Costly Apostrophe Catastrophe

This opinion piece I wrote was published in the October 22, 2011 edition of the MacEwan University student newspaper The Griff.

Recently Yahoo! News and other outlets published a story about a new line of Old Navy clothing designed for college students. The story focused on a series of team t-shirts with the words “Lets go” above various team logos.

Reading this story, I sighed and shook my head. Questions sped through my brain like a train: Did anyone proofread the designs? Why didn’t the manufacturer notice the error? What has happened to the English language that nobody anywhere noticed this glaring error until it was too late?

I wanted to scream. (If you’re reading this and aren’t sure what’s wrong with those words, you’re making my point — and you should take a remedial English class right now, before you hand in a single paper this term.)

Now, I’ll admit it outright; I am a grammar geek. I unabashedly love the English language. I think it needs to be used correctly and treated with much more respect than it seems to be these days.

For years, I lived abroad teaching English to second language learners. I (sort of) got used to spelling and grammar errors everywhere every day. Finding the errors annoyed me, but I excused them as a second language issue (although I always wondered why, with so many native English speakers available, nobody bothered to have their work proofread).

Returning to Canada more than a year ago, I was shocked to realize widespread spelling and grammar errors are not solely the domain of second language environments. Alas, they run rampant here too — without any excuse.

Apostrophe errors are my greatest grammar gripe: apostrophes where they don’t belong, no apostrophe where one does belong, and — worst of all — both offenses in the same text!

Many people think I’m over-reacting. Many online comments to the Yahoo! story expressed the idea that the misuse of an apostrophe here or there is no big deal. Well, I think it is a big deal. (View the story and comments at ca.shine.yahoo.com/grammar-fail-on-old-navy-s-college-t-shirts–uh-oh-.html)

Why do apostrophe errors bother me so much? Because the apostrophe is not hard to understand.The rules are simple and concrete, and they don’t change like others in our strange, complex language.

The apostrophe is not just a smudge on the page. It helps readers judge what’s on the page by adding meaning beyond the words.

The apostrophe, like all English punctuation, is there for a reason. If we didn’t need it, it wouldn’t exist. If we accept that it’s OK not to use apostrophes correctly — or at all — can incorrect usage of periods, commas, question marks be far behind? (Some grammar geeks argue people can’t use those correctly either.)

Imagine how difficult reading would be if we eliminated punctuation. Since we need it, we should know how to use it.

People who make apostrophe errors give plenty of “reasons” (a.k.a. excuses). I think the problem stems from laziness and sloppiness.

Come on people, learn how to use an apostrophe. If you aren’t sure, consult a reference book or the Internet. What does an apostrophe cost you anyway? A millisecond of your time to add one where it’s needed. Think of the milliseconds you’ll save by not adding one where it doesn’t belong.

Apostrophe errors are not “little.” Just ask Old Navy as it spends millions to reprint and replace those t-shirts and tries to repair its image. I bet the company wishes someone had caught the error and averted the costly apostrophe catastrophe.

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