by Patrick Babin, Ph.D.

Rarely does a punctuation mark gain notoriety but it happened recently. The spotlight was on the apostrophe. Bernard Shaw referred to it as ugly uncouth bacilli; linguists refer to the apostrophe as a “little squiggle”.

Why does this punctuation mark attract such pedantic sarcasm, such invectiveness? One might also ask, Why and when did Tim Horton’s drop the apostrophe? It is long gone.

Confusion continues unabated. When do we use it? Can we be grammatically correct by not employing it? Incidentally, the apostrophe has been around since the 1500’s. (Notice the apostrophe?)

Consistency becomes critical. With a house-style guide, an organization can apply certain criteria in its application of various punctuation marks, especially the apostrophe. It always helps to have school teachers close by.

Otherwise you are giving credence to the belief that there is an apostrofly out there. This insect lands at random on a printed page and deposits an apostrophe wherever it lands.

Two brief statements highlight the main function of this punctuation mark; namely, “to mark contractions and to indicate possession.” It does play a role in our everyday lives. And, yes, people will continue to complain about the apostrophe.


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