"greengrocer's apostrophe" (was Re: Cam(pb)ell)

Lynne Murphy lynnem at COGS.SUSX.AC.UK
Fri Aug 4 16:12:08 UTC 2000

James Smith asked:

> I understand what a greengrocer is, and figured out
> what a greengrocer's apostrophe is.  What isn't clear:
> is this peculiar to greengrocers only, is this common
> to all merchants, or is this use so common or
> widespread throughout all aspects of writing and
> printing in England that it is considered an accepted
> use of the apostrophe?

It's just called a greengrocer's apostrophe b/c one sees it a lot in
hand written signs.  It's found everywhere, but it's not accepted by
those who know how to wield an apostrophe.  I don't think that typical
British people are more likely than Americans to know what
'greengrocer's apostrophe' refers to.  That term is pretty much
editing/prescriptivist jargon.

While in the US last week, I read 'it's' for 'its' on printed Sam Adams
promotional materials in TGI Fridays...   In my back-and-forth
experience, catastrophic apostrophic use is thriving on both sides of
the Atlantic and both sides of the equator.


Dr M Lynne Murphy
Lecturer in Linguistics
School of Cognitive and Computing Sciences
University of Sussex
Brighton BN1 9QH

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