Apostrophes ’n’ Quote Marks

Christmas, 2007 / No. 19

Taddle Creek has long thought nothing could raise its grammatical ire as much as the leaving of two spaces after terminal punctuation. But lately, the magazine has been losing more and more sleep over a problem threatening to unravel the very literary fabric of proper editorial style: misuse of the friendly apostrophe.

More than simply a space saver, an apostrophe helps make speech sound more relaxed by standing in for letters and numbers. An apostrophe can also show possession, and though there is great misuse of this small but powerful punctuator in that area (the dreaded “its’,” for example), today Taddle Creek pronounces judgment on only the former of these two uses.

By replacing a letter, an apostrophe can join two words, forming a contraction such as “doesn’t,” the abbreviated form of “does not.” It can also replace letters to help shorten a single word, such as in the case of “rock ’n’ roll,” where apostrophes take the place of both the “a” and the “d” in “and,” and in the case of “’cause,” the shortened form of “because.” In both cases, the use of the apostrophe undoubtedly makes these words sound much more hep than they would were they pronounced in full.

An apostrophe can also take the place of numerals. This use is most often employed in the shortening of calendar years. One example seen in many magazines (though certainly not in the one you are currently holding) is the abbreviation of a decade from four digits to two: thus “the 1970s” becomes “the ’70s.”

But poor public education, combined with the same cursed technology that is slowly killing the en dash, has led to yet another shameful bastardization of the English language.

Given that the keystroke for an apostrophe and for a single quotation mark are allotted to the same key on most computer keyboards, one ends up commonly seeing such errors as “rock ‘n’ roll,” which translates to a sarcastic letter “n” framed by the word “rock” on one side and “roll” on the other. Absolutely meaningless. The computer keyboard, programmed to assume the depression of the apostrophe key before a word is meant as a single left quotation mark, turns the apostrophe around, and ignorance is off and running.

Ignorance alone, however, cannot account for such non-words as ‘n, n’, and n‘, which, respectively, mean: nothing, “nd,” and nothing again. (For that matter, “the ‘70s” is equally meaningless.)

Taddle Creek begs its readers to remember that a proper apostrophe (’) should always be used when replacing letters or numbers, and never a single left quotation mark (‘). If you need to create an apostrophe at the beginning of a word, simply hold down the Ctrl key, press the apostrophe, release both, then press the apostrophe again. For those using a Macintosh, Shift+Option+]. If such functions are beyond your technological capability, simply press the apostrophe key twice (‘’) then go back and erase the first character. Easy stuff.

But Taddle Creek cannot sit around and wait for word to spread. Every time it sees an advertisement for Nice ’n Easy hair colour, places its favourite Guns N’ Roses record (Appetite for Destruction, of course) on its hi-fi, or opens a box of Smarties via its Pop ’n Pour spout (Rowntree never would have made such an egregious error, Nestlé!), its day is a little less joyous. Every time it walks down Church Street, past Hair ’n After, or sits down in a bar beside a Texas hold’ em (shudder!) electronic gambling machine, the magazine has a little less spring in its step.

And so, beginning immediately, in an attempt to show them the error of their ways, Taddle Creek will be sending letters to those most guilty of apostrophe misuse. The magazine encourages its readers to do the same. Interesting responses will be printed in a future issue. Do not/don’t let the insanity continue.