I recently got a letter from my high school, asking for a donation. I was prepared to contribute several million dollars even if I had to ask Donald Trump for a loan … but then I read the sentence “St Joes needs your help.” St Joes? What a curious usage.
I would have gladly given the alumni director anything she wanted if she wrote “St. Joe’s needs your help,” which is what Henry Fowler and William Strunk would have done.
I could have even tolerated “St. Joe needs your help” because I always want to be there for my patron saint.
Apostrophes are getting kicked to the curb everywhere, and rogue grammarians offer rationales like: “We dont use apostrophes. Havent you ever heard of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen or Starbucks? Everyones getting rid of apostrophes for simplicitys sake!”
Despite our grammatical differences, I plan to send my high school several million if I can find it, although I prefer to give the money to the Antiquarian Grammarian Retirement Fund and the self-help group Nitpickers Anonymous of which Im a member. I mean, I’m a member.
I’ve spent years in the trenches, teaching English grammar and working on newspaper copy desks, so I know at least three rules — and I consider apostrophes as sacred as Thanksgiving and Black Friday.
A few days ago, I was talking to my friend Bill Mitchell, and I asked him, “Is the name of your clothing store Mitchell’s with an apostrophe?” He promptly responded, “No.” I gasped and gasped again when I learned the sister store Richards has no apostrophe.
I began to notice similar names like “Michaels” and “Little Caesars” and realized the apostrophe is being snubbed by copy writers, marketing directors and branding gurus. I had uncovered a crisis of grammar and vowed to be the first reporter to break the news in the tradition of Woodward and Bernstein, who wrote “All the President’s Men.” I mean “All the Presidents Men.”
Instead of St. Mary’s Church, you’ll see St. Mary Church or St. Peter Church or St. James Church because pastors don’t want to pay for the extra letters to have St. James’s Church on the door. Fortunately, no one has resorted to using St. Marys yet. The situation gets even more confusing when you have a saint like St. Stanislaus. Should it be St. Stanislaus Church? Or my preference, St. Stanislaus’s Church, or the troubling alternative, St. Stanislauss?
I turned to Fowler’s Modern English Usage for guidance. (Note the apostrophe.) Fowler, of course, was a Brit and they tend to get carried away, which is why you’ll see the “Court of St. James’s Palace.”
I did find a few redoubts of traditionalism like Sam’s Club, Papa John’s and Domino’s. In recognition of their good usage, I became a member of Sam’s Club and bought a year’s supply of pepperoni pizza from Papa John’s and Domino’s.
In my research, I found another option. The classic “Elements of Style” says: “Such forms as Achilles’ heel, Moses’ laws and Isis’ temple are commonly replaced by the heel of Achilles, the laws of Moses and the temple of Isis.” Ergo, my alma mater can change its name to the High School of St. Joe.
Do you realize what will happen if we start eliminating apostrophes willy-nilly? Grammar anarchists will be rampaging through classrooms, newsrooms, advertising agencies and massage parlors, wreaking havoc. You’ll see sentences like “Dont you wish your girlfriend was hot like me” and “Theyll arrive at President Trumps by dawns early light.” (Is that one Trump or two?)
Apostrophes obviously make people nervous, and very often they don’t know if they should write “its” or “it’s” or “its’s”.
I, myself, favor apostrophe overuse. I’m addicted to them. They’re like Godiva chocolates. They’re my favorite mark of punctuation, and I sometimes add extra apostrophes to spice up my prose. In fact, I’m going to lobby my alma mater to change the name to St. Joseph’’’’’s High School.
(I fear the entire English Department at St Joes will be scrutinizing this column for grammatical errors, so before there’s a deluge of letters to the editor, I beg forgiveness and plead nolo contendere. I’m joking for heaven’s sake … I mean for heavens’ sake … no, I really mean for heavens sake.)
Editor’s note: Please note the misuse of apostrophes is intentional.