Friday, December 4, 2015

How apostrophes and ''atomic typos'' can trip a writer up as she or he pens their pieces

At last, a book that tells you exactly where to stick your fucking apostrophe.  

Simon Griffin’s irreverent pocket-sized guide to a tricky piece of punctuation is FUN!
Office swearing, from ***ing asterisks to fucking apostrophes.
When the Guardian style guide went on sale to the public for the first time in 2004, my co-author Nikki Marshall and I wanted to call it No ****ing Asterisks, inspired by the brilliant cartoon (by the late David Austin) above. The then editor-in-chief of the Guardian was unimpressed. As he was only too happy to allow us to fill his newspaper with – to quote another cartoonist, Steve Bell – “more fucks than you can shake a fucking stick at”, this was disappointing.
Anyway, we went with his title: The Guardian stylebook (now Guardian Style). Not as much fun, perhaps, but easier to ask for in your local Waterstones. Or, as it used to be known, Waterstone’s.
Simon Griffin, a Leeds-based designer, had no such qualms over the title of his new book, Fucking Apostrophes. (Subtitle: “A guide to where you can stick them.”) He says: “It’s something I wrote for the many designers I work with who are: a) incredibly bad at using apostrophes; b) incredibly good at using swearwords.”
So the title is a catchphrase, and one that I suspect may be heard ringing around many an office. As Griffin says, apostrophes can be confusing and exasperating: “Just look at King’s Cross, which is written both with and without a fucking apostrophe; or Waterstones, which dropped its fucking apostrophe; or Hear’say [sic], who used a fucking apostrophe to make them look groovy.”
Apostrophes can be confusing and exasperating.
Apostrophes can be confusing and exasperating. Illustration: David Austin
If you don’t know your were from your we’re, Griffin provides sound advice on the basics – omissions, contractions, pronouns, “possessive fucking apostrophes” – with useful examples, for instance “Miley Cyrus’s father” to show that the best way to treat the possessive of singular names ending in S is “write it as you’d speak it”.
How to deal with tricky shared possessives is illustrated by the following examples:
“Andy and Rebecca’s answerphone messages had been deleted” = “The messages that had been left for both Andy and Rebecca had been deleted.”
“Andy’s and Rebecca’s answerphone messages had been deleted” = “The messages left for Andy had been deleted, and so had the messages left for Rebecca.”
I am not sure who he had in mind here because we are assured: “All characters appearing in this work are fictitious.”
Simon Griffin advocates a tolerant approach to apostrophe abuse.
Simon Griffin advocates a tolerant approach to apostrophe abuse. Illustration: David Austin
Griffin, rightly, describes “attributive fucking apostrophes” as a murky area – is it farmer’s market, farmers’ market, or farmers market? – and concludes wisely: “See that fence over there? Take a nice comfy seat on it with me and watch them fight it out. The important thing is to know the meaning of each one, and remember, it’s just a fucking apostrophe.”
Such a relaxed attitude could hardly be more different from that of Eats, Shoots & Leaves, in which Lynne Truss contrived to list no fewer than eight ways to use the apostrophe (I reckon there are three at most) before getting down to her main task: making fun of people who misuse it because they aren’t as clever as her. Griffin takes a refreshingly tolerant approach: “Mistakes will always be made with fucking apostrophes. My advice is simply to apologise and politely point out to the person correcting you that apostrophes aren’t as fucking simple as they might think they are.”
Like all the best grammar and language books, including my own, this one falls foul of Muphry’s law: the misspelling of Hear’Say may be blamed on confusion sown by the inappropriate apostrophe, but on the very last page we find “Aknowledgements”. Fucking spelling. However, I can forgive any author who, on page 51 (of 60), announces: “Just in case you couldn’t be bothered to read the last 50-odd pages, here’s a quick reference guide for using fucking apostrophes.”
This pocket-sized book is funny and useful, the perfect stocking filler. Its author sees it as a volume that would sit well in the “toilet library”. If you aren’t sure, say, when it is it’s and when it’s its, I’d recommend keeping a copy on your person at all times.
And there’s not an asterisk in sight.
Fucking Apostrophes (a Hyperbolic publication) is available at £12 plus P&P from or, if you prefer,

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