Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Apostrophe Abuse Runs Rampant in U.S.

My bright idea for starting a blog was accompanied by my amazement at the blatant misuse, and abuse really, of proper grammar. As a long-standing grammar perfectionist and a graduate of The Number One Journalism School in the Country, I feel it's my duty to set the record straight about a simple punctuation element of English grammar: the apostrophe.

Misuse of the apostrophe seemingly began to rear its ugly head in emails and instant messages, as fast typing and multitasking often allowed mistakes to slip by unnoticed. (Not to say that before the computer age people had perfect grammar, but it was less in-your-face than it is now.) Forgivable, certainly, but it still registers with the grammar-obsessed everywhere.

Slowly, hand-written posters in storefronts, type in low-budget commercials, and other less-intrusive media productions emerged bearing the apostrophe where none was needed. Often these posters were written by people whose first language was not English, or the low-budget aspect of the piece did not allow for professional producers or editors. Again, forgivable.

And then, the explosion. The tension that had been brewing between the rules of American English and the Americans who speak it suddenly blew into an all-out war. Billboards, magazine, newspaper, and television ads for major businesses, banners, other large and professional media presentations, and even product information on packages now bear the mark of an uneducated proofreader or even a failure to run spellcheck. It's appalling, really, and it's unprofessional. Why would I buy a product, watch a television show or a movie, or partake in any activity whose lack of editing in the promotional or informational material is apparent?! Maybe I'm a snob, but I believe in professionality, and bad grammar screams of laziness or just plain stupidity.

Off my soapbox, and into the classroom for a quick grammar lesson in apostrophe use. After all, I see no use in complaining without doing something to rectify the situation. So here is Ranly's Rule, stated in my own words. Please take heed.

The apostrophe has a couple of uses.
  1. It creates a contraction--makes one word from two or combines an object with is. Example: does not becomes doesn't or the phone's ringing (meaning, the phone is ringing)
  2. Combined with an 's', it makes a noun possessive. Example: the dog's tail (Keep in mind that if the possessive noun ends in an s, no need to add an extra one, such as the Jones' dog. Also, when a pronoun is made possessive, such as the dog is hers, no apostrophe is needed.)

Here's the most blatant and unforgivable mistake that is too often made with the apostrophe: My family has two dog's. Everyone should know that in order to make something plural, one need only add an s (in most cases...we won't get into that complex rule). Sadly, people just don't get it. And that is my biggest complaint. Get a clue, people. Learn the proper use of the apostrophe and laugh and point at anyone who screws up this very simple rule.

Enough of my petty rant. I promise that future posts will include more interesting, educated, and useful commentary on things that matter more than grammar. (There are more important things in this world than grammar?! What??!!)