The Case Of The Coated Chocolate Apostrophe


Allow me to begin this wonderous, quizzical and oddly disturbing exploration into my strange mind by outlining a few simple quirks and facts about myself.

Firstly, it should be noted that while not a grammar police officer, I do notice when effort is made to assert the correct usage of words and punctuation. It isn’t always necessary, especially in this day-and-age of 140-character tweets, emoji-laden bursts of information and good old slang. But effort is appreciated, most certainly.

Secondly, I profess not for one moment to always get the apostrophe in the correct place. I admit to having to think about this a fair amount on occasion, especially when typing late at night, the glow of the monitor the only thing keeping me awake.

Thirdly, I like to understand things. If I see something strange, I ask why it is so. If something doesn’t make sense, I try to make sense of it. It is an annoying quirk, even for myself, but it has taught me a lot about the world we inhabit.

And finally, I work for a company that uses a popular sugar-coated chocolate treat as an ingredient for some of its desserts. I therefore come across these items fairly regularly in my day-to-day life. In all fairness, the start of this story embarrassingly comes after seeing these treats every day for about five months. The embarrassing part being that it took me that long, and a hefty hint, to realise one particularly puzzling oddity.

And so, it was about 18 months ago that I was merrily working away in my restaurant, minding my own business and going about my duties when the boss walks in and slaps a sizable manuscript down on the table. The new menu is nearing its launch and a copy had been printed for senior staffs perusal and approval. How excited was I when a copy landed its way onto my desk, along with the privilege of proof-reading. The boss left, casually wafting a “whenever you get five minutes, have a quick look-through” as he slipped out the door.

A quick look? A cursory glance? No, not my style. From the first page to the final, every single word, space, character and mark held within these papers was up for scrutiny. I was going to do myself and the company I work for proud. Yes, I get a bit carried away sometimes. I have also been known to get a little competitive, even with myself. But in fairness, this piece does open with a declaration of being disturbing.

I made myself a coffee, found a quiet corner of the restaurant and buried myself in my bosses new pride and joy; something that had been a work-in-progress since before I even joined the company. In fact, such was the awe surrounding this new menu, tales and rumours were being shared and circulated by staff as and when they got a chance to chat and gossip.

My mind quickly set to work, proofing each item and noting errors as I journeyed. It wasn’t long before I had hauled myself to about the halfway mark where I came across the Waffles & Crepes pages. A section all too familiar with myself, I scanned over the remaining desserts from this menu’s predecessor, checking to see if existing errors had been spotted and corrected. Alas not, and so these were highlighted and noted along with the growing number already collected.

It was at this point that my mind should have turned to the new items on offer. New words, names and phrases to devour. But no, not yet. My mind seemed to be stuck on something. There was something on this page, something my eyes had already passed over and something that was overly familiar to me that led me to ignore and take note both at the same time. Confused? So was I.

M&M’s Waffle

Peanut butter with a generous helping of colourful M&M’s and finished with milk chocolate sauce.

M&M's PacketTo be perfectly fair, the above title shouldn’t have caused any alarm. And for about five months, it didn’t. Not I, nor anyone else. It is simply a descriptor for a waffle-based dessert that has something to do with the confectionery treat British people will say are just American Smarties. But something was itching my mind, refusing relief and refusing to leave. Something was wrong and in my overactive imagination, it could be serious.

With perspiration starting to form somewhere above my eyebrows, I attempted to calm myself and look at the unknown yet blindly obvious problem with a logical mindset. I looked again at the page, staring intently at M&M’s when my eyes widened and my sweat froze.

Why, oh why, is there an apostrophe dangling between the second M and the S? What on earth is going on? I started to run through the rules of apostrophes in my mind, hurriedly dismissing and moving on to the next. The trouble is, as I began my process of elimination, I realised that each rule I knew of actually had presence in this particular case. And each presented itself with a conflict that I couldn’t resolve while sitting there, being gently warmed by the spring sun.

Apostrophes should not be used when pluralising acronyms. CDs is a classic example, and as I type this, my browser of choice, complete with default American spell-checker has drawn a ghastly red line under it. But technically, despite what everybody and their neighbour may say, there should be no apostrophe when exclaiming how many CDs you own.

It was this particular rule that bugged me and caused the majority of my focus. I realised that M&M’s are an American candy treat, and thus tried to reason that because of this, the apostrophe was used. However, in this day and age of customising packaging and even logos for global markets, it wouldn’t have been hard or overly costly to remove for the areas of the world that still agree with the non-apostrophed acronym of multiple numbers of items.

I even tried reasoning that it wasn’t just M&M’s that I should look at. Maybe I should consider ownership of the waffle to the M&M’s, hence creating some kind of paradox that will surely, one day, implode into a black hole. But don’t worry, I feared not for long over this, dismissing my irrational thinking pretty quickly.

Struggling to come to terms with the tiny character injecting its way into a global candy treat’s logo and name, I resolved myself to share my quandry with my boss. The text messages went something like:

WTF! M&M’s.

Shouldn’t it be M&Ms? No apostrophe.

No apostrophe with pluralised acronyms.

But admittedly, M&M’s does look right.

But so does M&Ms.

I need to see an actual packet of M&M’s to confirm all this.

WTF! It’s even on the product.

It’s in the fricking logo!

It’s right there. Why?

I don’t get it.

Not sure what you want to do with this one, keep it as it is or burn the little mark out of the menu?

I just don’t get it. I don’t understand.


Smoking EmojiIt was at this point my boss interjected my fast-becoming hysterical messages with a simple emoji response, such is my bosses leveled brevity (and likely desperation to stop my torrent of messages):

I was being ordered to take a break from querying apostrophes in the menu, on the packaging of popular sweets and general speaking, the world. Apparently, getting stressed over an apostrophe just isn’t worth it. And so I ventured outside in order to partake in a relaxing activity in the hope that this short downtime would relieve the mounting pressure and provide me with the answers I knew I would still be requiring upon my return.

Oh no. No, no, no! My brain isn’t that merciless on my body. Upon my return, my inquisitive nature had only been heightened. I had to know the answer, I had to understand. And so I went downstairs to the office, to the relative peace and quiet, and typed Google into the first browser I could open. And boy did I start to learn.

The first thing my brain absorbed was actually the most interesting. For while M&M’s is technically an acronym, it is also an acronym of two names. M and M actually refers to the founders of M&M confectioners, the people who first developed a chocolate treat that would not melt in the warm summer sun, being as it is covered in a crispy sugary coating. Mr Murrie and Mr Mars are the said gentlemen these tiny treats are named for.

The little chocolate sweets are owned by Mr Murrie and Mr Mars. They are M and M’s. They are M&M’s.

Furthermore, looking at the logo emblazoned on every packet, it isn’t strictly M&M’s. Noting the typography used in all iterations of the famous logo, it is stylised as m&m’s. The two Ms are lowercase, but stretched vertically to exceed the height of the ampersand. And thus opens the case of an acronym using lowercase letters. That might need a whole separate piece (or essay). It is probably best to leave it for now, I’m sure you’ll agree.

To add to my quandary – my disturbed curiosity one could say – assuming said treats are not already pluralised, how does one go about doing that? I mean, M&M’s is essentially Murrie and Mars’s, or Murrie and Marses, so let’s say that refers to a bag of M&M’s. Therefore, what is a single M&M? Well, I know, I just typed it. And that does appear to be the generally accepted use and it even sounds okay, albeit in popular vernacular. “Can I have an M&M from your packet?”

But – and we all knew there was a but coming – what if you wanted to take multiple M&M’s from the packet? “Can I have some M&M’ses from your packet?” M&Ms’? M&Mses? M&Ms’s? I simply don’t know anymore.

They may say that M&M’s melt in your mouth, not in your hand. But they don’t tell you their whole approach to marketing and branding will melt your brain before you get to enjoy the coated-chocolate pellet of apostrophe-laden brain-fuckery.

And so I come to Smarties; the I, the E and the S…

I never said I was great at grammar. Don’t do it. Just don’t.