Where have all the apostrophes gone?

28 Sep

This 2012 bye week has given me time to lament our dearly departed friend, the apostrophe.

Goodbye, apostrophes?

Um, NO.

Now I shouldn’t say the apostrophe is gone. In fact, it seems to show up incorrectly more than ever in plural words, as evidenced by many online examples such as this one at the Apostrophe Catastrophe blog.

But it certainly seems like apostrophes are in short supply, considering the number of times a left single quote mark is used instead.

It’s really quite simple. Apostrophes are used:

  1. to express possession (as in “Vince Young’s touchdown” or “Earl’s Heisman”) or
  2. to take the place of something that’s been deleted (e.g., in a contraction like “that’s” just a few words to the left or for years when you don’t need to know the century, like 05).

(“Grammar Girl” has several great episodes discussing apostrophes, by the way. You can find one of them here.)

Closest to my heart is the apostrophe used in our favorite phrase: HOOK ’EM. Our team’s rallying cry is short for “hook them,” and the apostrophe takes the place of the very un-Texan “th.” Easy, right?

Not so fast. Instead of having an apostrophe, famous for looking like a little 9, the phrase “hook ’em” is written repeatedly with a left single quotation mark. The left single quote, which looks like a little 6, typically is used at the beginning of a quote within another quote. An example: “The play known as ‘4th and 5’ may be my favorite of all time,” she said.

Programs like Word (and even the WordPress interface through which this blog is written) often assume the writer wants an opening single quote when he/she hits that apostrophe key before typing a word. That causes problems when typing contractions like tis or years like 63, 69, 70 and 05.

And it’s a big ol’ problem when “Hook ’Em Horns!” ends up in giant type—incorrectly—on DKR’s Godzillatron…

…or on the ribbon boards. (Et tu, Mickey D’s?)

Of course, it’s not just Texas products that feature these impostor apostrophes.

How ’bout we fix that!

Fortunately, some apparel makers get it right:

But for every T-shirt or coffee mug that has our rallying cry correctly punctuated, there are a dozen misfires,

and that’s a real shame. We are Texas! It’s true that what starts here changes the world, but do we really want our university to be part of this change, to eradicate the apostrophe while substituting its impostor?

It’s time we find our missing apostrophes and put them back in “hook ’em” where they belong. If we don’t, imagine what kind of world that would be.

On second thought, maybe we shouldn’t imagine that!

Join us next time as we debate the necessity of the apostrophe in “Horns” or the commas in “Hook ’em, Horns!” and “Go, Horns, go!” (Just kidding. I’ll stick to spelling Texas from here on out!)

Disclaimer: Although I teach English, I wouldn’t dare claim this post is error-free. In fact, it really bugs me that imposter is an alternate spelling of impostor. They both look wrong. ANYWAY, I’m not really a grammar nazi, but I am a tried-and-true Longhorn fan who will love my school til Gabriel blows his horn!

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