Just over a week ago, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, Phil Schiller, created an uproar on Twitter when he tweeted that “One need never pluralize Apple product names.” Say what? According to Schiller, “iPhone” is both the singular and plural form of the product name, so it’s wrong to write something like “I have two iPhones.” When someone incredulously asked, “Really? So I have two iPhone phones, not two iPhones?”, Schiller responded with the following: “Really! Words can be both singular and plural, such as deer and clothes.” To sum up Schiller’s words, we’re supposed to say either “I have two iPhone” or “I have two iPhone devices,” but not “I have two iPhones.”
It’s easy to dismiss Schiller’s tweets as the bizarre personal opinions of a single corporate executive. After all, when have you ever heard someone leave off the plural “s” when they want to make “iPhone” or “iPad” plural? If you take a closer look at how Apple writes about its products, though, it’s clear that Apple has an interesting take on how grammar applies to its product names. In particular, in addition to doing away with plural markers, Apple’s not a fan of articles (e.g., “a” and “the”). That is, Apple says that we should write “I bought iPhone 6s” and “I bought iPad,” not “I bought the iPhone 6s” and “I bought an iPad.” Don’t believe this is how they use their product names? Check out these examples from Apple’s own communications:
- “Learn about iPad in education”
- “Keep everything you love about iPhone up to date, secure and accessible from any device with iCloud.”
Of course, we agree that companies who create products are entitled to specify how these product names should be written, especially if people are trying to write them in ways that may either misrepresent the product or defame the company. However, tacking an “s” onto “iPhone” or placing “the” in front of “iPad” isn’t just incredibly benign; it’s the way that people use these product names in everyday life.
As many linguists will tell you, the way we write is shaped not only by the grammar rules that tell us what is and isn’t “correct” but also by the way that people actually use language. In fact, grammar itself isn’t about coming up with arbitrary rules that are set in stone forever. Instead, it’s about taking a look at the way people are using language and coming up with conventions for maximizing clarity that reflect this usage. So although we believe that Apple should be free to choose how its product names are written on its website and in its marketing materials, we don’t think it needs to go around imposing its grammar decisions on everyone else. After all, writing “I have two iPhones” or “I bought an iPad” is grammatically correct, so does it really matter if it’s not the way Apple thinks it should be?
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