A matter of style: dos and don’ts

A headline in Saturday’s Home & Garden section prompts this note about style. The headline Chi do’s and don’ts falls under the use of words as words. Some style manuals say to use ‘s to make the plural of words as words: and’s, but’s. But the Associated Press Stylebook, the Chicago Manual of Style, The Gregg Reference Manual and others say to treat the words as words as you would any other noun and add -s or -es to make them plural: ifs, ands, buts, yeses.Some people consider the plural of “do” to be a special case. They think that “dos” could be confused with dos, the Spanish word for “two,” or with DOS, the acronym for disk operating system. I contend that no one will misread the phrase “dos and don’ts” as “two and don’ts” and that no one will confuse DOS, which uses capital letters, with “dos,” the plural of “do.”This is a matter of style, rather than grammar, but a writer or an editor should consider “do’s” incorrect if the style manual the publication uses considers it so. Indeed, Theodore M. Bernstein, the legendary New York Times editor and usage expert, titled one of his books “Dos, Don’ts & Maybes of English Usage.”

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.