We were having a little down time at our family cottage on Georgian Bay when, in celebration of Morgan having hit double digits (10!), we decided to take the boat, go to town, and indulge ourselves with lunch and a movie - in this case the highly anticipated (and actually quite entertaining) premier of "Despicable Me 2".
Morgan was allowed his choice of restaurants (given the size of the town, the short list was extremely short) and he settled on the local Don Cherry's Sports Grill. And that is where my story begins...
As we sat down at our table, I looked up to see a huge poster celebrating "Fajita Saturday's [sic]" and inviting me to "Enjoy $4 Corona's [sic]". Before going any further, let's just remind ourselves that no word in the English language is pluralized by adding apostrophe "s". The apostrophe is used to indicate possession. So, in the poster pictured above - "Don Cherry's Sports Grill" (with a maple leaf as a stylized apostrophe) is the correct usage. Every other apostrophe on the sign is misplaced. Most educators will read this little diatribe quite smugly, confident that they always use apostrophes only when needed. But, in fact, there are a number of common apostrophe errors (such as using them for plurals or saying it’s when you mean its) which have found their collective way onto hundreds of the report cards that I have edited over the years. Typical errors also include: using an apostrophe to pluralize a number as in “Grade 6’s” (Grade 6s is correct) or 1990’s (1990s is correct); using (s’) to make a name that ends in (s) into a possessive. Proper usage is Ross’s; or Bess’s; or Nicholas’s or James’s. A good rule of thumb for names is that if you actually say the "s" when you read the word out loud (e.g. "This is Thomas's book".), you add apostrophe "s". However, if you don't, in such cases as "This is Bridges' Anthology of Poetry", then a simple "s" apostrophe will do. The only regular exceptions are for Jesus as in “Aren’t those Jesus’ loaves and fishes?” and for classical names like Archimedes as in "Archimedes' Principle".
By now you are thinking to yourself, "Why on Earth does he care about this kind of thing?". Well, I guess that the answer is that when you spend your days working with students who find it a challenge to read and to understand the subtleties of language and context, it is extremely frustrating to see people who should know better make careless or lazy mistakes that obscure meaning for struggling readers.
The other aspect of this story that I found fascinating is the fact that the sign pictured above must have been originally written by a copy-writer, mocked up by a designer, laid out by a print shop, produced in the hundreds and then distributed, installed, and viewed by thousands of people. It is remarkable that no-one all through the production process ever caught the mistakes. This isn't the hand-written sign at my corner fruit market that advertises "Tomato's" - this is a slick poster publication which no doubt cost a bundle to produce.
So my advice to Don Cherry, as he sits on the dock of his cottage this summer waiting for the hockey season to ramp up for another year, is to add Eats, Shoots and Leaves (Lynne Truss's great book highlighting her "zero tolerance approach to punctuation") to his reading list.
That, and maybe to get someone new to handle his advertising!