The Turkish Apostrophe

Tim Chesterton offers a “rant” about misplaced apostrophes in English – see also my comments there. In recent years I too have noticed increasing misuse of these little punctuation marks. Now I don’t like to be over-prescriptive about language, which should be about how people actually speak and write, not about how some elite says they should do so. But I do get annoyed by elementary errors in spelling and punctuation. I agree with Greg McFarlane’s points, if not his tone, in a guest post today at Problogger There Are 3 Thing’s Wrong With This Head Line:

When your posts are loaded with spelling and grammar mistakes, you’re telling your readers one or both of two things:

  1. I can’t be bothered to learn the language I’ve chosen to communicate in.
  2. My content is so vital and compelling that its form is unimportant. …

In 2011, with so much of the world’s knowledge available to any of us, it’s astounding that there exist bloggers who’ve advanced past adolescence yet still don’t know that plurals don’t take apostrophes.

Writing plurals with apostrophes is only one of the errors which I seem to see more and more often, but it is an interesting one. According to Wikipedia, for what it is worth,

It is generally acceptable to use apostrophes to show plurals of single lower-case letters

– but in no other cases. A Turkish apostrophe on a road signThe unnecessary apostrophe in other plural’s is sometimes called the greengrocer’s apostrophe, because of its common use with fruit and vegetable’s.

Interestingly, this apostrophe seems to appear most frequently in the plurals of proper nouns of some kind – or at least of nouns written with a capital letter, as in the deliberate error “Thing’s” in McFarlane’s post title. I regret picking on Kurt Willems and his excellent Pangea blog, but the following was something of a distraction from his otherwise great review of The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight:

the Gospel’s are designed to have these elements as their focal point.

Where did this popular misconception come from that an apostrophe should be used before the plural suffix on a proper noun? Strangely enough this follows regular practice in Turkish, as described by Wikipedia:

In Turkish, proper nouns are capitalized and an apostrophe is inserted between the noun and any following suffix.

Other languages use apostrophes before suffixes added to foreign names, but Turkish seems unique in using it also with local words used as proper nouns. Could this usage have been borrowed into informal English from Turkish? This seems unlikely, but is not impossible.

Well, whether or not that is where it came from, that is where it should go. The Turks are welcome to their apostrophes, but in English they should be restricted to contractions and possessive endings.

4 thoughts on “The Turkish Apostrophe

  1. Oh dear1

    The Bishop of Bradford – who has been mentioned in press reports in the last few days for his disappointment in the decline of foreign language education in UK schools – happens to be guilty of the misappropriation of the apostrophe – see here:

    http://nickbaines.wordpress.com/2011/09/21/deplorable-language/#comments

    I thought about gently drawing his attention to it – but thankfully, someone has already done so. It’s a language detail that I continually have to think about, particularly since most of my “expressions” are on blogs where folks type fast – and loose!

  2. Beryl, thanks for pointing out the bishop’s unfortunate, and repeated, lapse. This isn’t the Turkish apostrophe, however, as it is not the plural of a proper name.

    One might also question the possessive form in his blog title “Nick Baines’s Blog”. I would have written “Baines'” without the second “s”. I remember learning that “St James’s” was the only exception to a rule that a second “s” should not be written in a possessive. But I see that I am out of line with Wikipedia’s suggestions on that one.

  3. Pingback: How to Properly Punctuate Plural Letters « professorgirl

  4. Pingback: How to Properly Punctuate Plural Letters « Professor Girl

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