You and I have come a long way together.
We began our collaboration some 30 years ago. Back in those days, you’d regularly forgive my abuse of your good nature.
Then, we became allies: just you and me against the world, using permanent marker to correct the punctuation on signs proclaiming LADIES ROOM.
And now, as the rest of the world conspires to violate you, I hope you’ll accept this token of my love, understanding and support.
For starters, Apostrophe, I get you.
I know you’re not all things to all people. You can’t be used creatively. You can’t be manipulated to fashion effect or emphasis. You can’t be plugged in impulsively where people think you ‘look nice’.
And, you’re not over-sensitive (unlike the semi-colon) – you’re just a simple creature with simple needs and two key contributions to the English language:
1. You make our language sound and look more natural (contraction).
Darling Apostrophe, the fact that English has evolved to accommodate a more natural, more engaging turn of phrase, is partially down to you. Because you’re the chief protagonist of contraction – in short, phrasal shrinkage.
I appreciate that, like a good diuretic, you’re able to help us to pare down chubby phrases, removing a couple of letters along the way, and making the whole construction more streamlined and more ‘speakable’.
- I am -> I’m
- Cash and Carry -> Cash ‘n Carry
- It is -> it’s
- Do not -> don’t
I applaud you, Apostrophe, for your unapologetic indication that that the letters a, a-d, i and o have been shaved – contracted – from the above four examples.
2. You create relationships between people and things (possession).
Apostrophe, my friend, I see how you build bridges between people and other people (the boss’s mistress) and people and stuff (the mistress’s Louboutins). You clarify what belongs to whom, and how many whos there are (if there are several mistresses, and they all have Louboutins, it’s the mistresses’ Louboutins).
I commend your courage under fire, when it comes to forcing the subject of the phrase or clause to take ownership, as in the following helpful examples:
- The decision of the committee -> the committee’s decision
- The CEO of the organisation -> the organisation’s CEO
- Fans of the Safrea Chronicle -> the Chronicle’s fans
- The many obsessions of Ms Markman -> Ms Markman’s many obsessions
I know that you don’t make plurals.
Unlike some of my comrades, I know you well enough to know that you don’t attach yourself to nouns to make them plural. You’re more subtle than that.
You’re like a vegan at a braai: mostly ignored, largely misunderstood and usually stuck in the wrong place in frantic desperation, like next to the lamb’s on the spit.
Apostrophe, I know that, if it’s not contraction or possession I’m after, I don’t need you. I should just take a breath and stick the s on: BMWs, photos, 1990s.
My hope for you, into the future, is that English-users exercise more restraint; that they take the time to ask,
‘Am I shortening words or phrases? No. Am I showing possession or belonging? No. Right: no apostrophe.’
In the interim, I intend to broadcast your message – and my admiration – as widely as possible.
Your #1 Fan,
A version of this article originally appeared in Tiffany Markman’s Bizcommunity column.
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