Sunday, March 22, 2015

Apostrophes

Yesterday Red Baron read in a blog about the "grocer's apostrophe" in English. I became interested in comparing this special inverted comma with the Deppenapostroph (goof's apostrophe) in German.

First and above all the apostrophe stands for a dropped character, i.e., an elision. When its (sic!) missing it's even more annoying than when there is one too many.

In the "Cashier Talking Points" below you will find two "grocer's missing apostrophes" where according to the blog's author the second one is a twofold blunder with "Pretzel Crisps" being plural: Promote that they are on sale.

©Jerry Coyne
As far as the grocer's apostrophe (or grocers' apostrophe) proper is concerned Jerry Coyne tells the following story: When I worked for the Cambridge Food Co-op in grad school, for instance, I had to put up with this sign on the spuds: "Potatoe's."  Red Baron admits that potato is a difficult word even for former US vice presidents trying to spell its plural correctly.

What about the apostrophe of the English Possessive Case (Sächsischer Genitiv/Saxon genitive)? Also here the apostrophe stands for an elision. In old English the genitive of dæg (day) was dæges that was slurred to day's: It's a hard day's night.

In modern English the possessive is particularly used in case of persons: Walter's car, Jesus' or Jesus's words. This is what Red Baron was taught. Constructions such as Freiburg's University were not promoted in my English school grammar of 1946 although now are perfectly at ease in my modern English grammar of 1964.


Since 1901 the German language has no longer supported a Possessive Case. However look at all four Wurststands on Freiburg's Münsterplatz more than one century later:




No teacher taught them the Deppenapostroph
The trend toward the Deppenapostroph in German is frequently regarded as bad Denglisch. However, that's not all. Increasingly you will also find the misplaced inverted comma in those exceptional "German" words that form their plurals with an "s": Pizza's instead of Pizzas or Büro's instead of Büros.

The Nec plus ultra (©Wikipedia)
You even read bolder constructions disfiguring the correct plural of Nudel (noodle) Nudeln to Nudel'n. These "modern" plurals are usually used to catch the eye of their shocked readers.
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