The mysteries of apostrophes

Today we have an intersection of punctuation and baseball. Read on.

Some people have a compulsion to put an apostrophe next to an S even when there’s no reason for it. You see this mistake often on handmade signs telling you “Apple’s 3 for a dollar” or “Sale today on cucumber’s.” This particular variation is so common that it is often called a Grocer’s Apostrophe.

There are, in fact, only two main reasons for an apostrophe. One is to show that you’ve removed some letters. So far I’ve done that three times in this post: “there is” turned into “there’s,” “you have” turned into “you’ve,” and “I have” turned into “I’ve.”

The other reason is to show possession. If your dog Snorky has a toy, then it is Snorky’s toy.

But it doesn’t take much to start us down the road to confusion. First, when we take a letter out of “it is,” we get “it’s.” So far, so good. But what if something belongs to “it,” whatever it is. You can’t stick an apostrophe in there, because that construction has already been taken. So for a very common word, “its,” we already have to trash one of our main guidelines.

For possession, we don’t put any apostrophes in his or hers.

You never use an apostrophe to indicate a plural. Except when you do. If you are writing about the letter A, for instance, and you want to describe a lot of them, you run into trouble if you type “As.” So we typically write it as A’s. But you can write about your ABCs without the apostrophe.

So when you think about it, the rules aren’t so simple after all. No wonder people don’t want to stop and think about them. They just stick an apostrophe in there and keep writing. When enough people do that, mistakes start to look normal. Who has time to look up the rules every time to make sure?

Of course, somebody who works with words for a living is supposed to look up the rules and make sure. We are the last defense against rogue apostrophes, standing ready to zap them out of existence.

Which brings us to the Federal League, which challenged the National League and the American League for a spot at the top of professional baseball’s hierarchy in 1914. Other leagues had tried it before and faded quickly, but the Federal League looked like it might have some staying power. It had teams in a lot of the major cities of the day, it had some good players, and it had some pretty good ballparks to play in. One of them, Weeghman Park, still stands in Chicago. Only now it’s called Wrigley Field, and the champion Chicago Cubs play there instead of the original Chicago Whales.

Alas, the Federal League lasted only two seasons before the other major leagues litigated it out of existence. So when you see some Federal League ephemera, it’s rare enough to catch the eye. I happened to see some sheet music optimistically touting the league’s permanence. The title: “The Fed’s Are Here To Stay.”

Right away I mentally reached for my red pen to zap the grocer’s apostrophe out of the title.

But wait. That’s not wrong at all. It’s a very proper contraction of “Federals.”

So even those of us who pay attention to this stuff for a living still get caught off base on occasion.







Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s