Analyzing RAM: Rampant Apostrophe Misuse

You may already be aware that the misuse of the apostrophe is my Achilles heel. Finally, I’ve come to a point where I can refrain from commenting on social media when my friends commit crimes against punctuation but it’s still a free-for-all if it’s out in the public domain for all to see. Banks, retailers, major food chains and publishers – you’ve been warned! I can’t help myself. I’m always on the alert for RAM.

I used to blame lax education for spawning generations of people who don’t know how or when to use an apostrophe but now I think half the problem is advertising. There was a time when Tim Hortons was Tim Horton’s, but the chain opted for unified look to its logo when it entered the Quebec market. Since the proper punctuation is an anglophone-only thing, Tim Hortons was born. This perplexed millions of people who were already bewildered by the apostrophe, arguably the most confusing bit of punctuation in our language. 

Starbucks, Marks and Spencer, Michaels, Little Ceasars and more all came out of the gate without the little mark of possessiveness. Wegmans dropped it like Tim Hortons did. Sam’s Club uses it properly. Kellogg’s does too. These companies are all over the map and changing the rules whenever they feel like it. 

No one seems to use it when it comes to “childrens clothing” for example, which by the rule of law ought to be children’s. Or they go apostrophe-insane and just throw it into everything, hoping to get it right:

sign for motor repair shop claims they will repair, electric motor's, pump's, fan's etc.

Plain, old plurals like those above only require an s. It’s the same with DVDs and CDs. You can go back to the ’50s without going apostrophe crazy. There’s another sign in Vineland that marks the shop of J and R auto shop. The sign reads J’N’R. I want to shoot it.

The other parent of the baby born as Rampant Apostrophe Misuse is plain, old fear. It IS a confusing little mark so people – smart, educated people – throw it around simply hoping it will land in an appropriate spot. But the ad-men-and-women and big company consultants really ought to know better and double-check their work.

Harvey's flyer boasts of "21 classic toppings and 9 new one's"

There are two main reasons to use an apostrophe:

  1. To indicate possession: Lisa’s pet peeve. Derek’s lamps. Donald Trump’s orange skin. It gets trickier when the name ends in an s and/or it’s plural: Carpenters’ Union. Bridget Jones’s Diary. (Bridget Jones’ Diary is also correct.)

      2. In a contraction to replace missing letters: We’re for we are. Can’t for cannot. Who’s for who is, not to              be confused with whose, which gets mixed up with who’s all the time. Argh. 

The most confusing one of all is it’s but it’s cleared up with a simple question: can it be replaced with “it is”? If yes, there should be an apostrophe. But if I’m trying to describe part of it as in, the table has detailed carvings on its legs – no apostrophe. Yes, even though the table possesses the legs, there’s no apostrophe, unlike when the thing or person is a proper noun. There are cheat sheets all over the internet. Here’s a LINK to a particularly good one. 

I’m a reasonable person. I don’t expect everybody to commit this to memory just so the top of my head doesn’t blow off! Wait a minute! Yes I do. 😕



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