Tag Archives: apostrophes

What's an Initialism?

Initialism is a word I had not seen nor heard before today’s blogpost at Grammarphobia.com, written by the brilliant and hilarious Patricia T. O’Conner, she of Woe Is I fame (among her many other linguistic accomplishments).

Her post was about using or omitting apostrophes in abbreviations. A reader asked Pat which plural was correct: PJs, PJ’s, pjs pj’s, P.J.’s. The answer is that you can find support for just about every variant, but the most commonly accepted seems to be plain old PJs. That is, unless your PJ’s pants (possessive) have a hole in the seat.

Did you know that PJs is an initialism? Neither did I. It means an abbreviation pronounced by saying each letter separately : PJs, USA, ATM, TV, RPMs, IRS, DOJ, UCLA, NYU, OMG, for example.

When you pronounce an abbreviation as a word, that is an acronym. (I’ve discussed this before in my blog.) An acronym is an abbreviation, but not all abbreviations are acronyms. Here are some acronyms: NASA, scuba (so common it’s lost its caps), radar (ditto), fubar (look it up), RAM, AWOL, POTUS, SCOTUS, FLOTUS.

This post is my holiday gift to you. What? You were expecting jewelry, candy, money? I’ll see what I can come up with, ASAP. Until then, enjoy the day.

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Double Ownership

This post is about apostrophes. What do you do when more than one person shares ownership in something?

Donna’s pets are Shetland Sheepdogs. Donna is the sole owner, so you just add ‘s to her name.

But Donna has a husband, Frank. The dogs belong to both of them. Donna and Frank’s pets are Shetland Sheepdogs. What happened to Donna’s apostrophe? Here’s the deal: When two or more people share ownership, only the person closest to the item owned gets an apostrophe.

Which of the following two examples is wrong?

Ryan and Thad’s wives

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

If you think Ryan and Thad share wives, then neither example is incorrect. But chances are Ryan and Thad each has his own wife, so Ryan needs an apostrophe too.

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Who’s or Whose?

People seem to have a love affair for apostrophes. If a family’s name ends in a vowel, an apostrophe will surely appear: the Martino’s. There is no such entity as “the Martino,” so no ownership exists. The family is simply the Martinos. Easy.

It’s and its is a constant problem. It’s means it is or it has. That’s it. Its indicates possession: The dog wagged its tail. Also easy.

And there are who’s and whose. The apostrophe tells you who’s means who is. Whose is a pronoun indicating ownership: Whose shoes are these? Ricardo is one of three people whose paintings were accepted for publication. Again, easy.

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Linguistic Crisis in Kazakhstan

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If you recall the “Borat” movie (and who can forget it?), you will remember that Borat came to the United States from Kazakhstan, his native country. Kazakhstan was formerly under Soviet rule and used the Cyrillic alphabet because the Kazakh language has never had an alphabet of its own and has sounds that would be difficult to transpose into either Cyrillic or Latin aphabets.

Alert: CRISIS IN KAZAKHSTAN! The president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has declared that beginning in 2025 the Latin alphabet will be the official way to write the Kazakh language.

But wait!

About half the Russian population has left the country, so there is no great uproar about the change from Cyrillic to Latin orthography among the populace. What is riling Kazakhs is that Mr. Nazarbayev has decreed that instead of using diacritical marks such as umlauts and other phonetic markers to aid in pronunciation, apostrophes will be used to change the sounds of certain letters. Many, many apostrophes. So many apostrophes that Kazakhs are complaining that their eyes will bleed trying to read the Latin script sprinkled with endless apostrophes. “The Republic of Kazakhstan” will now be written “Qazaqstan Respy’bli’kasy.” Got that?

President Nazarbayev has never been a man to be questioned. However, the uproar against his proposed abundance of apostrophes has been loud and aggressive, and the head of the senate of Kazakhstan has recently said that “a final decision has not been made.” (Note the passive voice.) Nazarbayev is described as a man who wants to be remembered as inventing his own alphabet. There is a good chance he will be. Stay tuned. I wonder where Borat comes down on this issue.

 

 

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Do You Really Need an Apostrophe?

I had to fight the glare on this shop window, so the photo quality is as bad as the sign’s writing: WALKIN’S WELCOME. It’s confusing. Is the word supposed to be WALKING? No. It should be WALK-INS. That hyphen adds clarity. And please lose that apostrophe! “WALKINS,” however they spelled it, is just a plural. It’s not possessive. But people see a final S and are overcome by an urge to reach deep into their apostrophe pocket and yank out an apostrophe to throw in before that S. Resist! Thank you.

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When to Omit Apostrophes

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© Judi Birnberg

I have written previously about the error of putting apostrophes into words that end in S but are not possessive: My cat’s chase each other through the house at high speed’s. Cats and speeds are merely plurals and do not take apostrophes since no ownership is shown.

Here are three other instances when an apostrophe is not needed:

1. When referring to decades: the 1990s
2. When referring to temperatures: highs in the mid-70s
3. When using abbreviations that are plural: 12 CPAs, two BMWs

Every time you want to use an apostrophe, take a good look and see if it really is in a possessive word or in a contraction. If not, delete it.

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Which President Is It?

I go through this every year in mid-February: looking through the ads for refrigerators, mattresses and windows, I see three different ways to show why Washington and Lincoln were born to sell these items. Which one is correct?

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That’s a shadow,. This banner has no apostrophe.

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Here we have both presidents trying to sell you appliances.

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And here is only one president—but is it Washington or Lincoln selling you windows?

Obviously, the correct punctuation is seen in the second example. The rule for using apostrophes is very simple: take the owner word and add ‘S. If the owner word happens to end in an S, just add an apostrophe (boss=boss’).

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