, but acted counter intuitively to the purpose of the phrase.
The use of this apostrophe was strategic, thought out, debated, laughed about, and agonized over. That in itself is entertaining. I thought it even appropriate to mention the debate humorously on the copyright page.
I encourage the discussion in any review of the book as I think it’s part of its charm, but know this was not a typo. It was a creative liberty taken by the author, the illustrator, and the most influential brand of our time.
I humbly submit that you have a warm place in your hearts for the little apostrophe.
DJ Corchin - Author of A Thousand NOES, just kidding...NO’s.