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Apostrophe's Run Amok

Rosie Right

A friend has e-mailed: "Here is something that drives me nuts or should I say nut's. The flagrant misuse of the apostrophe: According to Mrs. Ferneyhough, my 8th-grade grammar teacher, whom I continue to revere even though she is long dead, the apostrophe is only used to show possession (as in Bob's) or a contraction (as in it's). "Yet every year I receive Christmas cards that violate this rule, as in 'To the Smith's' or 'Merry Christmas from the Taylor's.' The Taylor's what? And if it's the Taylor's, which one do they mean? And I see signage that violates the rule. As in, on the door of a restroom, Ladie's Room. Or, as a friend said she saw on I-95 over the holidays, Bus'es Welcome. "How on earth did the apostrophe get mixed up with the plural?" Rosie could not have described the problem better. Unfortunately, this misuse of punctuation shows few signs of going away. The usually permissive Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (1989) discusses it: "Simon [John Simon, author of "Paradigms Lost: Reflections on Literacy and its Decline"] 1980 speaks of 'The Great Apostrophe Plague: the newfangled insertion of apostrophes in ordinarily plurals.'… "No one has an explanation for the practice, but it is widely assumed to be practice chiefly by the less well educated - handwritten signs offering 'Fresh Strawberry's' or 'Auto Repair's' are often cited. Such plurals also turn up in handwritten letters sent to this office: '… these type of dictionary's.' … "If you need any further evidence that the apostrophe has not been universally understood, a correspondent of Simon's sent in as an example a sign reading 'Larr'y 66 Service'. To this gem we can add only 'T'was not always so.' - Southwest Art, May 1984" From WorldWide Words comes a new phrase used in England that Rosie hopes will not be necessary here: "Pavement Rage: Not exactly new, but it surfaced again recently as a result of a strange plan by traders in Oxford Street, London. They wanted to introduce fast and slow lanes on pavements (American: sidewalks) to prevent outbursts of temper triggered by irritation at walking behind someone with a slower pace." Let Rosie hear from you by telephone (358-0825), letter (1707 Summit Ave., Richmond, Va. 23230), fax (355-9089) or e-mail

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