In case you missed it, last Tuesday, September 24, was the tenth annual National Punctuation Day. The nerd holiday was founded to draw attention to often misused and frequently overlooked punctuation marks such as semicolons and ellipses. Perhaps we should use this time to reflect on a mark which may soon die out of the language due to texting abuse. Let’s observe a moment of silence for the next symbol expected to begin dying the same slow, agonizing death which still tortures the Oxford comma.
“Trend lines don’t look all that promising for the long-term security of apostrophes as a standard in written English,” wrote Slate’s Matthew Malady. Regardless of what Malady thinks, you may take some comfort from the information that the Apostrophe Protection Society, based in England, is at Defcon 5.
According to the Kill the Apostrophe website, the apostrophe “serves only to annoy those who know how it is supposed to be used and to confuse those who don’t.” Author James Harbeck said last week that the marks don’t add clarity and are usually used incorrectly. While I agree that apostrophes are used improperly much of the time, I think that the writer who uses them correctly definitely improves her ability to convey exactly what she means. An apostrophe is the difference between, “You’re foul,” and, “Your foul.” Need I explain further?
For that reason, I will do as I’ve always done and cling to my apostrophes. Even if every brand name on the planet abandons them (Starbucks, Folgers, Penneys, and Sears), and their neglect is the most common grammatical error on Twitter (im, wont, cant, dont, and id), I will never stop using them. Do these people truly not see a difference between “cant” and “can’t”? The words actually mean different things. I cannot live in a world in which “Ill” and “I’ll” are used interchangeably. It makes my brain hurt.
However, there is a ray of hope on that bleak grammatical horizon. The head of U.S. dictionaries at Oxford University Press, Katherine Martin, has observed that today’s autocorrect programs are designed around apostrophe use. She points out that while companies coding spell checkers and speech-to-text apps keep using apostrophes, there will be continuity, and there will be continuation. (Nod to Jane Austen.)
Ms. Martin added, “Language is constantly changing, but predicting what will happen next is notoriously challenging. It is difficult to believe that copy editors are going to stop distinguishing between ‘its’ and ‘it’s’ in the near future.”
I certainly hope not. I still haven’t given up on the Oxford comma – and I NEVER will. For the record, I will also champion another targeted favorite . . . the ellipsis.
So, apostrophe lovers everywhere, rise up! I will say with Dylan Thomas, “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”