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The "special assignment" plural apostrophe-S
Friday, May 4, 2007   2:37 PM

I'm well behind the curve on this, but I see that the New York Times has stopped using 's to mark spans of years and abbreviation/all-caps plurals. As a regular reader of the NYT, I've always considered this something of a charming affectation, like the New Yorker's use of diereses.

I didn't use to appreciate this style choice — like probably 99.9% of the people who actually noticed it, I wasn't so much confused as I was annoyed by the apparent greengrocer's apostrophe — but in the past year I've come around.

In fact, last summer I lost a point on an editing test for stetting DVD's in violation of the (as-yet-unknown) house style. I don't follow the now-abandoned NYT usage myself, but I see the rationale behind it and I don't see how there would be any problems with it in a well-cast sentence.

It's pretty obvious that the rationale for this change has more to do with prescriptivism than communication.

On the other hand, a greengrocer's apostrophe after regular, godfearing lowercase nouns is definitely WTF for me. That is, outside of actual streetside signage, where I'm used to it and understand it immediately.

(Although I would not invite it to my Standard Edited English party (!), the greengrocer's apostrophe gets waaaay too much abuse. It's the gateway drug to smarmy prescriptivism and a handy way to be classist without the guilt.)


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