A Nostalgic Look Back at
Apostrophe Atrophy's Examples
Apostrophe Atrophy was a photographic collection of bad typography. This was their website.
Content is from the site's 2008 archived pages, as well as from other outside sources.
The apostrophe has three uses: 1) to form possessive nouns; 2) to show the omission of letters; and 3) to indicate plurals of letters, numbers, and symbols.
The apostrophe (' or ') character is a punctuation mark, and sometimes a diacritical mark, in languages that use the Latin alphabet and some other alphabets. In English it is used for several purposes: The marking of the omission of one or more letters (as in the contraction of do not to don't).
Apostrophes are used to indicate possession for nouns (not pronouns i.e. its, their, whose, and your). They're also friends to the contraction (i.e. it's, they're, who's, and you're).
MARCH 17, 2008 BY CHRIS HIGGINS | www.mentalfloss.com/
I'm a sucker for any hyper-specific blog about typography, grammar, even handwriting. Anything to do with words or word-nerd stuff, really. Witness: my recent post on The Lowercase L, my longtime devotion to "misused" quotation marks, and some awesomely smart signs. Today allow me expand your nerdy typographic horizons with Apostrophe Atrophy, a blog about the misuse of "dumb apostrophes" and "dumb quotes."
What's dumb about an apostrophe or a quote? Well, Apostrophe Atrophy is referring to those "straight quotes" that don't show the direction of the apostrophe or quote in question. In many word processing and design applications you have to turn on "smart quotes," and it looks like many people just don't go there. Apostrophe Atrophy collects examples of poorly-used dumb apostrophes in the wild, but also finds some amazing mixtures of the smart and dumb, for example:
Update: by popular request, let me explain what's wrong with the image above. Note how the quotes around "Wire" and "Evacuate" are curved (aka, smart), but the one within "Simon's" is straight (dumb). See, I said it was hyper-specific.
I think I enjoy this type of blogging so much because there are many layers to each image: 1) A design/typographical mistake; 2) Technological issues (in this case, computers versus quotes); and 3) The actual content of the image in question, which is often pretty interesting: in the case above, the actual article is great stuff, despite the mix of smart and dumb quotes in its headline. This type of multi-faceted thinking definitely activates the Nerd Center in my brain. How about you?
When NOT to Use an Apostrophe
The apostrophe likes to walk on the wild side. They're these teeny, tiny punctuation marks that are majorly misused every single day. Apostrophes are used to indicate possession for nouns, but not pronouns (i.e. its, whose, and your). They're also friends to the contraction (i.e. it's, they're, who's, and you're).
Possession and contraction. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Well, don't be fooled by this little guy; the apostrophe trips up millions of people all day, every day. It gets inserted into words it shouldn't be in or omitted from words it should be in all the time. We're going to show you when NOT to use an apostrophe, and make sure you don't join the ranks of English-language speakers who often confuse its (not it's) primary purpose.
Contractions were created to make things easier. They tighten up two words into one, offering an evasion from redundancy and over-usage. In the end, that didn't go so well, as contractions are regularly misprinted in writing all across the globe. Let's take a look:
It's vs. Its
In the land of texting, where we shorten "you" to "u", it's no surprise that we often skip the apostrophe, turning it's to its. Of course, it's should be used as a contraction of it is, while its is only used to show possession.
- It's (it is) your responsibility to be a grammar queen.
Any time you have an it's or an its in your writing, double-check the sentence. If you can say "it is" in its place, then you DO need the apostrophe. If its is showing something has possession or ownership of something, then you do NOT need an apostrophe and using its is correct.
- The dog was chewing on its bone. (Possessive because the bone is in the possession of the dog.)
Who's vs. Whose
Here's another misunderstood contraction. Here, we have who's, contraction of who is, and whose, a personal pronoun.
- Who's (who is) going to love me if I can't get my apostrophes right?
- Whose apostrophe is this?
If you can use "who is" instead of who's in the sentence the apostrophe stays. If there's an E on the end of "whose" do NOT use an apostrophe.
Your vs. You're
Just in case we didn't drive the contraction thing home yet, let's look at one more common error that makes every editor, professor, and book aficionado cringe.
- Your apostrophe usage is spectacular.
- You're (you are) not demonstrating a spectacular handle on comma usage.
Similar to the its vs. it's premise, just double-check your sentences. If you can say "you are" in its place, then keep the apostrophe hanging. If it is showing possession (your dog, your usage), you do NOT want to use an apostrophe.
There vs. Their vs. They're
Remembering that apostrophes mainly like to hang out with contractions, there's only one time an apostrophe enters into the there, their, they're family of homophones.
- There is an apostrophe in the contraction "they're."
- They're (they are) not playing well with apostrophes.
- Their apostrophe usage is not their strongest point.
If you're talking about something in a certain place (there) or something that belongs to people (their) you do NOT need to use an apostrophe.
On a Date
1930s vs. 1930's vs. '30s
Everyone loves a hot debate, right? Well, this is the hottest one in town! Do you put an apostrophe after dates like those above? Well, there's really no need for such heated conversation, as you only have to ask yourself three quick questions. Is it a contraction? Is it indicating something missing? Is it showing possession? Let's take a look:
- You could say that 1930's music and dance scene set the stage for many great composers. (Possession)
- The '30s were great years for jazz and swing music. (Omission)
- The 1930s were a great time for music and dance. (Plural)
In this case, the only time you would NOT use an apostrophe is when the date is plural.
Let's Get Plural
Store signs have been notorious over the years for grammar errors. What's wrong with these signs?
Bob's Cheesesteak's and Cubano's
Smith's Greengrocer's: The Best in Town
Often, apostrophes mistakenly find their way into plurals. Remember, if it's a contraction or a possession, only then are apostrophes on the guest list. So, the signs above should read:
Bob's Cheesesteaks and Cubanos
Smith's Greengrocers: The Best in Town
If, however, a plural noun needs to show possession, then it's time for the apostrophe to come on over. An apostrophe showing the possessive on a plural needs to go after the S that is making the word plural. So it would be acceptable to say:
Bob's secret is in his cheesesteaks' sauce.
Or, it could reference a singular cheesesteak and say:
Bob's secret is in his cheesesteak's sauce.
The point is: no possession, no apostrophe.
Possess Apostrophe Power
Apostrophes are finicky little things that only like to express their jubilation when the timing is right. So, only two occasions will give them cause to hop out into the limelight: contractions and noun possessions. If we can all remember that, then we're one step closer to becoming apostrophe aficionados, and who wouldn't like a title like that?
Brought to you you by
The Studio of M.E.A.T.
Via La Dumb Apostrophe Revolution!
Found on Stencil Revolution via kunstbetrieb.org via swissmiss.
From the book “Pentagram Marks”
We suspect that Michael Gericke of Pentagram made it.
Wrong. Right. Wrong. Right. That’s what they call “consistent brand image”.
I guess after two days of drinking those quotes won’t matter anymore.
Just vote Obama.
Smart People; Dumb Quotes.
That is not how it should be.
Giant metal sign again. Apparently they don’t make apostrophes in metal.
At least they kerned the periods.
You know, the famous one.
Express apostrophes as well, apparently.
The apostrophes could have used some “Luck of the Irish”.
Insert punch line here.
One store, two signs, zero correct apostrophes.
Dumb Quotes. So much for Obama’s superior use of typography.
I love their pig.
Hate their typography.
The wrong kind of apostrophe is bad enough… But to also use Copperplate.
Did they really have to spotlight it like that?
Not exactly wrong, but definitely not right. Found on the board at the Donut Pub.
a graphic design studio, we also provide very wrong apostrophes.
Definitely not an apostrophe.
Four of a kind!
Use that 50% to buy some real apostrophes.