For the Apostrophically Challenged

A marketer with whom I am working at present is in the process of setting up a free gift page for my subscribers. It is a free audio program and I will be telling you more about it in the coming days.

Today, I visited the page and spotted that it contained a misplaced apostrophe. Now I know that some people do tend to get worked up about such things but I would not normally. As it happens, it was in a particularly bad place – my name. I pointed out the error and the marketer changed the page right away.

The thing is, the episode reminded me of something else that happened quite recently. I had been sifting through my books and came across one that I had been meaning to read for years but had not actually got round to reading. It is a book about the importance of punctuation, written by Lynne Truss, so I will need to be very careful with my Ps and Qs (note the absence of the possessive apostrophe) in this post.

The book turned out to be a great read. Yes, I know it’s about punctuation, but really, it was a great read. And, in addition, the book has just about the best bit of blurb I have ever come across on a dust cover. I was so impressed that I felt I just had to share it, so here we go.

A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots into the air.

“Why?” asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produced a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

“I’m a panda,” he says, at the door. “Look it up.”

The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.

“Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

So, punctuation really does matter, even if it is only occasionally a matter of life and death.

The book is of course her best seller Eats, Shoots and Leaves and, even in the title, she manages to communicate very effectively how the misplacing of a comma can lead to your message assuming a completely different and unintended meaning.

There’s quite a difference between, “Let’s eat Grandma!” and, ”Let’s eat, Grandma!”

I’m sure you are already convinced that commas are very important. By the way, I love what she has to say about commas, “a cat has claws on the end of it’s paws, but a comma is a pause at the end of a clause.”

But why should people get all worked up over the odd misplaced apostrophe? Let’s allow Lynne to make the point:

“The apostrophe’s like a flying comma.” Or should that be “the apostrophes like a flying comma”?

The first example is correct because the apostrophe is used as an indicator that a letter is missing; the second example has multiple apostrophes being fond of flying commas.

These days, the apostrophe does get a fair bit of mistreatment. But, let’s face it, almost every misplaced apostrophe is a cause for a bit of a giggle.

“Those smelly things are my brother’s” or, “Those smelly things are my brothers.”

See, punctuation can be really useful for getting your message across the way you intended.

All of my examples are taken from Lynne Truss’s book Eats, Shoots & Leaves. It’s a great read, even for the apostrophically challenged.

2 thoughts on “For the Apostrophically Challenged

  1. Will Edwards Post author

    Hi William

    Yes – very nice observations. I will, of course correct those errors and thanks too for your kind words.

    Will 🙂

  2. William Short

    Great article about the apostrophe. Spelling is also important. Shouldn’t the title be “For the Apostrophically Challenged” instead?
    Also did you mean “Yes, I now it’s about punctuation” or was one word misspelled and the clause should have been read “Yes, I know it’s about punctuation” ? In your final sencence you use the word ‘aposrophically’ again.

    Editing copy is a tough business. Your errors are not important. Thanks for putting out a great e-zine.

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