Apostrophe Catastrophe: How Can One Punctuation Mark Be So Confusing?

A call for an end to the cruel and unusual misuse of the apostrophe

The apostrophe patrol is a force that never sleeps.

Photo by Lily Yates

The apostrophe patrol is a force that never sleeps.

Lily Yates, Quintessence Editor-in-Chief

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

I want to say that I understand that not everyone cares about AP style rules or spends entire drives thinking of argument tactics in case they need to defend the necessity of the Oxford Comma. I don’t expect everyone to- the world would be a boring place.

It is just these small, small things- jaunty dots with cute little tails, to be specific- that, however tiny, are oft-used and essential to expressing ideas correctly. Why, for the love of Pete, do so many people abuse apostrophes?

You may not at first see what I’m talking about, which is totally warranted. I apologize if the horror I am about to demonstrate is something that now begins to bother you, too…

Let’s take the example of a simple mom and pop sandwich joint. We’ll call it, “Sam’s SkyHawk Sub’s.” What’s wrong with this picture, other than the peculiar idea of a school-sanctioned sandwich shop? There is a sneaky invader in the last word of the phrase, with absolutely no purpose.

You’ll find examples like this more often than you’d think. Many people seem to be fundamentally unaware of what an apostrophe means, and that it is much more important than just a little dot on the page that one can throw in whenever a word looks ripe for it.

It doesn’t matter if the word looks bare or incongruous without the mark, or if its presence might make your history classmates look at you funny when you pronounce it in a sentence. Here comes the coveted revelation: there are only two uses for an apostrophe. You can use it to show possession or to indicate that you’ve omitted words or letters (see what I did there?).

But, you may ask, what about in case of numbers in decades or when pluralizing acronyms, as in the case of more than one CD? You almost had me, too. Except that the answer is that those instances aren’t homes for apostrophes at all. In the 1940s, they didn’t have CDs, and grammatically they shouldn’t have apostrophes either.

Is it reasonable to ask where so many people collectively got the notion that you can stick an apostrophe in a word that looks weird when you make it plural? Is this some kind of perversion of the innocent “change the y to an i and add -es” rule? Or (honestly the most plausible explanation at this point) is this an as-yet undiscovered example of the spooky Mandela Effect?

Here, I’ll exemplify some of my favorite (read: WORST) examples from this lovely site, showing how this simple mistake can truly backfire in the real world.

Photo by Apostrophe Abuse

How did a turkey get its own phone number- especially if it has already apparently been fried? I thought you at least needed opposable thumbs to qualify for that…

Photo by Apostrophe Abuse

Could you please call up Huevo and ask him for the recipe to his delicious Rancheros? Huevo really knows how to fry those tortillas. Thanks, dear.

What does gift have? What does the t-shirt own? Is the cap hiding something? The magnet is in on it too? I can’t take the suspense- what could all these inanimate objects possibly have in their clutches?

While I may be too late for International Apostrophe Day (August 16, if you’re curious), it is never the wrong time of year for a SkyHawk to get out there and make John Baylor proud. So hammer that grammar and be sure to treat apostrophes- not apostrophe’s- right.

Lily Yates - Quintessence Editor-in-Chief

Lily became a member of The Flightline in August of 2015. She is a senior this year and enjoys an array of activities including choir, theatre and slam poetry. She is also on staff as a library aide at the Omaha Public Library. You can email her at [email protected]