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MailTribune.com
  • The apostrophe catastrophes

  • George Bernard Shaw called apostrophes "uncouth bacilli."
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  • George Bernard Shaw called apostrophes "uncouth bacilli."
    Various language pundits have declared them unnecessary, largely decorative and a waste of time. Linguist Steven Byington said of the apostrophe —¦the language would be none the worse for its abolition."
    But consider poor O'Sullivan, whose home state refuses to use apostrophes on his driver's license. It's OSULLIVAN to them.
    A columnist in Colorado decries a similar governmental trend in geographic names: Pikes Peak, Teds Place, Browns Canyon, Grannys Nipple.
    "Little wonder," he says, "that our schoolchildren, and indeed millions of Americans, have trouble differentiating between the plural and the possessive."
    Some folks are hoping to stem the tide of apostrophe catastrophes that pop up throughout the English-speaking world. Their solution is education, but the odds are against them. Something's got to be done, they insist, to deal with signs displayed right out in public — signs like "Ladie's And Men's," "Levi's Belt's" and "Open 7 Day's."
    We even have a neologism — greengrocers' apostrophe — dedicated to the rash of homemade signs in grocery stores and other establishments that erroneously insert an apostrophe before the final "s" in the plural form of a word. You saw examples above, but they abound: "Assorted Plam's" manages to misspell palms and add an unneeded apostrophe. The sign "Banana's, Peache's, Mang'o" mangles the language powerfully. A concerned citizen suggests that if we stopped adding apostrophes for simple plurals, we could defer the onset of carpal tunnel syndrome for several hours while at the same time delay a dangerous trend before a'll' o'u'r sen'ten'ce's lo'ok' l'ik'e t'h'is'.
    Professionally made signs really stand out: "Australia"s No. 1 Health Club" has the right idea, but somebody pushed the shift key. "Piano's Supplied By Brashs" manages to insert an apostrophe where it doesn't belong and leave one out where it does. Rosevear's Hotel pulls a similar boo-boo: At the top of the sign is "Rosevears Hotel" followed by "Counter Meal's" and, on the third line, "Lunches & Tea's."
    And what about Lands' End, the successful catalog business that is now part of Sears? That's right, Lands' End. The apostrophe should precede the "s." According to Wikipedia and a Lands' End blog, it was an error that the fledgling company couldn't afford to fix because so much had already been printed. Time for an executive decision: The incorrect version would remain because, it —¦sets us apart as a company whose continuing concern for what's best for our customer is one that is also unmistakably human!"
    Hmm. Well, it does set them apart.
    Dave Johnson lives in Ashland.
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