Warning: This post contains profanities. One word in particular. It couldn’t be helped.
A few Christmases ago I stumbled upon a young woman who was painting wine glasses in a Virginia Beach gift shop. Her designs were OK. The thing that made them special was that she was personalizing them. Shoot, slap a name on almost anything around the holidays and it will sell.
I was headed to a dinner party that night and decided that a glass with the couple’s surname on it might somehow make up for the bottle of cheap wine I was taking.
“Just print the name you want and come back in a about half an hour,” the artist instructed, pointing to a legal pad and a pen.
So I carefully wrote “The Smiths”. (OK, the name wasn’t actually Smith, but I’m not sure my pals want to be featured in a pedantic post on the internet. )
The artist glanced over to make sure my writing was legible and then quickly added an apostrophe to the name.
Just a little squiggle. Yet I was annoyed. The ensuing conversation went something like this:
“What’s that?” I asked, pointing to the pad, and trying to contain my anger.
“An apostrophe,” she replied. “The name needs an apostrophe.”
“No it doesn’t,” I said. “An apostrophe indicates possession. We’re simply pluralizing a family name.”
“Names get apostrophes,” she insisted.
“No they don’t,” I snapped.
“I always put an apostrophe on them,” she said defensively. “It looks nice.”
“I’m a writer,” I sniffed, “and I assure you an errant apostrophe doesn’t look nice, it merely indicates a sad unfamiliarity with the English language.”
She started to say something else but I interrupted her.
“Put an apostrophe on the name and I’m not paying for the glass.”
“Fine,” she said.
I came back about 30 minutes later and my glass was painted correctly, adrift in a sea of personalized wine glasses peppered with wayward apostrophes.
Who was buying those hand-painted abominations, I wondered. How many apostrophe illiterates could there be in Virginia Beach?
I tell you this so you’ll understand that for those of us easily offended by apostrophe abuse, the holidays are extremely stressful. Misplaced apostrophes are everywhere.
Surely I’m not the only one who cringes when a Christmas card arrives with a colorful return address sticker indicating it’s from “The Johnson’s.” There must be others who refuse to hang ornaments that were personalized with a blasted apostrophe. And I can’t be the only one who recoils from a holiday greeting card cheerfully signed “The Foster’s.”
The Foster’s what? I silently scream.
There is nothing merry and bright about apostrophes sprinkled like snowflakes where they don’t belong.
Actually, for those who are unsure about apostrophes, there’s help: a little book I stumbled upon last December. It’s called, well, “Fucking Apostrophes” by Simon Griffin. This is an entertaining, irreverent, but invaluable guide to the correct use of apostrophes, which, it turns out, can be quite confusing.
Griffin’s helpful chapters include “Possessive Fucking Apostrophes,” “Attributive Fucking Apostrophes,” “Pronouns and Fucking Apostrophes,” and ”Plural Fucking Apostrophes.”
I know, I know, I bought the book on a lark but have read it over and over. It’s fun and educational.
It’s also such a petite hardback that I frequently find it in my 2-year old granddaughter’s hands after she’s swiped it from my desk.
Good thing she can’t read.
I do wish I could find that artist again and thrust a copy of this smart little tome into her painty fingers.
So many glasses. So many effing apostrophes.