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

Lynne Murphy lynnem at COGS.SUSX.AC.UK
Fri Aug 4 18:34:46 UTC 2000

Arnold Zwicky:

> lynne murphy:
>  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.
> possessive IT'S is entirely a different matter from the ordinary
> greengrocer's apostrophe examples.

True that this is a different issue, but not totally unrelated, I think,
since I think it indicates a general confusion about apostrophes.  The
same promotional table-menu also used an apostrophe to pluralize TV.
(They're giving away TV's.)  But some people don't balk at apostrophes
in pluralizing acronyms/abbreviations, proper names (my mom insists on
"The Murphy's"), and decades (the 90's). Students and (copy-editing)
clients often say, when I mark a greengrocer's apostrophe in their
writing (or when they try to convince me that I need one in a plural
I've made), that without the apostrophe, the plural just doesn't _look
right_.  And so it seems to me that the proliferation of apostrophes in
style-book unsanctioned places has something to do with the perception
that words with suffixed 's' need punctuations to 'look right'.  Since
copyediting has gone out the window at many publishers' and advertisers'
offices, and since the written word has become more democratic now that
you don't need a printing press to get your typed thoughts to millions,
I expect that traditional use of apostrophes is a lost cause.  But in
the meantime, I'm all for standardization of punctuation in writing
(punctuation can make or break readability), and the old standards are
all we have that can be called standard.

> i can argue for the semiotic utility of possessive 'S versus the
> unpunctuated plural and verb form, but i can't defend possessive ITS,
> the spelling of which runs just counter to good semiotic principles.
> i'll continue to spell it without an apostrophe, just as i'll continue
> to spell the verb LOSE, but i can't defend either of these spellings
> on rational grounds, and i won't waste any time tut-tutting at people
> who spell them "wrong".

There's nothing rational about English pronouns, so far as I can tell.
(If it's _himself_ and _themselves_, why not _youself_ and _usselves_?
If _it's_ should be an OK possessive, what about _her's_ and _their's_?)
   But in my experience, people do _want_ to use them in the standard
ways, they just don't always know how to do that.  I do think it's
something worth continuing to teach, and when I see advertisers misusing
them, I don't feel bad at all about tut-tutting at them.  Advertisers
misinform us about enough things that I am happy to take offense at
their role in confusing people about apostrophes!  (Kellogg's cereals
and BASF tapes are on my IT'S list as well!)

OK, I'll shut up now.  I promise.  No more on apostrophes from me.


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