Wednesday, October 11, 2006

For Nancy, My Grammarian Cohort

Superfluous Apostrophes
Original URL:
Date: 2006-08-23, 12:18PM
Written by Anonymous Poster

I've decided to address an ongoing crisis that is affecting the very way that we, as English-speaking people, live our lives. It is the superfluous apostrophe. I'm not sure if it's my increasing exposure to less grammatically-inclined writing or if it's indicative of a quickly-growing national epidemic, but I have recently become inundated and even overwhelmed by the number of superfluous apostrophes I encounter on a daily basis. No, no, I am talking about the punctuation mark. It is widely known as "that bastard half-quotation mark thing". Let's review a few standards of apostrophe usage.

)1a. An apostrophe can be used to indicate possession. For example, if Robert owned a scooter, one could refer to said scooter as "Robert's scooter." One could further refer to Robert himself as a "scooter-riding pansy", so long as they subsequently acknowledge that there is nothing wrong with that (even if you believe that there is).

1b. An apostrophe can be used to indicate where a word has been shortened into a contraction. For example: "There is not anything wrong with my leg; it has always been thus, and thus it shall continue to be until the end of my days, whereupon it will decay and return itself to the Earth from whence it came" could be condensed to read: "There isn't anything wrong with my leg; it has always been thus, and thus it shall continue to be until the end of my days, whereupon it will decay and return itself to the Earth from whence it came." See how much more efficient that was to say because of the contraction? You can thank the apostrophe for that. Now, why would anyone want to abuse such a worthy punctuation mark?

1c. Similar to (or, some might say, the same as) contractions is the intentional truncation of a word. For example. Instead of "Mordigar went swimming far too soon after breaking his fast," one might say "Mordigar went swimmin' far too soon after breaking his fast." This is particularly useful when one is "keeping it real". In this case, use the apostrophe as a sort of a "wink," as if to say, "I know it's not really spelled this way, and that there are subsequent letters to be had, but I have intentionally omitted the 'g' because I am far too clever for my own good." In this way, we (the readers) will assume that you are in on the joke, rather than that you simply are the joke.

2. An apostrophe cannot be used to indicate plurality. If there is an exception to this rule (and there probably is, because let's face it: English is one fucked up language), it does not come immediately to mind. For example, if you were to write a delightful situational comedy in which Paul Reiser and Greg Evigan were playing two men looking after a young Staci Keanan (who was terrific in "Stolen Poem", you know) after her mother's death, you might entitle it "My Two Dads". You must not, under any circumstances, entitle it "My Two Dad's". For, you see, it is indicating that there is more than one dad - not that dad possesses something, or that there has been a contraction.

3. The word "it," for being such a simple little nonassuming pronoun, produces a set of nightmares all to itself. For the word it does not receive an apostrophe in the case of possession. It does, however, receive an apostrophe in the case of a contraction.For example: If you were to set a pet giraffe free in the wilderness and you were unsure of the giraffe's gender (or if it lacked gender, like for instance if it were plush), you might say "It's on its own now." This is an advanced example, because it shows both forms of "it" that we've discussed - practically right next to one another. Notice how it-possessive doesn't have an apostrophe? Notice how it's - the one with the apostrophe - is a contraction? Another way to say this would have been, "It is on its own now." Or a third way: "I seem to have thrown my plush giraffe toy out into the wilderness. Hell if I'm leaving this car to retrieve it, because I am one lazy bastard."

Like the phrase "and I" as opposed to "and me," I feel that the best bet is to err on the side of ignorance. The same way "My abusive alcoholic father left my brother and I to die in a snowbank in eastern Montana" is worse than "My brother and me like puppies", because while both are incorrect, the former is incorrect and it indicates that the speaker was attempting to speak properly and yet failed miserably, it is better to err on the side of no apostrophes. The reason is simple: Omitting punctuation can be cool and kitschy. Adding superfluous punctuation hints at failed pretense, and there's nothing sadder than failed pretense.

At the current rate of emboldened and inappropriate apostrophe usage, researchers have indicated that the apostrophe may be all but extinct before 2015. But if each person who reads this can seek to eliminate just one superfluous apostrophe per day, we could not only have apostrophes for the remainder of our lifetime and our children's lifetimes, but we may also be able to build a surplus of apostrophes, which we could then market to needy countries like France, who require so many more than we do.

So join with me, friends, in eliminating this rampant misuse o' the apostrophe. Together, we can make a difference.

1 comment:

EcamirG said...

Oh wow.

Not that you're likely to see this comment, but I am the author of this piece. I figured it had simply faded into obscurity, and just did a search for it, and here it is - preserved for posterity!

Thank you. :)