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When I am Copyeditor General ...: Apostrophe on the stand again


Apostrophe on the stand again

Evidence against the accused comes from a Craigslist posting.

Yes, your honor, I'm aware the source means it may be inadmissable in court.

Craigslist is an oversized community bulletin board where anyone can post anything (case in point, my favorite listing ever, from the 18+ Casual Encounters section: "Man with duck fetish seeks lady with duck costume").

But one would still expect a more careful eye to detail, given the listing's origin:

The Christian Science Monitor is re-launching it's web site, We have an exciting opporutnity for a Web Designer!

(Note the bonus typo.)

Now, I know the Monitor, and it's rare to see a glitch in the copy. The newspaper has a reputation for striving for excellence as well as for editorial neutrality.

Could they be taking a Jeffersonian position on the matter?

In Made in America, Bill Bryson writes: "Jefferson always wrote it's for the possessive form of it, a practice that now looks decidedly illiterate. In fact, there was some logic to it. As a possessive form, the argument went, its required an apostrophe in exactly the same way as did words like children's or men's. Others contended, however, that on certain common words like ours or yours it was customary to dispense with the apostrophe, and that its belonged in this camp. By about 1815, the non-apostrophists had their way almost everywhere, but in 1776, it was a fine point, and one to which Jefferson clearly did not subscribe" (p. 43).

Is this the case here? Only the Monitor knows for sure.

Anyway, I've been rethinking my stand on the banishment of the apostrophe, especially as there are loyal lovers of punctuation struggling to keep it alive. The Apostrophe Protection Society, under the stewardship of retired journalist John Richards, collects examples of its misuse for all the world to see.

And over at Flickr, there's a whole pool of apostrophic crimes in which to wade.

So while flagrant misuse of this punctuation perturbes me, I'll consider rescinding my previous ruling. As long as there are bands of guerrilla grammaticians out there, working to promote the apostrophe's correct use, I shall allow myself to dream of a world in which even national newspapers can get it right.

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