Who Spiked the Punctuation? Why Most Holiday Cards Need A Ride Home From The Party

Okay, okay, I know…who am I to criticize holiday cards when I haven’t sent any out in… hmmm…a couple years? But I’ve been wanting to say something about them for a long time.  No, not about how good friends I haven’t seen in ages expect me to read the long letters they’ve composed but don’t even bother to personalize it by signing their name at the bottom, let alone write me one or two lines. And no, not about how some families spend tons of money and time on getting that perfect holiday card portrait taken by a professional photographer when sadly most of those gorgeous cards just end up in the trash…but my biggest beef with holiday cards is with the use of the apostrophe. Or, I should say, misuse.  I know most adults have long forgotten many punctuation and grammar rules they learned in school, but I think most remember the simple stuff—like capitalizing the first letter of a sentence, putting a period at the end of one… so why can’t they remember the rules for the apostrophe? There are only TWO— it’s used when showing possession, or replacing missing letters. Not when making a noun plural.  Is that so hard to remember? Guess it is, since no one seems to know it anymore. I see apostrophe errors on expensive billboards, on corporate websites, even in letters sent home from school principals and teachers (yes, Microsoft Word Spell Check is not always right!).  You’d think at least printers and engravers would be astute enough to correct our sloppy English, but even they don’t care anymore, either.  Because there it is, every year, embossed in gold at the bottom of John Doe’s card—Merry Christmas from The Doe’s.  “THE DOE’S WHAT??” I always want to scream.  Yes, as a writer who loves words and loves putting them together, and who has had to follow correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation rules as part of every writing job or college writing assignment I’ve ever had,  this is like fingernails on a blackboard to me.  And then another similar card arrives, and another.  Why do families insist on throwing an apostrophe in their last name when they add an “s” to the end?  If Fred and Wilma send out a Christmas card (er, in their case I guess it might be a Christmas rock), they should engrave it “Merry Christmas from the Flintstones”, not “Merry Christmas from the Flintstone’s”.  And even if they put “From The Flintstone’s House”, that actually would be incorrect as well…the correct way would be “The Flintstones’ House”.  (Click here for a great explanation of that.)

I’m not the only one who’s ho-ho-horrified about apostrophe use.  The Apostrophe Protection Society (http://www.apostrophe.org.uk/), founded in 2001 by a retired British journalist, has had over one and a half million visits to its website, and its founder has received letters of support from all over the world.  The Facebook page, “Apostrophe Preservation Society” has photos and comments about idiotic apostrophe use (one memorable one: a college brochure touting the “Honor’s Program”).  There’s “Apostrophen-Katastrophen”, a German website, and “The Dreaded Apostrophe”, a website that tries to explain the proper use of the “most misunderstood and misused piece of punctuation in the language” by combining its two rules into one.  But there are naysayers as well, who think the apostrophe should be abolished—like killtheapostrophe.com;  many texting addicts; and the now-defunct  rock band R.E.M., who purposely left out the apostrophe in their album “Lifes Rich Pageant” because “they hate apostrophes”. 

Some say the mark is misused so much, we should take it out of the language completely so that no one has to look like they don’t know what they’re doing.  Which is probably what I’d look like today if I sent out a card and put, correctly, “The Allbees”, at the bottom.  So for now, I guess I’ll just avoid the confusion by saying

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to All My Blog Readers,

From Uncool Mom and Family

(and wishing you peace on Earth and goodwill to every apostrophe…).

16 thoughts on “Who Spiked the Punctuation? Why Most Holiday Cards Need A Ride Home From The Party”

  1. Oh my gosh I’m so glad you wrote that post Patty! I am pretty good with apostrophes, but it was about time for a refresher. I was actually scared about some of my holiday cards addresses so I chose to write “The Franz Family” instead. But now I know it would have been fine to write “The Franzs”. Man, it still looks weird though. But I will trust in the apostrophe (or lack thereof!)

  2. Can you do a rant on capitalization next?

    I subscribe to lots of blogs, which I filter into their own folder so I can read them in succession. The very next blog post I read after yours started like this:

    “Are you still looking for a little something to give to friends, family and neighbors for the Holidays?”

    Not all nouns are proper! I don’t know how this started, but this happens ALL THE TIME. It seems to be mostly folks under 35 who do this, and I can’t figure out why.

    Also, the shelf thing over your fireplace is a “mantel”, not “mantle”. Unless your fireplace spews red hot magma, in which case “mantle” may apply. (A large majority of the blogs I subscribe to are home decorating blogs….this one’s killing me right now, cuz of all the stockings hung with care….)

    Love you, UncoolMom.com!!

  3. So glad you wrote, because your comment brings up something else I wanted to look into, also important for holiday cards: how do you make a proper noun (like a last name) plural if it ends in s, z, or y? Here’s a great link with info. about that: http://data.grammarbook.com/blog/apostrophes/tips-on-apostrophes-with-names/. Basically, z and s at the end mean you add an “es”– I know, saying “The Franzes” seems weird, too, especially since I don’t think a lot of people know or remember that rule– and for names ending in y, you just add an s. Thanks again for bringing this up!

  4. Thanks for your comments! Yes, it’s often just a free-for-all out there with English, isn’t it? I used to hear that employers would not hire people if they had spelling or punctuation errors on their resumes or cover letters– wonder if that is still true today! If you ever catch one on this blog, please, please let me know!!

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