Search This Blog

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year to You and Your's [sic]...

It's gratifying during the holiday season to receive cards and gifts from relatives and friends. Some cards include a "year in review" letter which I rarely read as the busy lives of others, their comings and goings, photos taken in the exotic places they've visited during the year, serve to remind me of the bland and cloistered life I live. The intent of this post, however, is not to lament the "gusto lives" of others but to address, compared to a trip to Machu Picchu or a tour of the monarch-laden forests in Mexico, the picayune subject of punctuation. After thirty-one years in the classroom unraveling the idiosyncrasies and vagaries of the English Language for school children, it's hard to let go the need to right the wrongs of English usage.

So, readers, let us plunge into today's lesson: the apostrophe. And, yes, whereas the word is "all Greek," it needn't be all Greek to those whose willy-nilly use of it bring out the English teacher in me. (Just the other day I had occasion to point out to the young ladies at my bank that I'd never before seen the surname of Santa and Mrs. Claus spelled as "Clause.")

As a subject, the apostrophe is no stranger to The Ripple. June twenty-third, 2013, I posted "Apostrophe to a Sign" in which I championed a cause for adding an apostrophe to some new Valley signage. Unlike periods and commas which appear fairly secure in the writer's comfort zone, the apostrophe is a conundrum, a puzzle, a snare and a pitfall to those who use the written word.

The apostrophe's purpose, as is the case with its fellow punctuation marks, is to clarify meaning in written text. Oral expression uses the subtleties of voice (inflection and pitch for example) to make the speaker's message clear.

While the apostrophe is employed a number of ways (omission of letters or figures...pluralizing letters or figures), one of its principal uses is to indicate ownership or "possession," especially where nouns are concerned. Ms. Sidney Mundy, my sage college English professor, stated the apostrophe was superfluous: the context of the sentence made ownership of something clear. ( Consider "the cats tail tripped the rat trap." No confusion here as to whose tail it was.) The conventions of written expression, however, require the writer, whenever he writes possessive nouns, to sprinkle them correctly with apostrophes.

Consider, then, those Christmas cards and gifts.What is a "grammar cop" to make of the salutation "Merry Christmas from the Smith's"? The apostrophe sensitive reader wonders "the Smith's what? Merry Christmas from the Smith's house, Smith's car, Smith's dog, Smith's driveway?" Even so, shouldn't the apostrophe be stuck after Smith's "S?" Context seems to indicate the well-wisher is more than one Smith. Aha! Just another case of a rogue apostrophe, a "lost and lorn" misplaced squiggle. False alarm. No ownership intended. Just a simple case of a noun plural: "We Smiths wish you a Merry Christmas." No harm or confusion meant.

To you Smiths, Smith's, Smiths,' a thank-you for your holiday greetings and well-wishes and a very hearty Happy New Year to you and yours, your's, yours' from The Ripple.

Print this post

No comments:

Post a Comment