What motivates me to select a particular shampoo, you ask? I check off the boxes. Price - check. Value for money, which is really another way of saying price - check. Biodegradable ingredients - check. Recyclable container - check. Never tested on animals - check. Added UV protectors guarding against environmental pollutants and discolouration - check. Made in Canada - check. Approval by the grammar police - BUZZ.
I am finally going to stop purchasing a brand of shampoo named “Down Under Natural’s” because, despite the fact it checks many of my personal boxes, every time I pick up a bottle, of the stuff, my blood starts to boil. This is the very shampoo that comes wrapped with the image of a koala bear, and promises me “G’day hair.” The fine print on the back also invites me to immerse myself in the “exotic cocktail of Australian fruits - kiwi, peach, avocado,” and “natural botanicals” that will leave my hair “rejuvenated, strengthened and conditioned.” I’ve had enough.
My first problem is that this shampoo claims “strength and fortify.” Hold on; you mean either it will “strengthen and fortify,” or that it offers “strength and fortification”? Surely, you can’t mix a noun and a verb such as they did oil and water shampoo and conditioner.
My bigger problem is with the apostrophe in the product name: “Down Under Natural’s.” Hmm. Who or what is the Down Under Natural. Why should he, she or it be possessive about a shampoo? Is he, she or it the Australian-rules football equivalent of Roy Hobbs, the baseball phenome known as The Natural? Surely, the name of the product should be just “Down Under Naturals,” without any apostrophe, and it might not hurt to capitalize the N as well.
Now, there may be those among you who say that I’m getting my knickers in a knot over something too small to worry. Whereas, the rest of you groan and complain about how frequently I take up grammatical issues while issues like the size of council go unreported. There are two reasons why we should care about grammar. The first is that if Belvedere International Inc., the owner of the product’s trademark, didn’t care that much about its grammar, maybe it didn’t care that much whether lawn fertilizer mixed in with its exotic cocktail of Australian fruits.
The second is that the use of grammar can shade meaning in quite radical ways, with potentially serious consequences. A few years ago, a bestseller involved the example of “eats, shoots and leaves.” With that comma, you are describing cold-blooded murder in a restaurant; without it, you are describing the dietary habits of a Panda. The misuse of the apostrophe has consequences that are potentially just as dire. If you write, “Sally is the undertakers’ daughter,” you are revealing your grammatical ineptitude unless there are two undertakers in town; they are either married to one another or have conspired to produce a love child.
In fairness to Down Under natural’s, I should note that there are many other examples that send me into apostrophic shock. You see it on those folksy property ownership signs: “The Brown’s. Harry and Freda.” There isn’t a thing called Brown that owns the cottage: the sign is either declaring that the property is owned by the Browns, in which case the sign should read “The Browns,” or that the Browns reside here, in which case it should just read “The Browns.” It can get even messier when the owners’ last name ends in an “s.” Are we visiting the Simmonds or the Simmondses, and are we at the Simmonds’ or the Simmonds’s place?
I have no difficulty visiting St. John, New Brunswick or St. John’s, Newfoundland, but I find it difficult to visit St. Catharines, Ontario and Smiths Falls, Ontario. If that weren’t bad enough, the town of Bright’s Grove or Brights Grove, Ontario is divided as to which spelling is correct: with apostrophe or without.
All of which leaves us with the deeper problem presented by Down Under Natural’s and its established competitor, “Aussie,” a Proctor and Gamble product that offers a moisturizing shampoo “accented with Australian Aloe and Jojoba seed oil.” Just what is it about Australian shampooed hair that makes people so excited about it in the first place? On that one, you could lay all the grammar police in the world end to end, which may be an appropriate use of their skills, and you would be no closer to the answer.
Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.
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