Man sued for defamation over a missing apostrophe in a Facebook post

Originally published at: Man sued for defamation over a missing apostrophe in a Facebook post | Boing Boing


Every copyeditor ever: we told you so, and you did not listen.


Punishment should be fitting for this most diabolical crime! So say I.


My ex used to work for the Dept of Labor and investigated such things. If an employer isn’t properly putting in for one person, the most likely aren’t putting in for others. If I were being sued for a bad apostrophe, I would be reaching out to other employees to see if they had the same problem or not.


Same thing happened to a dairy in Maine that ended up having to pay its drivers for things they previously hadn’t.


They are suing to shut him up. Not sure if they have something like anti-SLAPP over there.

And if he hasn’t paid, then the allegation is true, whether it’s one employee or seven.


Oh man. And here I am worried about if I should use an Oxford comma or not.


Seems like a defense would be that he (and seemingly most of the English-speaking world) don’t know how apostrophes work. Of course, it’s long been a source of confusion for people (the “greengrocer’s apostrophe”), but it’s something I’m more and more aware of - particularly adding apostrophes where they don’t go* - presumably as a feedback effect from the younger generations having most of their reading material being unedited comments on the internet that themselves suffered from grammatical errors.

*I don’t notice missing punctuation so much because of the nature of internet communication and possibility people are using non-ideal text input devices and minimizing their character use. Though that’s probably mostly not the case.

I realized recently that it’s rather ironic, as apostrophe use is probably the most logical rule in the English language, it just suffers from never being taught in schools (at least, I was never taught it, nor have I ever seen anyone even articulate it). That rule being: the apostrophe indicates a missing letter(s) in a contraction. Period. It’s presumably not taught because then you have to explain that possessives used to be indicated by adding “es” to the end of a word. Then you have to explain that “ain’t” and “won’t” are both nonsense contractions (I remember plenty of grade school English teachers telling us that “ain’t isn’t a word” but remaining silent on the equally problematic “won’t”).


I cannot endorse your comment sufficiently. Punctuation matters!


I note your later comment about the possessive, but I am afraid that these days (it is a VERY long time since anyone used “es”) your ‘one rule to rule them all’ rule is insufficient. Possessive apostrophes need to be taught. (As I’m sure we both agree.) And the rules about apostrophes need to be more expansive and inclusive than your single statement.

Also, pro tip for anyone not sure if they need “its” or “it’s” - the rule is NEVER write “it’s” - you are either contracting "it is’, in which case write “it is”, or you are using the possessive pronoun “its”. In neither case do you need “it’s”.

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And then I saw this - sometimes I despair.


I was being sarcastic…

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Time to start teaching it again, obviously. I’m not kidding here. Learning that was a lightning bolt - I realized the rules for apostrophes weren’t some hodge-podge of exceptions and special rules like everything else in English*, but had one clear rule behind them. It’d be easier to teach that than try to teach all the specific instances where apostrophes are used (which clearly has never worked, pedagogically, given the outcomes). The fundamental problem is not just that people don’t know the rules for possessive apostrophes, but that they have absolutely no clue what they’re for or how they’re used.

*Though when you dig down into it, a lot of English spelling/grammar rules have consistencies obscured by subsequent changes to the language. The loss of the possessive “es” was a single small change and easily taught, but I think much would be made clear by teaching etymology and general history of the language. We’d have a more literate society, I think, if that happened.


Well, I was taught how to use the possessive apostrophe by an ‘old school’ English teacher and I’m sure he never mentioned “es”. (Though I wish he had.) There really were not that many “all the specific instances” if I recall his teaching properly (from 50 years ago).

I guess one does need the wit to understand what a possessive is, and whether the noun is singular or plural. And the mental gymnastics to think about ‘John’s gun’ being the same as ‘the gun of John’ might be a stretch - but it can be taught.

My thesis is that the grocers’ apostrophes are down to said grocers never having been taught it at all.

And @DavidVincent I can see that your overall comment may have been sarcastic. That was not what I was talking about. I was talking about your writing its’ - was there some pointed sarcasm in that, that I failed to grok?

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Publication of record nails it again.


Well, there aren’t, really - but it’s being taught via rote memorization, the logic of the use isn’t being taught, and people simply aren’t remembering the specific uses. So there are obviously too many specific instances for people, even if there aren’t that many.

Given that this is something that this is taught early during the period of mandatory universal education, and how frequent the misuse, I don’t think it’s likely that so many people dropped out of school as children. Which means the pedagogical approach being used (rote memorization) is clearly not working. As demonstrated by the most recent example.


Bleh. Languages are living things that evolve. Adapt or die.

Imagine how someone who has only ever read/written ye Olde timey English would react to our contemporary writing? They’d do a heck of a lot worse than high schoolers trying to read Shakespeare.

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I don’t understand that argument. I, like billions of people around the world, have learned English as a second language and was taught the apostrophe rules. It’s really not hard. If we can do it than native speakers can.