As a stay-at-home mom, I go for a lot of walks. Over the past two years, I’ve gotten to know the streets of this town very well. It’s a beautiful place, with impressively tall trees shading the old century homes and cute summer cottages. I love this town, except for something that drives me absolutely crazy — and I suppose it exists in every place. This is what I call the “sign crime.” The owners’ last name is put on a beautiful sign and followed by an apostrophe and an “s”.
Example: “The Johnson’s”. In other words, the house belongs to the Johnson — a single Johnson, please note, and not anyone else! That’s all fine, I suppose, if one person bought the house and wants to lay full claim to it, but usually a sign is meant to acknowledge a family living under one roof, which encompasses more than the purchaser. In that case, the name has to be written in plural form before adding the apostrophe on the far right. “The Johnsons’ House” now means that there is more than one Johnson living at that address. The House is “of the (multiple) Johnsons”, not a single, lonesome Johnson.
You see, apostrophes denote possession, and do a few other things that I’m not talking about here, but they have nothing to do with the plural form of a noun! My son brought home a Valentine last week that said, “Let’s be Valentine’s.” Okay, that works if the card means, “Let’s belong to St. Valentine,” but somehow I don’t think that’s what it meant. Rather, “You be my Valentine; I’ll be yours; let’s be Valentines,” is more along the right lines. If my interpretation is right, then the apostrophe is totally misplaced! In fact, it’s superfluous and needs to be destroyed!
The local bar gets it horribly wrong, advertising Thursday night “Martini’s and Manicure’s” in both the newspaper (isn’t the editor supposed to catch that?) and on the sidewalk sign. I’ve surreptitiously erased the chalked-on apostrophe on more than one occasion as I walk by. The funniest of all is “Dawgs for Me Hearty’s”, a fast-food joint up the street. The apostrophe is being used to pluralize the word, which simply doesn’t work, and most words ending in Y turn to “-ies” in the plural. So, really, the word they’re looking for is “hearties,” with no apostrophe anywhere in sight! The butcher shop has a pricing list that reads “turkey’s $3.50/lb and chicken’s $2.99/lb.” I wonder what the turkey and chicken will each do with its money, because that’s what the sign means!
What’s going on here?! We live in time when people are obsessed with looking everything up online and always being right. Why doesn’t anybody worry about whether or not their grammar is correct? Why not google “apostrophe usage” and make your sign actually mean what you want, instead of a linguistic corruption? You’re paying for your signs, after all!
The apostrophe is not just some random squiggle that can be placed anywhere and not change anything. The apostrophe is powerful, mighty, and influential. A single apostrophe can mean a world of difference. There wouldn’t be an official Apostrophe Protection Society, if it weren’t a magnificent aspect of our English grammar. Give it some respect, please. Dust off your old grammar books, if you were lucky enough to learn it in school. If not, start reading. Let’s work together here to preserve the dignity of the English language.