Apostrophe Apoplexy***Richmond Times-DispatchFriday, May 20, 2005
It is sometimes said that academic disputes are so bitter because so little is at stake, but at the University of Minnesota such is not the case. A battle of galactic import recently concluded, and the forces of darkness have won.
The school is building a new, $4.5-million walkway to honor esteemed individuals. For several weeks debate has percolated over whether its name should be the Scholars' Walk, with an apostrophe, or Scholars Walk, without one. The latter option carried the day -- over the objections of many English teachers, rhetoric professors, and the Apostrophe Preservation Society of England.
This is a travesty.
The rules on the matter are quite clear: Possessives take apostrophes -- John's house, children's wear, drivers' licenses. There are a few exceptions (his, hers, its), but not many. Theodore Bernstein's Careful Writer notes that while "there is a tendency these days to accept the omission of the apostrophe in many instances: teachers college, boys club, parents association, such "forms are not logical."
Indeed not. But then neither are the arguments of those who insisted on the apostrophe's absence. Margaret Carlson, chief executive officer of the alumni association, fought for the punctuation mark's exclusion on the ground that to include it would signify exclusiveness. "We want the Scholars [sic] Walk to be as inclusive as possible, she said. "We want [people] to be proud that they are part of the university even if their name isn't chiseled in granite or etched in glass."
Besides, she said, other examples of apostrophe apostasy exist, such as The Vietnam Veterans Memorial. And adding an apostrophe to Scholars Walk also would necessitate apostrophes on the planned Professors Land and Regents Professors Square -- and, well, "Apostrophes would be out of control!"
This is nothing but a diversion. The real agenda behind the apostrophe omission seems obvious. By attacking the notion of possessives, the you-know-whos on campus hope to undermine property rights and, along with them, the very foundations of capitalism.
It's -- or its, who cares at this point? -- a godless Commie plot, is what it is.
There is nothing insignificant in the world. It all depends on the point of view.
-Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
“My attitude toward punctuation is that it ought to be as conventional as possible. The game of golf would lose a good deal if croquet mallets and billiard cues were allowed on the putting green. You ought to be able to show that you can do it a good deal better than anyone else with the regular tools before you have a license to bring in your own improvements.”
— Ernest Hemingway, letter, May 15, 1925
National Punctuation Day is August 22nd.