Sunday, June 05, 2011

Indicting the Floating Apostrophe

The copy editor is a vanishing guardian of consistent English in our papers of record.
Over the last few days, there have been a great many headlines about the indictment of former presidential candidate John Edwards. The same glaring grammatical error appears in many of them; very sad to observe in some reputable newspapers.

Okay, here is a representative sample from the El Paso Times. For those who know what I'm talking about, the error leaps out and hits you right in the eye.
Edwards' foibles lead to criminal indictment

Sigh. If this is the story of more than one person named Edward, then that is correct use of the apostrophe. However, we know this is the story of one man named Edwards. Therefore, this is what the headline should say in standard English:

Edwards's foibles lead to criminal indictment

Do not deny your tongue the exercise of pronouncing "Edwardses" when reading the headline out loud. Both sybilants make the 'z' sound. Ah, the simple pleasure of making speech.
That floating apostrophe in the first example above gets drilled into so many of our heads at an early age, because we learn one rule and apply it globally.


Kelly said...

Grammar lessons are always welcome. I make my share of errors (usually from haste and lack of proofing), but I try to be correct. I tend to get carried away with commas.

Algernon said...

I'm a semi-colon abuser, myself. I also over-use commas.

Mandy_Fish said...

This is why I'm glad that I'm backed by an entire copyediting team at work.

Pam said...

Good post, Alg. I'm a comma and semi-colon abuset, too. I can say that I seldom err when it comes to the floating apostrophe.

quid said...

I honestly would not have known that. Brushing up on grammar time.