Thursday, July 27, 2006

Northern Michigan's Assault on the Apostrophe

OR: The Barkleys vs. the Hamilton's


LAKE GEORGE, Mich.Signs like these are cherished details of the lake life Up North in Michigan. Just about everybody's cottage has a whimsical sign announcing who has a pontoon on the lake and a barbecue on the back deck. Sadly, many of these markers are also soldiers in the war against proper apostrophe use.

Consider the above signs. The top sign announces that the Barkleys —— plural of Barkley, a family of people with the last name of Barkley —— live in a cabin to the left. But the bottom sign, what does that say? Something belonging to "the Hamilton" — singular — is to the right? Why the apostrophe?

Because too many folks incorrectly think the apostrophe denotes a plural. Folks, this one is easy: Apostrophes denote possession and contraction, period (there are rare instances when they can denote plurals, but we'll discuss that in a later conversation). If the cabin to the right belongs to more than one Hamilton, all we need is to add an "s" to "Hamilton." No possession needed. Anyway, if they were meaning to denote possession, the apostrophe would come after the "s" —— to let people know that the cabin belongs to more than one Hamilton.

Pat, is that SNOOTy enough for you?

12 Comments:

Anonymous Pat said...

It may be too SNOOTy for me, actually.

While I do cringe at similar mistake's* on restaurant menus and in e-mail from colleagues, there is something about improper apostrophe use Up North that just seems right.

I'll spare you the discussion of "right" versus "correct," because I trust you already know what I'm talking about. And, besides, are we going to debate semantics all night, or are we going to engage in some antics all night?**

My point, at the risk of sounding too condescending, is that there's something charming about improper punctuation on that sign, which is after all a slab of wood nailed to a tree.

The misplaced apostrophe enhances the overall tone of the sign, a tone that makes me think there's probably something good baking over at the Hamilton's, and there's probably a crocheted sign in the kitchen saying "Bless this mess."

Ol' Mrs. Hamilton ain't giving you any cookies if you insist on correcting her sign, Craig.

I'm out.

* -- Intentional, duh.
** -- Something Spotty and I used to say a lot. Hilarious to us. Maybe to you, too?

5:23 PM  
Blogger Craig said...

Point taken. If Up North gets too slick and proper, it won't be Up North anymore.

Pat, have I introduced you to my friend 'Ted?

12:57 PM  
Anonymous Pat said...

Isn't he friends with Paul C.?

1:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Could just be a quick way of saying The Barkley's house is thataway. Apostrophe denoting that the Barkley's may not be there. But their house is.

Oops.

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