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AWADmail Issue 313

June 29, 2008

A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Gentle makeover: A.Word.A.Day

After 14 years of being a text-only newsletter, last week A.Word.A.Day earned some color: we began including an additional HTML format to the mailing.

We received more than 900 messages from our readers in response to the new look. Of these an overwhelming majority loved the new format. Some discovered hidden treasures (audio clip, quotation, etc.) that had been there all along, but were buried in text.

A few readers were not as enthusiastic about the change. Some were nostalgic for the good old plain text in monochrome, others received AWAD on their mobile phones and preferred all text. Still others were worried about the possibility of virus in attachments. You cannot get viruses from us. We use a secure, robust Linux server (that is well taken care of by our system wizard Todd J. Derr).

Please note we do not include any attachments such as images, etc. in our email. All we send is text (either html text or plain text). You can choose to display images if you like (most good email clients, such as Gmail, offer such an option) and only then are they loaded.

There is another possibility though. You can subscribe to the RSS/XML feed. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. Keep us posted.

From: Mike McGuire (mike.angela telus.net)
Subject: New email format

As an amateur web designer, I know how much work goes into site design. Congratulations on your new email format -- obviously a lot of thought has gone into it -- it appears that you have been able to get into the heads of your readers. A previously enjoyable read has become even better!

From: Dale Carr (d.c.carr home.nl)
Subject: html

I can't see a single advantage in the addition of html to the mailings. I seriously hope that you'll reconsider this choice and that you'll revert to plain text, which is more than adequate for a mailing list that has only to do with letters-words-text. There's already too much needless inflation -- ballast -- in the world, particularly on the www.

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: apostrophe catastrophe

The apostrophe hit the nerve. It inspired some to poetry, others to vent their discomfort with this often-misplaced mark, and some declared it's time to retire the sign. Here's a selection of your responses:

Many years ago, my sister was regularly finding a small, black cat on her porch. The cat was friendly and affectionate so she assumed it was someone's pet. Inquiries around the neighbourhood, however, did not turn up an owner, just others who were also feeding the cat whenever it appeared. One rainy evening, my sister brought the cat in and decided she was going to keep it. Holding the cat aloft and looking it in the eye she mused aloud, "What am I going to call you?"
Her husband responded. "Call it Apostrophe."
"Apostrophe!! Why?"
"'Cause it's small and black... and somebody left it out."
Princess Apostrophe (known as 'Triffy') became a much cherished member of the family.
-Nancy MacPhee (neansaioui aol.com)

The best yet is asparagu's in a store in Melbourne Australia called Rods Fruit & Veg. I guess he had an apostrophe left over from the business name and found a home for it among the asparagus. I sort of understood his logic -- Rod had one bunch of asparagus for $1.80 and three bunches of asparagu's for $4.
-Rob Lake (lake orex.com.au)

I had to laugh at today's entry on the misuse of the apostrophe. Biking to work recently I had a moment of scorn followed closely by self-doubt after seeing a bumper sticker that said "No Worry's". My first reaction was one of disdain over the fact that a bumper sticker could get through the concept, production, marketing, sale, and purchase phases of commerce without anyone's noticing and correcting this third-grade error. But then again, perhaps it was a subtle and clever jab at people like me who would get bent out of shape about this inappropriate use of the possessive?
-Cecilia Moens (cmoens fhcrc.org)

I'm a resident of Wilmington Delaware, home of the Minor League Baseball Blue Rocks. I hold my bladder as long as possible to avoid going into a room marked "MENS". I've threatened to bring in my own apostrophes but the signs don't look as if they'd accept editing.
-Van Olmstead (vandy olmstead.net)

I often see apostrophes inserted in ad copy in newspapers and flyers, and that's when my patience runs out. I made up a fake organization called the "American Association Against Apostrophe Abuse" (AAAA) and I send a "citation" letter to the abuser. Here is an example:
You are hereby cited for apostrophe abuse. This dangerous predilection to use apostrophes to make plural forms of singular common nouns and even proper names is rending asunder the very fabric of civilized American society. Unless we take a stand against these flagrant, senseless, and random acts of apostrophe insertion, our children will grow up to be ignorant of the power of words and the rule of grammatical law as we know it.
-Ken Bus (kenbus50 aol.com)

After reflexively correcting people who should know better that there is no apostrophe in the title of James Joyce's last novel, Finnegans Wake, I came up with this:
I am pedantically obligated to state that there is no apostrophe in Finnegans Wake, by Jame's Joyce, author of Dubliner's and Ulysse's.
-Tim Szeliga (timbabwe gmail.com)

This week's concern for the lost or misplaced apostrophe brought to mind a scene in the Newberry Medal book, The Higher Power of Lucky. The knot-obsessed Lincoln borrows Lucky's marker to add a colon to the sign,

"Wow," she said. "That is presidential."
Such a good book. I wept just looking for this page.
-Sheridan Phillips (sheridan.phillips mac.com)

Many years ago while working at Whole Foods Market, I saw where a clerk had written a sign reading: "Bagel's 50 cents". I said to him, "You have 'Bagels' as a plural, not as a possessive. There shouldn't be an apostrophe!" To which he haughtily replied, "I went to a Catholic School. We didn't have bagels there."
-Nan Parati (nanparati aol.com)

This reminds me of this delightful website quotation-marks.blogspot.com dealing with another common (and humorous) punctuation problem.
-Pam Henager (phenager charter.net)

I'm conservative (grammatically)
and what gives me fits is
the proliferation of apostrophes
in plurals and itses.
-Mary Most (marymost msn.com)

Here in Australia there are there are no apostrophes in official place names. According to the website of The Committee for Geographical Names in Australia, this is to make it easier for emergency services to find place names in searchable databases. Where historically apostrophes have been used, they should be deleted, we are told. So we have, for example, Howes Valley, Kings Cross and Ladys Pass. Is this the case in other countries?
I see no problem in omitting apostrophes: we don't pronounce them in speech, and that doesn't cause ambiguity or misunderstanding.
-Paul Dudley (paul.dudley bigpond.com.au)

Jeff Deck, founder of the Typo Elimination Advancement League, completed a coast-to-coast circuit of the US five weeks ago, correcting hundreds of misplaced apostrophes on public notices. You may like to read a story I wrote about his commendable crusade, published by the South Korean citizen reporters' journal OhmyNewsInternational.
-Eric Shackle (eshackle ozemail.com.au)

My dad was an old-school grammarian who often lamented the misuse of punctuation among other abuses of the language. He would have loved the term "greengrocer's apostrophe" as shown by one of his favorite stories: Back in the days when grocery stores advertised their sales with large writing right on the store windows, he noticed with dismay a grocer's big sale of "DUCK'S! CHICKEN'S! TURKEY'S!" Another passerby, quite inebriated, had also taken note -- and offense! -- and, swaying and staring fixedly at the abomination, the man crossed the street, took out his handkerchief and carefully wiped off all the apostrophes. "I could have kissed him!" was the way my dad always ended the tale.
-Laurie Kaniarz (lauriszka chartermi.net)

I feel for the apostrophe. It has often been a problem for me. Computer systems of the '70s would not recognize it; those of today do. So I'm known as: Ray Oleary, Ray O. Leary, or Ray O'Leary. In some cases I get three times the normal junk mail.
-Ray O'Leary (roleary sandc.com)

As you can see, my name includes an apostrophe and it frequently creates problems for me. Computer programmers must either not like it or, like the greengrocer, not know how to use it. Most on-line forms will not accept it, spitting my name back and indicating there is an unknown symbol that must be corrected. Frequently instructions will ask you to leave it out. Leave it out? As my older brother says, computers are the new Ellis Island.
-Kathleen O'Connor (koconnor lasell.edu)

I live in St. Johns County, Florida, which is on the banks of the St. Johns River. People are constantly adding an apostrophe in our names, thinking they are doing a good deed in using the possessive form. But according to Flagler College History Professor Dr. Thomas Graham, the Department of the Interior's Board of Geographic Names stated in 1932 that in general, the genitive case would not be used.
"The rationale is that the Department of the Interior does not wish to raise the question of ownership implied with use of the possessive form of names, but simply to label geographic places," Dr. Graham said. "Presumably the federal government does not want to offer any encouragement for Saint John to return and claim riparian rights to his river." The only two exceptions are Ike's Creek, NJ and Martha's Vineyard, Mass.
-Patricia Ponder (gotlucky earthlink.net)

I'm not sure how long the term "greengrocer's apostrophe" has been in use, but I find it quite offensive, as its purpose is to make fun of less-educated people who don't know how to use apostrophes correctly. I say this as the proud granddaughter of an illiterate immigrant greengrocer who struggled with English and worked harder than I ever will to put five children through college. Eventually, his youngest daughter (my mother) taught him to write his own name. Without his determination, drive, and courage, I would not have had the privilege of going to college and becoming one of those people who use apostrophes correctly. I'm sure many of your readers have a similar person to thank for helping them get where they are today.
-Clare Cross (cdcross58 hotmail.com)

Among several apostrophe sites and blogs out there, this one apostropheabuse.com features photos of the mangled signage and other public notices out there with misplaced squiggles.
-Larry Ray (callball bellsouth.net)

The signs around here are not only missing an apostrophe, they read "Please drive careful" leaving me to wonder who "careful" is and why I should drive him or her anywhere!
-Teresa Stephenson (stephenson.teresa gmail.com)

You mentioned "greengrocer's apostrophe". How about another all-too-common symbol crime, which could be called "merchant's decimal". When I see a sign saying, ".33¢ each," I'm tempted to plunk down a penny and say, "I'll take three. Keep the change."
-Pam Jones (pjkodi juno.com)

As a Grammar Grouch who is usually extremely compulsive about such issues, I have actually decided that we'd all be better off without the apostrophe. Too many people are ignorant of its proper use, and I'm sure we'd all understand this paragraph without it.
-Susan K. Morrow (smorrow wordsarewe.com)

I have been so annoyed about this that I have written a poem:
(to the meter of "Trees", with apologies to Joyce Kilmer)
I think that I shall never again see
a properly used apostrophe.
The glyph that floats high in the air
falls to the word, but who knows where?
Poems are made by fools like me, but
Only God seems to know how to use the apostrophe.

-Jan McConnell (treagle comcast.net)

Apostrophe abuse: surely the most irksome of all grammatical errors. I first became aware of it in South Africa, where I saw a second-hand car yard advertising "Cars's for sale". That was when I started photographing instances of abuse, just for fun. I had several hundred - until a computer crash. The most egregious of all -- and I watched this happen -- was made by an erstwhile manager, who was writing the name of a client on a planning board. The client was written up as Thoma's. No amount of persuasion was going to change the manager's mind. I left the job soon after.
-David Hatchuel (dayvon ihug.co.nz)

The same phenomenon exists in German, too. It occurs in native German as well as English since many words and expressions in advertisements, banners, etc. are (wrongly) taken over from English. There's a whole bunch of websites collecting photos of Deppenapostrophen (fool's apostrophes). Here's a meta-link deppenapostroph.de to the collections.
-Ulrich Schaefer (ulrich deppenapostroph.de)

Think of the ink we could save by using apostrophes as they were intended (to indicate omitted letters)! So how about extending this to silent letters? For example ni't for night, and tho't for thought? Pretty soon people would stop placing the apostrophes and we could have phonetic spelling -- or nits for nights.
-Carol Mone' (cemone humboldt1.com)

Imagine my horror when I realized I had married a man who, although very well read, absolutely could not grasp the proper use of an apostrophe. Not only that, but he assumed that a comma was interchangeable with an apostrophe. To make things worse, he often made the sale signs that his retail store used! It wasn't uncommon to see "carpet,s for sale". I always knew when he'd been on the job!
By the way, your emails have helped elevate the vocabularies of my unsuspecting coworkers here. For example, the ladies in my department are now proud to announce that they are not just bubbling over with enthusiasm (they sing a lot -- we work at a bank -- go figure), but they are "ebullient"!
-LaRonda Bourn (lbourn citizensmn.com)

The ramp to my exit of the turnpike splits into two lanes just before crossing under an overpass. The warning sign preceding the split instructed you to "use both lanes" which if you did, as opposed to using either lane, would cause you to crash into the wall holding up the overpass. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the sign is no longer there, but I still recall it fondly each time I exit the turnpike. Almost makes the toll worth it!
-Lisa Leff (lsgleff aol.com)

Why does that annoy me so: the plural 's and the possessive s? People think I'm pretty petty for caring about such things. And it's a linguistic rule that if something is improperly left out it will, as you point out, appear somewhere it doesn't belong.
Besides your example of the apostrophe s versus no apostrophe, John F. Kennedy used to say cah for car, and that mysterious r appeared in a surprise location. He said "Cuber ought" (to do such and such) instead of Cuba ought. It never fails.
-Ken Genest (ken.sharongenest sbcglobal.net)

Oh, speaking of the "greengrocer's apostrophe" I am not so sure that is so much incorrect as misinterpreted. If you replace the sign "Apple's $2/lb" with the sentence "The apple's price is two dollars per pound" it makes sense. And that is what the sign is really saying, after all. Though in that case "Apples' $2/lb" would probably be better. Either way is still looks clumsy to me.
-Skip Huffman (skip loraxhaven.net)

The misuse of the apostrophe has been a pet peeve for many years. In fact, while I was teaching in high school, I wrote my own epitaph:
Here lies Sue,
She didn't die from disease,
She died while teaching
The apostrophes!

-Susan Frank (sfrank2 cfl.rr.com)

I hope you will recognize that there is an effort to get away from using the possessive form of medical eponyms (e.g. Down syndrome, Tourette syndrome). While the possessive form remains acceptable, the AAMT (American Association for Medical Transcription) and the AMA (American Medical Association) as well as major medical dictionaries recommend omission of the apostrophe with eponyms.
Note: when eponyms appear without a noun (such as disease or syndrome), it is recommended that the possessive be retained (e.g., The patient is seen for Alzheimer's).
-Davi-Ellen Chabner (meddavi aol.com), author, The Language of Medicine, 8th edition

From: Weston Ryan (westonryan msn.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--deadman's hand

Cribbage is another card game that attributes nicknames to specific hands. It was my father's favourite game and he had a name for practically every hand that he held (many of which are unprintable). A hand which holds two pairs and no other scoring cards is called Morgan's Orchard. I have no idea who Morgan was, but suspect that, based on the amount of his produce, he is no longer an orchardist.

From: Clifford (c.dack btinternet.com)
Subject: Deadman's hand

In Britain, a far better-known use of this term is in the world of public vehicle driving. On railways, trams, and underground trains the driver has a lightly sprung handle which he must keep depressed. If it is released, (as when the driver dies, or faints) the vehicle is brought safely to a halt.

From: Glenn Glazer (glenn.glazer gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--deadman's hand

Science fiction novels and Bond films occasionally have a related term, the deadman's switch. The idea is that the switch is attached to a bomb and the bomb will not detonate as long as pressure is applied to the switch. Kill the one holding the switch and the bomb goes off, hence the name.

From: Richard Baxter (rbaxter fortress.com)
Subject: deadman's hand

Hickok was shot in the back during a poker game and part of the lesson from this in my family was to never play cards with your back to the room.

From: Rich (molyneur yahoo.com)
Subject: Deadman's Hand

The aces and eights were all black... clubs and spades. Trivia, true, but important to poker buffs.

From: Henry Packer (packerhenry yahoo.com)
Subject: Deadman's hand

Very odd question about the Deadman's Hand. What was the 5th card? I did a little research on the web. A lot of images of the Deadman's hand show the fifth card turned over so we don't see it. I guess no one knows.

From: John Pavia (pavia ithaca.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--yeoman's service

Any sailor will also know "Yeoman" as meaning "clerk". Yes, "Yeoman service" does imply worthwhile fulfillment of one's task but aboard a naval vessel a Yeoman is what the Army used to call a clerk-typist.

From: David Faulkner (dfaulkne arb.ca.gov)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--bum's rush

More specifically, "bum's rush" means to grab someone by the back of his belt and the back of his collar and propel him through the doorway. A maneuver almost invariably performed by a large, muscular chap whose job description includes ejecting disruptive or otherwise unwelcome "guests".

From: JM Torok (badmedicine criqet.com)
Subject: Bum's rush

While staying in the Waldorf Astoria one weekend in the mid 1980s, I was sitting in their bar enjoying an afternoon cocktail when this "gentleman", obviously from the street, came in and sat next to me. He started talking to me and I looked at the bartender. Within seconds he was promptly removed. NO words were exchanged. He was escorted out of the hotel.

That day I learned the term bum's rush and never forgot. :)

From: Robin (niasam2000 aol.com)
Subject: bum's rush

There's another similar term: bum rush. It means an enthusiastic entrance or stampede, in contrast to "bum's rush" which is a forcible ejection. For example, "During today's pep rally the entire football team bum rushed the field while the band was playing."

From: Nisi Hamilton (nisi aol.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--widow's walk

Don't use this term on Nantucket if you want to be an insider. Nantucketers interested in their town's history and the strong stoic families that lived on this far away island have always disparaged the term "widow's walk", claiming that the correct term is "walk".

A language is never in a state of fixation, but is always changing; we are not looking at a lantern-slide but at a moving picture. -Arthur Lloyd James, phonetician (1884-1943)

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