Friday, March 16, 2012

Possesi* (for Possessi*)

I stopped in front of a sign the other day that said: "Fantastic Sams Unisex Hair Salon." Perhaps I was just having a bad hair day, or maybe I was feeling a little less than fantastic, but my silent snipe as I stood there staring was: "Are you all out of sorts? Or are you just out of apostrophes?" I had mentioned that I was feeling "out of sorts" to a graphic designer I know recently and he informed me that the expression comes from the field of printing and typography. While that derivation is debatable, it refers to the individual metal characters ("sorts") found carefully arranged in boxes of type. To be all out of these would surely make any typesetter cranky. Whether and where to put an apostrophe is a matter that befuddles many people. Simply put, it denotes possession. (It also signifies a missing or elided letter.) However, just like with a lot of hair, there are some gray areas. One of them concerns whether to add to a name or word ending in S an "apostrophe s" or just a plain apostrophe. Another one has to do with phrases like "librarians room," "teachers association," "farmers market," etc. If the sense of possessing is strong, include the apostrophe; if it's rather that the noun is more generally for or about the adjectival group in question (the "attributive" case), you may safely omit the apostrophe. With apologies to Dr. Seuss, whose putative movie (note the apostrophe in the title) The Lorax opened last week:

I do not like salons called Sams,
I do not like them, Sam. I am
An apostrophe booster
Who just can't get useter
Seeing none where there surely should be one!

I do not like green eggs and hams, either, for that matter. But have a happy Saint Patrick's Day, anyway, folks. Drink responsibly, and don't forget your apostrophes! (There were 45 examples of Possesi* in OhioLINK, and 1,309 in WorldCat.)

(The Boy with Green Hair movie poster, 1948, courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Carol Reid

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