Thursday, March 05, 2009


National Grammar Day

Yesterday was National Grammar Day, co-founded and co-sponsored by the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar (SPOGG).

Yesterday. And here go I, a day late and a proverbial dollar short, posting a language thing on what was yesterday’s tomorrow. But at least today has that tenuous relationship to National Grammar Day, and, anyway, every day should be Grammar Day, n’est-ce pas?

Usually, apostrophe catastrophes just make one shake one’s head — or one’s index finger, accompanied by a “for shame” cluck or two. Or, for those of us particularly sensitive, they make us run down the street screaming and tearing out clumps of our hair. In any case, they aren’t usually actually confusing. We might have to read the text twice, but we know what’s meant when a sign says, “We have fresh tomatoe’s!”[1]

But a local restaurant, in one of its print ads, tell us this:

Private Room’s Available!

Now, this one really is ambiguous! Once we get past the insistence on capitalization, if we take the ad as it’s written we see a contraction, and we think that they have one private room, and it is available for our use (modulo, we presume, scheduling questions). That is, “[Our] private room is available.”

But we know from experience with these things what the more likely case is: they probably have more than one of these rooms, and they’re offering them all. The apostrophe is probably wrong.

I suppose that even in this case, the difference matters little. Still, is these small issues of ambiguity that vex some of us so; that make us go off the deep end; that break our camel’s back and make us snap like twigs; that evoke the longest string of arbitrary metaphors to be seen in some time.

Beware the apostrophe.

[1] Or, &deity protect us, “We have ‘fresh’ tomatoe’s!”, adding highlighting-by-quotes to the stray apostrophe; oop, ack!

1 comment:

Michelle said...

I read it as a casual way of letting (the few guests they have, who they all know well) that the private room they have is available, or that one of their private rooms is available.. I almost would expect to see a "dude" on the end. The capitalization I can't explain.

And yeah, unecessary apostrophes are a particular gripe of mine, though I'm not exactly the worlds most accomplished grammatarian. If there is such a thing.