Headbloom Blog

The Apoplectic Apostrophe

Earlier this month, I was walking to a 3:00 appointment in downtown Grand Rapids. A block from my destination, I noticed the following sign with a grammar mistake. (The word “Wraps” was meant to be plural, but the printer had made it possessive by mistakenly adding an apostrophe.)


After photographing the sign (to use in a future seminar), I went inside and found the manager behind the counter. I told him that I was a language consultant who gave seminars on writing and grammar, then alerted him to the mistake on his (expensive) signage, to which he replied… [choose one].

A) “Really? It’s been up for a week and no one’s mentioned that before.”
B) “Wow. I’ll let the owner know when I see him.”
C) “This is embarrassing. We paid $150 for that sign.”
D) “Huh, I had no idea. Thanks for letting us know. Can I give you a free coke?”
E) “You came in here just to tell me that? Go [expletive] yourself!”

You guessed it: (E). As he turned his back and walked away, I realized I was no longer needed there and left to make my 3:00 appointment down the street. No kind act goes unpunished, I guess, but his words stung, and I struggled to focus during my appointment, being haunted by the verbal slap in the face.

That night, as my wife and I were lying in bed recounting the day’s events, I recalled the story and began to tell it to her. I needed to consult with her, she being my Touchstone of Reality, and see if I had been off base in the Great Apostrophe Meltdown. Although slowly drifting asleep, she jolted to full alertness as the punchline (“go f… yourself” ) was repeated.

At first shocked that someone would talk to her Boy-Scout-like husband like that, she asked, “How did you respond?” I told her, “I couldn’t do anything but leave; I was crestfallen.”

“‘Crestfallen?’” Kim asked, bursting into laughter. “Who uses words like that? Honey, it’s no wonder you get yourself into trouble like this. You are like Niles and Frasier (from the 1990s sit-com “Frasier” ) when the rest of the world is like Marty. The manager probably thought you were insulting his English.”

The ensuing conversation determined that the average person may indeed be insecure about his/her English skills but that the manager certainly lacked in customer service manners. The greater question is, how would you respond if someone came to tell you about a mistake in your store’s signage? Would you take it in the same vein if told that your men’s room was out of towels or a light bulb was burned out? Or would you see it as a personal affront to your language skills and intelligence?

Let me know if you’ve encountered public correction in the area of grammar, spelling, or punctuation.

Notes for Second Language Speakers
apoplexy = rage, strong anger, getting red in the face (adjective: apoplectic = angry)
expletive = a strong word (usually a curse word) which is not identified for politeness’ sake
No kind act goes unpunished. = pessimistic saying that means that life is unfair and people can try to do good deeds and still end up in trouble (Real expression: No good act goes unrewarded.)
crestfallen = very sad, disappointed
touchstone = a reliable reference point
off base = misguided, out of touch with reality
meltdown = falling apart, coming undone, dissolution, breakdown
Boy Scout = reference to a young (maybe naive) man trained to be honest, kind, and diligent
Go fuck yourself. = a very rude way of dismissing someone, an insult [vulgar]
“Frasier” = popular American situation comedy about the differences in social class: two refined, highly educated, somewhat snobbish sons (Niles and Frasier) and their retired working class father (Marty) who live together in an up-scale, high-rise condo in Seattle
ensuing = following, coming afterwards
affront = insult

BONUS VIDEO Here is a short clip from an Australian friend about the dangers of correcting people’s grammar.

And how timely that The Great Typo Hunt by Jeff Deck would be released this week!

Alan Headbloom