Tired of the constant confusion between your and you're? Irked by the ubiquitous it's vs. its error? Angered by stores that claim to sell "apple's," "orange's," and "pear's," all at "the lowest price's"?

If so, then the Apostrophe Protection Society may be for you. John Richards and his son Stephen created the Society some time ago in an attempt to protect this lowly bit of punctuation from endless abuse. Richards, a former reporter and copy editor, was troubled by the frequency with which the apostrophe was misused: it appeared in inappropriate places (in non-possessive plurals such as the aforementioned "fruit's") and failed to appear in necessary places (in possessives such as "mens" and "womens"). When confronted with an example of such illiteracy, he takes an understated approach: he simply sends the offender a polite form letter calling attention to the mistake and explaining the proper use of the apostrophe. He's contacted grocers, barbershops, and butchers about their errors; others of similar dispositions have lobbied town councils. He's had little success, he says; unfortunately, most people don't seem to care very much.

Others take a more militant approach. According to Richards, one man carries around a roll of tape and an envelope filled with several different sizes of apostrophes; whenever he spots an offending sign—say, one offering "Mens Haircuts" or "Smiths Butchery," he simply sticks one on. One English teacher I know always carries around a red marker; whenever he encounters a superfluous apostrophe—whether it's on a student's paper or a flyer on a train—he takes a moment to correct it. He originally used the copyeditor's squiggle, but soon discovered that nobody knew what it meant, so he started using the bisected red circle that appears on no-parking and no-smoking signs.

Vandalism? Maybe so; my former English teacher has been accosted by several police officers who weren't too impressed by his explanations. "Civil disobedience," claims the teacher, only half-jokingly; his thankless quest continues.

I think E2 could benefit greatly from a branch of the Apostrophe Protection Society; I can't count how many errors I see in a day. In the meantime, if you're interested in the proper use of the apostrophe (or even—perhaps especially—if you're not), you should read the following nodes:


Based on a New York Times story by Sarah Lyall

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.