Save the Apostrophe!

I have some Derbishly mean-spirited (I hope!) remarks about the cavalier use of apostrophes in my upcoming month-end diary on NRO. Had I read this story before sending in my copy, I would have been more restrained. Apparently the apostrophe is in danger.

[T]he fashionable clique of modern grammarians … has the apostrophe in its sights. Prominent among this bunch are the likes of John Wells, emeritus professor of phonetics at University College London, who argues that strict rules of spelling and grammar “hold children back,” and the linguist Kate Burridge, author of Weeds in the Garden of Words, who wants the possessive apostrophe scrapped. Prof Wells wants to replace the apostrophe with a blank space …

Conservatives should of course rally round established usage. Aux armes, citoyennes! Save the apostrophe! There must be a few big names we can enlist in support. Bill O’Reilly, perhaps, or Dinesh D’Souza, or this guy, or this gal, or someone from here

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22 Responses to Save the Apostrophe!

  1. Susan says:

    My name is rather small, but count me in anyway.

  2. I’m sick of the apostrophe. I’m fine with it in contractions, but the whole possessive thing is just tiresome.

  3. Susan says:

    Yeah, well, just remember that when they outlaw apostrophes, only outlaws will have apostrophes.

  4. ◄Dave► says:

    I forget where I found this about a year ago:

    The European Commission has just announced an agreement whereby English will be the official language of the European Union rather than German, which was the other possibility.

    As part of the negotiations, the British Government conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a 5-year phase-in plan that would become known as “Euro-English”.

    In the first year, “s” will replace the soft “c”. Sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump with joy.

    The hard “c” will be dropped in favour of “k”.

    This should klear up konfusion, and keyboards kan have one less letter.

    There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year when the troublesome “ph” will be replaced with “f”.

    This will make words like fotograf 20% shorter.

    In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible.

    Governments will enkourage the removal of double letters which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling.

    Also, al wil agre that the horibl mes of the silent “e” in the languag is disgrasful and it should go away.

    By the 4th yer people wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing “th” with “z” and “w” with “v”.

    During ze fifz yer, ze unesesary “o” kan be dropd from vords kontaining “ou;” and after ziz fifz yer, ve vil hav a reil sensibl riten styl.

    Zer vil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi tu understand ech oza. Z e drem of a united urop vil finali kum tru.

    Und efter ze fifz yer, ve vil al be speking German like zey vunted in ze forst plas.

    🙂 ◄Dave►

  5. Susan says:

    Hoo, boy. Bear in mind this: “When they came for apostrophes, I said nothing, because I didn’t like apostrophes. When they came for semi-colons, I said nothing, because I always use dashes to separate independent clauses. When they came for exlamation points, I said nothing, because I think exclamation points are vulgar. And then…and then…they forced me to have a COLONoscopy.”

  6. Susan says:

    Dave: Vee haff vays of making you stop talking.

  7. Gotchaye says:

    I don’t understand how apostrophes are supposed to “hold children back”. Language is a complicated and often counter-intuitive thing to learn, but isn’t learning something like that good for you? Making it easier to learn English would mean that children would learn everything we care to teach them about it more quickly, but it seems to me that there’s a great deal of merit in teaching something that’s hard to grasp (especially when so much else of a child’s education is as intuitive as it can possibly be – the world just isn’t like that). Plus I like being able to use spelling and grammar as a quick way of judging whether or not a piece of writing is worth spending time on.

  8. Susan says:

    To replace the apostrophe with a blank space, as Professor Wells suggests we do, seems to be making a distinction without a beneficial difference. You still have to know that the blank space denotes the possessive. So why not just retain the old usage?

    You see a lot of sloppy punctuation and bad grammar from people who should know better. It annoys me when I see a comma where a semi-colon is correct. I get similarly grouchy with people who don’t grasp the difference between “that” and “which.”

    They’ll take my apostrophes from me when they pry them from my cold, dead keyboard.

  9. ◄Dave► says:


    Vee haff vays of making you stop talking.

    Oh, no! Not the dreaded verbosectomy! 🙂 ◄Dave►

  10. Deklane says:

    You know how it is in grammar… two wrongs don’t make a right but a million or so do. Apostrophes may be with us for a little while yet, but I expect that eventually “it’s” will be accepted as the possessive form of “it.” I know there’s some inside-grammar reason that only whiskery old professors understand as to why the possessive is “its” without an apostrophe (the comparison is with “his,” I think), but it’s counterintuitive for most people, who only know that in practically every other similar instance a proper possessive is apostrophe ess. Now with everybody doing their own writing, editing, and publishing on their desktops and with the old-time editor with green eyeshades an endangered species, you see the possessive “it’s” a lot in print. Being a conservative sort of chap (why I am reading this website if not?), I wouldn’t be such a shameless libertine as to spell it that way myself, but I see it coming and being generally accepted.

  11. Mr. F. Le Mur says:

    If God had wanted us to use apostrophes we would all have been born with some letters missing.

  12. Susan says:

    Oh, swell. A theistic justification for lousy punctuation.

  13. Joe D. says:

    well, perhaps you’ve all already heard of the following book:
    Eat’s Shoots & Leaves

  14. Kevembuangga says:

    I forget where I found this about a year ago

    It’s a remake of a very old joke attributed (wrongly?) to Mark Twain.

  15. Jeeves says:

    And then…and then…they forced me to have a COLONoscopy.

    Funny, Susan, all your comments. But wouldn’t that be a “colonectomy”?

    Which illustrates another controversy, one of copyediting more than grammar: Where to put quotation marks, before or after final punctuation?

    OT but Deklane’s remarks about self-publishing remind me that the occurrence of solecisms in the writing of supposedly educated persons is becoming alarming. For example, using “factoid” to mean a small data point or piece of trivia. It means something that looks like a fact but isn’t. Like “humanoid” or “asteroid.” Also the construction “a myriad of” drives me nuts.

  16. ◄Dave► says:


    Interesting link, Kev, thanks. There is no such thing as original thought; it has all been thought of before. I remember that being my reaction to reading Walden Pond in my late twenties and noticing that Thoreau was bitching about the same things that I was, only 150 years earlier. Imagine what the poor guy would think of America today. He would have to go a lot farther away than Walden Pond to escape this nightmare. 🙂 ◄Dave►

  17. Susan says:

    Jeeves, you are correct. It would indeed be a COLONectomy. Thank you.

    That’s an interesting point about factoids. The word has been around for a few decades. I suppose it should have been “factlet” or “factette”. Although something that sounds true but actually isn’t true might well be a factoid.

    Speaking of that which drives one nuts…If I hear someone use the locution “coronated” rather then “crowned” I’m going to start screaming. And don’t get me started on “meme”.

  18. Daniel Dare says:


    Factette is a female fact.
    Like Smurfette is a female Smurf.

  19. Susan says:

    Point taken, Daniel. Perhaps my suggestion of “factlet” might suffice. In a related vein, I was doing some editing this morning, and came to the conclusion that any text in which the phrase “social justice” appears more than thrice is bound to need a lot of punctuation and grammar repair.

  20. ◄Dave► says:

    Yikes, it is spreading:

    Apostrophes have been dropped from street names by a second council, sparking concern about the “dumbing down” of English language rules.

    Wakefield Council in West Yorkshire said that it did not include the punctuation mark on road signs “to avoid confusion”, even where the name was intended to take the possessive.

    The move follows Birmingham City Council’s decision to drop all apostrophes because its staff spend too much time dealing with complaints about grammar, and has been condemned by community groups and language campaigners.

    Abandon all hope! ◄Dave►

  21. M-J_de_M says:

    Editor, please delete my three previous comments, and just print the following:

    It’s heartening to read some of the comments here. Although, I must disagree with anyone who claims that they can communicate clearly and comprehend effectively without proper punctuation. My husband and I have been railing about this for years. I won’t go into Harrods, for example, though dropping the possessive apostrophe has been practically the norm in Britain for years. The number of shops one cannot enter, in the spirit of protest, is growing by the day. I hope to help thwart such an attempt at reducing linguistic succinctness in the U.S., but I despair….

    People who are too lazy to apply the apostrophe on possessives and contractions blow their whole argument to bits as soon as they add an apostrophe to a plural word (except after “s”, for a plural possessive). I’ve seen these errata in the most unlikely of places: on the main street of Princeton, in its community newspaper, and on the front page of the New York Times.

    What I’d like to know when I see a plural word with an apostrophe is “What are they thinking?”–but obviously, they are not thinking at all. This idiocy is prevalent on the internet, and in shops everywhere. Until I see plural words with an apostrophe disappearing from the landscape, I don’t want illiterates having their say about obliterating the thing altogether. Their argument (no apostrophe=less confusion) holds no water. Making something possessive into a plural without inserting an apostrophe causes confusion in the logical mind. For example, if a sign says, “St. Johns” instead of “St. John’s”, I expect to see a multitude of saints named John strolling about the place.

    I know it’s unhealthy to let this ubiquitous slovenliness/inexcusable illiteracy affect me, but I refuse to sit here and fiddle while the language burns. I occasionally write something on my blog about the whittling-away of English, at the risk of offending what now seems to be a majority of internet users.

    Susan, I appreciate your plays-on-words.

    Dave, thanks for getting me in here.



    I’m a terrible typist who is looking for a “delete” or “edit” button….

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