In June 1969, Lotus Cars Ltd put out a press release. Its first section was titled “THE PLURAL OF LOTUS”. It went on to state that the company would in future always refer to the plural as Lotus, and the possessive as Lotus’. It concluded “this, we hope, will eliminate the use of the horrible words: Loti and Lotuses.”
This short and quite amusing piece of history got me thinking. If I had been proofreading Lotus’ publications back in 1969, what would I have thought of this? What do I think of it today? As ever, this blog is a collection of my thoughts, and I’d love to hear what you think about the subject, and my response to it. My starting point was to ask myself what I think the plural of Lotus is. I thought it was probably Lotuses, and a quick check of various dictionaries confirmed that this was the prevailing spelling. So that’s it, Colin Chapman was wrong, and he in fact had a garage full of Lotuses. Blog over.
Well, not quite. Because as with so much in the English language, the answer is not that simple. Dictionaries refer to the lotus flower. Is the car a different word, or is it the same word used in a different context? Did it start as the latter and has become the former? If it is the same word, must it follow the same rule as its namesake flower? The answers to these questions will be different depending on who you ask; I can’t give a firm answer. Which brought me on to my next thought: Lotus Cars was Colin Chapman’s company. He was the man behind its founding, its growth, its successes and its failures. If he said his company made Lotus, not Lotuses, who are we to argue? He gave the world his amazing cars, so didn’t he have the right to decide how they were referred to?
All of which brings me on to the proofreader’s dilemma. The dictionary says Lotuses, the client says Lotus. This is where judgement comes into play. If the client said that the cars were made in Norfulk, I’d amend the spelling to Norfolk and stand my ground all day long. But Lotus rather than Lotuses? It is clear that the company had given a lot of thought to the matter, and had strong feelings. It’s their company, their name, and how to use it must ultimately be their decision. On balance, I’d go with the client’s preference. My role would then be to ensure that all future literature used the agreed approach. These days, we’d call it the house style.
Applying the house style remains a key skill for a proofreader. I can advise you, discuss the pros and cons, and could even decide for you. Once the decision is made, I can make sure your company or organisation looks as professional as possible, by applying the house style consistently, and by producing a style guide that can be used by anyone writing for you.
I hope this gives an idea of the challenges that proofreading can throw up, as well as the processes we go through in making decisions about what to change and what to leave. If you’d like your website, advertisements and documents checking for consistency, get in touch through the website or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oh, and I wouldn’t argue with Alan Partridge about the plural of Lexus being Lexi. Aha.