Possessive, Plural, and Plural Possessive (Apostrophe Apostasy!)

Apostrophe ApostasyThe English language can certainly be confusing. Add grammar and punctuation to that, and there are all sorts of possible dangers ahead.

Today I’d like to specifically address the use of (or rather, the non-use of) the apostrophe when pluralizing surnames.

You see, in far too many communications from individuals and organizations, the apostrophe is used when it should not be. Far less often it is omitted when it should be employed, but generally the grammatical grievance looks something like this:

We will be joining the Smith’s for dinner tonight.

What that sentence literally means is, “We will be joining [those who belong to Smith] for dinner tonight.” Now, is that what the writer intended? Likely, no.

The proper way to pluralize is to simply add the letter ‘s’ to the end of the singular form of the noun. (Right? We all know that, don’t we?) For some reason, particularly when referring to a family surname, adding that apostrophe has such a strong pull on us that we must stick it in there.

What’s really odd is, even our iOS devices’ auto-correct feature adds that pesky apostrophe! Come on, Apple!

Now, you could employ the little dot with the tail if you wanted to make the plural possessive. For example:

We are going to the Smiths’ for dinner tonight.

In this case, you’d be speaking of the Smiths’ residence, while omitting the specific word used for that residence. (“House”, “Home”, “Abode”, “Domicile”, etc.) But since the Smiths possess their home, you’d add that friendly possessive punctuator to the end of their pluralized name.

Now, where this gets even tricker (I’ll admit) is when the friend’s surname ends in an ‘s’, or even something that sounds like an ‘s’. For example:

Tomorrow, we’ll be having dinner with the Joneses.

The trouble is, first, it’s sometimes harder to say. Second, sometimes it just doesn’t feel right. All those ‘s’ sounds… shouldn’t there be an apostrophe in there somewhere?!

Nope. Not unless its possessive, as above, in which case, the sentence would read:

Tomorrow, we’ll be having dinner at the Joneses’.

So much to remember!

For more on this very interesting topic, please see this article, and this very funny article about the apostrophe.

And please, friend, practice and perfect this punctuation, and help end the Apostrophe Apostasy!

Communication Curmudgeon

texting-classI think I’m becoming ‘That Guy’. The old guy who laments the passing of the glory days of yesteryear, and lambasts the continuously degrading patterns of behavior exhibited by each successive generation. Yep. Sometimes, that’s me.

For example…

I find myself frequently commenting on my son’s tendency towards wearing his hat backwards, purposely wearing socks with plastic sandals, and other such “fashion trends”… (though, regarding the hat, I may not have a leg to stand on there, since I might have donned said headgear, in such a fashion, in my younger years.) 🙂

And perhaps the thing that most irks me of all the current trends in our culture (led predominantly by the younger crowd?) is the proclivity towards shortening phrases into acronyms or initialisms that somehow become words to all who are willing to accept such communication.

LOL is not a word, contrary to that very assertion by the Oxford English Dictionary!

My son has really taken a shine to expressing his creativity through writing. He’s always loved to read, and has an off-the-charts creative, outside-the-box mind, and lately he’s found an outlet for all of that in fiction writing. He’s working on several novels currently, and has completed a few short stories (including a Christmas-themed story just completed this week).

Good for him! He is definitely creative, full of ideas, and expresses himself fairly well for his young age. And he seems very willing to learn, receive instruction, and work towards bettering his technique and improving his craft.

One way he has chosen to do so is to connect with other writers in his age range. About a year ago, Ian invited several people he knew, as well as send out an open invitation via certain select channels, to gather monthly for the purpose of discussing current projects, receive honest/thoughtful critique, and also simply connect/network with people of a similar ilk. A small group of writing enthusiasts has formed and been a fun part of Ian’s and our life over the months since.

But, in that this group is comprised of youngsters aged 11-19, there have been occasions where the integrity of the English language has been somewhat compromised.

(Can you imagine?!)

“Words” such as ‘BTW’ and ‘LOL’ are frequently employed, when, I know on good authority that these young folks could certainly find much better ways to express their thoughts, if only just actually writing out what they are “saying” via the initialisms chosen. (Is it that hard to write, “By the way,”?)

I began this linguistic integrity campaign when my oldest son was first given access to a computer, set up with an instant messaging account, which he would use to communicate with me during my work days. (Interestingly, he’d message me at my desk, which is only two floors above where he was, in the same building…) I would remind him to use proper grammar, spelling, and sentence structure (as much as he knew), including capitalization and punctuation. There would often be do-overs, as well as instruction, and I think it has helped him form good writing habits.

And yet, ‘BTW’ is slowly becoming part of his lexicon. (By definition, can initialisms and acronyms be part of a lexicon?)

But I digress.

Here’s my main point: Words matter.

Should we care that texting shorthand, as well as probably all social media platforms, are pushing “words” like LOL, BTW, TTYL, BRB, etc into official English language dictionaries? I believe so. I know it’s probably overkill, overreaching, overreacting… over-everything. BUT, it seems to me that technology has made us lazy, and ignorant. I’m not suggesting that all who use popular slang acronyms/initialisms are ignorant; of course they are not. (Lazy perhaps, but not all ignorant.) So, with that knowledge, other than the obvious limitations of a device for informal communication—a cellphone with only a numeric keypad being one example—why would we use such ‘terminology’? (I use that word loosely.)

It surprised me to discover that such terms are actually being accepted into a respected, authoritative English dictionary. Insomuch as they are not actually words, rather a “word” created by using the first initial of a string of words (acronym/initialism), it seems paradoxical to include them there.

But, there they are. And I’m not sure anything I post here, will slow down the momentum of our technology-driven society towards “r” and “u” and numerals in place of their homonym (4, 2, 8, etc), and, the Oxford English Dictionary pronouncing “BFF” a word in the English language. One hundred forty characters, small (mostly unusable) keyboards, and instant communication leads us on towards a much lesser language, in my humble opinion. (Oh wait, I could just say, “IMHO”.) 🙂

An interesting observation in favor of embracing the evolution of our language was made in an article titled FYI: English language continues to evolve – OMG!, linked below. Here’s an excerpt from that:

The old fuddy-duddy in me wants to object to the inclusion of the likes of BFF and wassup (yes, seriously) in the most canonical record of the English language in existence. Meanwhile, the modernist in me recognises that language must always be a fluid thing. Where would we be if English was locked in a fixed state without the ability to introduce new words while others fall quietly into obsolescence? How would we describe PCs and CPUs? What cumbersome form of words would be required to explain the internet? Or a blog?

Indeed, such is the pace at which our inter-connected world changes, that it should be no surprise that our language continues to evolve with similar alacrity. New words and expressions should be cherished not cursed. After all, that William Shakespeare fellow invented new words – or converted verbs into nouns (and vice versa) – with regularity to serve his own purposes, many of which still exist in our contemporary vocabulary. It is thought that over 1,500 common words such as assassination, auspicious, bloody, fitful, invulnerable, obscene, road and suspicious were first used by the Bard. Not to mention expressions like ‘brave new world’ (The Tempest), ‘for goodness’ sake’ (Henry VIII), ‘hoist with his own petard’ (Hamlet), ‘star-crossed lovers’ (Romeo and Juliet), ‘pound of flesh’ (The Merchant of Venice) and ‘what the dickens’ (The Merry Wives of Windsor).

If it was good enough for Shakespeare, it’s good enough for me.

Certainly, as the world changes, new words are invented. However, shouldn’t they actually be words? Not unpronounceable initialisms? (One fine example of a new word from an acronym is the word laser, which was the shortened/simplified way of labeling the new technology Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.)

OK, (Uh oh! Another not-real-word!) enough curmudgeoning for the day. I do hope that you’ll take some time to browse the articles I found on this subject, listed below. I found them to be interesting, thought-provoking reading. And, of course, I will continue to strive to preserve the integrity of our language (both in verbal and even more so in print) despite cultural trends.

I guess that really does make me a Communication Curmudgeon.

Maybe I’ll make myself a t-shirt…

Related reading: