Charles C Doyle cdoyle at UGA.EDU
Tue Nov 8 14:10:28 UTC 2011

Yesterday my daughter-in-law called me with a question about my third-grader grandson's homework.  The assignment was to alphabetize a list of words, and the list included the four items girl/girl's/girls/girls'.  (My daughter-in-law made clear than both the academic career of my grandson and the family's standing in the community were at stake, since the parents of the other third-graders were also depending on my answer.)

I failed.  I could tell her that there exist various styles of alphabetizing, that certain traditional "rules" obtain, one of which is "Ignore apostrophes"--but the rules I am aware of don't fully address the case at hand.  I could tell her that if the Microsoft Corporation is asked to "sort" the words alphabetically, they will appear in the order in which I have listed them above, which seems reasonable--but not, as far as I can determine, "authoritative."

Any suggestions?  (I don’t recall that third grade used to be this hard!)

Ironically, my grandson's generation probably won't even need to know about alphabetical order, since their dictionaries, phone books, library catalogs, and indexes will all be digitized.


The American Dialect Society -

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