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  • Writer's pictureDavid Bernhart

Watts Wrong With This Obituary?

Laurie and I have developed the habit of pointing out errors of spelling and grammar to each other that we notice in our reading of the news. We see far more errors online than in print and, with each such example, I imagine the writer churning out copy faster than they probably should have but secure in the knowledge that mistakes on the web can always be corrected later.

Shirley Watts, widow of Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, died on December 16. Getting the plural form right of a surname that ends with the letter s can be a head-scratcher for any of us, to say nothing of the challenge of plural possessive proper nouns, necessitating the use of everybody's favorite punctuation mark, the apostrophe. Both are apparently hard even for the venerable Associated Press. Three times in AP's December 19 obituary of Shirley Watts, the author intends to convey "the Wattses" but writes "the Watts" twice and then "the Watts’" near the end of the article:

"Stories about the Watts ..."

"... the Watts married in Bradford ..."

"The Watts’ shared interest in horses ..."

Had there been just one slip, or even two, I might have moved on. For three, I decided to send AP an e-mail calling attention to the mistakes. I wasn't snotty. I didn't mention that my 7th grade journalism teacher would have blue-penciled those gaffes instantly if I'd turned in that story. Thanks, Mrs. Grogan!

I received an auto-reply to my e-mail, but nothing further.

And as of this writing, to my surprise, the errors remain in the obit on AP's website.

A couple of decades ago, Don Rickles gave his best friend, Bob Newhart, the doormat in this photo:

Here, word for word, is the statement Newhart himself put out at the time:

"Don Rickles and I are best friends. I know that might seem strange to those who know Don only by reputation, but somebody has to be his friend. Just to make sure I don’t forget, Don gave me a doormat that sits just outside the front door of my house. It reads: ‘THE NEWHARTS: THE RICKLESES BEST FRIENDS.’"

As you see, Bob came closer to getting it right than the maker of the doormat, who undoubtedly just reproduced the greeting as their customer had written it. Would you have wanted to debate plurals and apostrophes with Don Rickles? Or worse, the Rickleses?

On Christmas Day, the Los Angeles Times print edition carried the same AP obituary on Shirley Watts, but the Times had corrected the three errors:

"Stories about the Wattses ..."

"... the Wattses married in Bradford ..."

"The Wattses’ shared interest in horses ..."

Once again, the decision was made that getting it right for print was important enough to invest an extra minute. I like that.

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