Grammar Moses: Disbanding club is an apostrophe catastrophe

Updated 12/8/2019 7:52 AM

That creeping sense of dread you're feeling?

No, I'm not talking about climate change, the potential impeachment vote or the notion that my opening question was merely a sentence fragment.


I'm referring, of course, to the dissolution of the Apostrophe Protection Society.

Surely this is a sign of the Apocalypse.

Eagle-eyed reader Lisa Guess passed along a story from the UK's Evening Standard that carries the headline: "Apostrophe society shuts down because 'ignorance and laziness have won.'"

Former copy editor John Richards' quixotic 18-year quest to combat the misuse of this precious punctuation mark is over.

The Standard quotes him: "There are two reasons for this. One is that at 96 I am cutting back on my commitments and the second is that fewer organisations and individuals are now caring about the correct use of the apostrophe in the English Language. "We, and our many supporters worldwide, have done our best but the ignorance and laziness present in modern times have won."

I'll give the writer the British spelling of "organizations," but why be so shy with the commas? (They should be added after "commitments" and "best."

I likely will be correc ... er, offering advice on grammar and usage for the rest of my days. I suffer from premature curmudgeonliness, you see.

But at 96, if I make it that far, my thoughts on apostrophes will probably extend only to whether Mott's still uses an apple leaf to signify an apostrophe on its single-serving apple sauce containers.

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For now, though, as frustrating and futile as it all might seem, I'm happy to pick up Richards' lance and keep tilting.

Apostrophes signify possession, except when they signify missing letters in a contraction of missing numbers in, say, "Summer of '42."

While Richards proclaimed apostrophes are never to be used in plurals, I beg to differ.

You can use them to pluralize a SINGLE letter, as in "Mind your p's and q's."

The vast majority of apostrophic flubs arise when people insert them willy-nilly in simple plurals.

You'll see when the Christmas cards start showing up in your mailbox. I can see it now: "The Baumann's."

Ack! But, hey, they mean well. At least they took the time to send a card. What's unforgivable is including a multi-page synopsis of all the stuff the sender's extended family did since last Christmas.



Reader Pat Stasiak knows well my penchant for critiquing advertising copy and my love of math.

"I've been hearing a garage door advertisement on the radio that boasts of 50,000 service calls and hundreds of five-star ratings," she wrote. "That might not be something I'd tell the public -- that out of 50,000 service calls, hundreds were happy."

If you figure that to push "hundreds" rather than "thousands," there must be no more than 1,999 five-star reviews.

Are you with me so far?

Divide 50,000 by 1,999, and you get a 5-star satisfaction rating of 4%.

And that's not much to crow about. Touche, Pat.

Write carefully!

• Jim Baumann is vice president/managing editor of the Daily Herald. Write him at Put Grammar Moses in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at

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