Last week when I wrote the first installment of Write Right Monday Night, I explained that I am not a professional grammarian (still need to find out how I can get that gig) or a teacher. I’m just a Word Nerd with a lot of pet peeves. I’m dedicating this week’s Write Right Monday Night to one of my biggest punctuation pet peeves – misplaced apostrophes.
Without getting too deep into the rules of grammar (if you want all the details you can check them out at wikipedia.org) there are really only two reasons to use an apostrophe:
for contractions such as turning “do not” to “don’t” and
to show possession, as in “this is Rita’s blog.”
So why, pray tell, do I find writing peppered with apostrophes where none belong?
Somewhere along the line, someone mistakenly used an apostrophe to form a plural noun and the practice caught on like wildfire. I see it everywhere and it drives me nuts! That’s right, nuts. Not nut’s!
That example may be a little extreme. Most people realize that an apostrophe is not used to make most nouns plural. The problem seems to arise with proper nouns. I can’t tell you how many Christmas cards I see addressed to “The Smith’s” rather than “The Smiths.” I silently ask “The Smith’s what? The Smith’s cat? The Smith’s goldfish?” The apostrophes simply are NOT necessary.
Other instances that I notice involve numbers and abbreviations. I was born in the 1960s, not the 1960’s. I work with CPAs. I do not work with CPA’s. I do, however, work at a CPA’s office. If you look at the wikipedia.org link I shared above, you’ll see that there is some disagreement about some abbreviations. They say, for instance, that an apostrophe may be acceptable in the phrase “P’s and Q’s,” but then the article continues by saying “This is considered incorrect by others…”
You can count me as one of the “others” they speak of.
Incorrect apostrophes are one of those things that make me want to go everywhere with a marking pen and a large bottle of white-out in my purse. The desire to fix signs in public places is almost overwhelming. I have never been tempted more than I was a few years ago, when I witnessed the most egregious example ever.
In the area where I live, the school district boundaries are not necessarily the same as the borders of the towns. Kids living just a few blocks apart may attend different schools. This is often a major selling point for homes since the O’Fallon school district has the reputation of being better than the Belleville school district. (How ironic is it that O’Fallon has an apostrophe?!) I have no opinion on the validity of the reputation of either school. As far as I can tell, most of the high school students around here do some pretty stupid things regardless of the school they attend, but I suspect that’s less about what school they go to and more about the fact that they are teenagers.
Anyway, a few years ago I would pass a development of new homes that were under construction on my way to work each day. Along with the smaller signs touting “Walkout Basements!” and “One Acre Lots!” was a huge banner. It announced its most brag-worthy point of pride that would make home buyers flock to live there. They wanted to convey the idea that living in the development no doubt meant your beloved children would be receiving the best possible education in an establishment that set the bar so high that their bright and successful futures would be guaranteed.
In two-foot tall block letters the banner proclaimed:
I would do everything in my power not to look over at that sign as I passed, but like a car crash, I couldn’t look away. I wanted to sneak over there in the dead of night with a brush and a can of white paint to obliterate the awful thing. Eventually the land was purchased by another developer who continued with the construction and the banner was removed. I have no idea if it was because someone noticed the error or if the new owners simply had a different marketing plan. But I like to imagine that some like-minded grammar vigilante carried out a midnight raid, burned the evidence in their backyard barbecue grill, and scattered the ashes on the school’s lawn.