Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Apostrophic Plural's

What's apostropic? It's a home-invention. It's an apostrophe that's had a catastrophe. And now, counting this sentence and the title, I've used 6 apostrophes in this post thusfar- one of them incorrect and the rest correctly used.

There s'eem's (sorry - that should read "seems") to be s'ome mis'under'standing about the us'e (or s'hould that be - mi'sus'e of apo'strophe's in today's English.

For some little time now, we have developed a tendency to scatter meaningless apostrophes all over everything we write. This dates back apparently as far as the 19th century, so we've been getting it wrong for quite a while. These days the misuse has spread to an almost endless variety of communication, both in print and electronic. I suspect all it may signify is that the people doing the writing have never stopped to ask themselves exactly what it is they're trying to say, and why they think an apostrophe may be the thing to insert artistically into their eloquent prose.

"SALE NOW ON" the board screams DOLL'S ONLY R99.99. Doll's what? Underwear? Outer garments? Or are they going to surprise me and give me only the doll's head? If they relent and give me the whole doll, I could of course claim to have received the doll's whole body, including the head. We commonly refer to this as a doll though, and dispense with the doll's body-thing. And if I decide to buy another doll at the same time, I could be said to have received two dolls. The exception will be if the bloodthirsty shopkeeper decides at the last moment to rip off the heads and give only these to me. I will then have the dolls' heads in my hands. And if he ripped off only one head and gave it to me, I would have the doll's head in my hands. See? Clear, innit?

Last time I checked, there were only two (2) instances where use of an apostrophe is appropriate. The first is to indicate that a letter has been left out in a word commonly in use - e.g. isn't (is not), haven't (have not), couldn't, shouldn't, mustn't, it's (it is) etc. The second purpose of an apostrophe is to indicate the use of possession in a sentence. Examples here might be: the boy's ball, the bird's wing feathers (one bird) , and there are variations on whether the apostrophe goes before or after the "s" (or whether another s is added),  depending on whether the "possessor" is singular or plural -e.g. "the birds' wing feathers" when there are many birds.

The following link is to a rather nice site, for those who would like to brush up on their misuse of apostrophes.

http://grammar.about.com/b/2008/10/29/the-long-campaign-to-abolish-the-apostrophe.htm
and of course its associated link "Bob's quick guide to the apostrophe, you idiots". There is also a link to a more kindly, genteel site where you will be gently tutored in the fine art of apostrophes.

There is of course one golden rule that you can just about always get away with, given the swing toward abolishing the apostrophe completely : leave it out. You can always claim you're an abolitionist!

Heres to seeing fewer silly marks scattered around all over the place. Or maybe that should read :
"Here's to s'eeing fewer 'silly mark's s'cattered around all over the place".

2 comments:

  1. "SALE NOW ON" the board screams DOLL'S ONLY R99.99. Doll's what? Underwear? Outer garments? Or are they going to surprise me and give me only the doll's head? If they relent and give me the whole doll, I could of course claim to have received the doll's whole body, including the head. We commonly refer to this as a doll though, and dispense with the doll's body-thing. And if I decide to buy another doll at the same time, I could be said to have received two dolls. The exception will be if the bloodthirsty shopkeeper decides at the last moment to rip off the heads and give only these to me. I will then have the dolls' heads in my hands. And if he ripped off only one head and gave it to me, I would have the doll's head in my hands. See? Clear, innit?

    very very funny. hard to keep tea in mouth and not on keyboard. i think monty python should reform and you should be on board.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Aaah - you are too kind (blush - a bit). I will try to get you with something that forces you to spit tea into the keyboard. We have plenty of nice new dry ones for sale....

    ReplyDelete