Thursday, May 19, 2011

Punctuation Police - Apostrophe Division

I have made it my duty throughout the years to help society in my own little way. When I go into a retail establishment that has a sign that that has a blatant misuse of an apostrophe, I feel the need to point it out to the proprietor the mistake. After all, there are easy cut and dry rules when to use an apostrophe; either a contraction or to show possession. I am surprised at (even when approached friendly and discreetly) how many people are actually offended and get defensive.

My goal here would be to help the business display a more professional front - similar to obvious spelling errors, the apostrophe is an important part on how I view a business as a whole. I would think that my help would be appreciated as I can clear up a confusing gray area in their lives. I do my best not to belittle the sign maker, but to try to educate them in a professional manner. From that day forward, they would not have to waste time trying to decide when to use an apostrophe or not. Does it show possession or is it a contraction? I had to study in the 4th grade, and missed many an episode of Brady Bunch and Partridge Family because my father felt I did not have a good enough grasp on the English language (and times tables, but that is a different story).

A good example is I went into a north side hot dog establishment (to remain nameless) and they have two signs with the "Special's". I casually pointed it out to the waitress (I had been there many times and she knows me well by now) that the apostrophe was not needed, that Specials was just a plural. She just said "It doesn't matter". Well to my little anal world, and I suppose to a bigger group of intelligent yet not outspoken patrons, it IS important. I use this misuse of an apostrophe in my overall judgement of a business. If this simple error can slip by the owner / manager, what other type of small mishaps are being overlooked? Could I be in danger? Did they pay their insurance? My head is filled with hundreds of dreadful scenarios.

Another great example is a north side Toyota dealer (again to be unnamed) ran a large newspaper ad several years ago that had in big bold print "Tercel's, Corolla's and Camry's" with special prices. My first step here was to call the newspaper's (note the apostrophe in newspaper's) advertising department. I finally connected with a younger gentleman that for one insisted that they print the ad exactly as sent by the business, with no proofreading or editing, or even an obligation to contact the business when errors are found. I can live with that, but when I quizzed him further on how that policy reflects on the newspaper's reputation, he defended the apostrophes' placement. So I asked him if there was an ad about dogs and cats, would it be dog's and cat's? He (seriously) replied it would depend on the breed. I asked if he was making more than $8 an hour and if he was, the newspaper was getting ripped off. I also asked him what he was so busy doing in the 4th grade?

Well, I could not let sleeping dogs and cats lie, so I called the Toyota dealer. I finally got the advertising executive on the line. When I pointed out that Tercels, Corollas and Camrys did not need apostrophes, and that he actually paid for 3 typeset places he didn't need, he too got defensive. Mind you, I am doing this as a courtesy from one professional to another, trying to boost the reputation of the Toyota dealer and keep them from being the laughing stock of the car dealer world. His response was "Who cares? It is only punctuation". My reply was "How about I come down there and write you a check for a new Camry for $22.79599? After all it is only punctuation." He hung up on me. But will I ever buy a Toyota from that dealer? No. Have they ever ran that ad again? No.

Another attempt at me trying to fix the World as when Parade magazine ran an ad for a collectible plate. On the plate in big print was "McDonald's", which is fine, but they also had "Hamburger's" right below it. You can imagine how hard it was to contact someone from Corporate McDonald's that actually had anything to do with that plate. After several transfers and about an hour on the phone, I finally talked to a nice lady that said she would look into it. She took my name and address and sent me coupons for 2 free cheeseburgers.

Now I don't claim to be a brainiac, and I am sure that even this article is full of grammatical errors. But I am open for criticism and welcome the opportunity to broaden my horizons by being educated by my fellow man who can point out my pitfalls in a professional manner. I don't try as hard to cure the apostrophe problem, and I threw away my Punctuation Police" business cards, but Holy Cow people....