I admit it. I am crotchety old fogey, even though I’m not old yet. I refer to people younger than me as “you kids”, and I say things like “you kids all have the iPods and your cellular telephones” and other things that I always pictured would come out of Mr. Wilson (of Dennis the Menace) if the strip fell into a wormhole and emerged in the modern day instead of the mid-50s. Hell, I’m petrified that I’m going to hit the wrong button on my cell phone, connect to the internet or download a ringtone, or some junk like that, and end up with a couple-hundred-dollar bill at the end of the month, because I’ve heard tell that kids today do that sort of thing. In fact, many callers will attest that they have had a conversation with me over the cell phone that abruptly terminated with an “What was that beep? Did you hear that beep? AAHH! What is it doing? Don’t do that! Cancel, cancel!!!!”
So of course I always have to fight the temptation to blindly ascribe any problem with the modern world to “kids today”. A lack of general math literacy, anti-social tendencies, cursing on the TV, poor service at the drive-through, rising budget deficits, sore muscles, cupcake non-conference schedules in big-money college football: all of these I’ve wanted so badly to yoke the kids with, due to their inattention to their educations. Of course, in truth only a few of these are modern phenomena (cupcake non-conference schedules have been around at least since Georgia Tech’s 1916 drubbing of Cumberland 222-0, for instance).
Likewise, I want to suggest to the curmudgeons who bewail the misuse of the apostrophe in our modern, devil-nay-care society that this too is not some new phenomenon from our modern world. As part of my research for the previous installment of Preposterous Apostrophes, I looked in where people wrote “the king’s of England”, seeking out instance of infixation, where the possessive marker was appended to the head of the phrase rather than the end of the phrase. What to my wondering eyes should appear but a Google Books result from 1757? Then another, from 1728! And still one more from 1851! Although for some of these the Early Modern English is too hard for me to clearly say one way or the other what the intended meaning is, it seems that most of these are cases of a writer using an apostrophe to form the plural of a common noun, a big no-no.
And, in a slightly more modern reference, I ate today at Peggy Sue’s, a diner in San Jose. On the wall above our booth, there was a signed cover from a Life magazine with Peggy Fleming on its cover, c. 1968. She had signed the magazine saying that Peggy Sue’s had “excellent burger’s”. So sadly we can’t shift all the apostrophe errors off onto the kids.
The Preposterous Apostrophes series as it stands: