I got this note from a neighbor, who is a raving, foaming-at-the-mouth English professor. She patted my hand as she turned it over, reassuring me that, of course, she knows I know everything in the letter. It’s for other people. Of course. Not me. But just to be thorough, she’s handing them out to everyone on the block.
I know this is a busy time of year for you. From the looks of last year’s holiday card, you start around now with the drafting of your family’s newsletter and photo-taking. I do love the updates. And the pictures. Whew! I can’t believe it’s been another year, but there’s the proof: pictures of kids I’ve never met and never agreed to be friends with, and not so much as the hint of your presence anywhere in your own family. Keep ‘em coming!
Anyway, here’s the reason I’m writing: I can tell from the obvious time and energy that goes into your holiday extravaganza of correspondence that you send cards to a lot of people. And in so doing, you’re perpetuating a bit of a linguistic problem. So many look up to you that I’m hoping you can help me turn the tide back in favor of correct and precise language.
The thing is, your name and your family’s name fall into a certain category of words–those that take an “s” to become plural. And they take an apostrophe-ess when the singular becomes possessive. But, and here’s the kicker, when the plural of your name becomes a possessive, it takes an ess-apostrophe. I know that sounds like silly book-learnin’ talk, so let me break it down for you. I won’t use those pesky Smiths as an example. We’ve all had enough of them. They are just trying to keep up with the Joneses. But that’s another letter.
If your name, for the sake of argument, were Harkin, then you would be Sally Harkin. You know that, I know. Here’s where it gets trickier. If you owned a pencil, it would be Sally Harkin’s pencil. If, let’s be bold here, you had a family tailing behind you at some or most occasions, they would be Sally Harkin’s family. But if we’re talking about the whole family, you are The Harkins. And if your whole family has something tailing behind you at some or most occasions, like maybe a dog or a car or a genuinely wrong-headed political view, it would be the Harkins’ dog, Harkins’ car, and Harkins’ political ignorance.
So your holiday cards should not say The Harkin’s. Or From the Harkins’. They should say The Harkins. From The Harkins. Apostrophes are just not necessary. In fact, they’re kind of out of place in a family as full as yours. You have enough creatures roaming around within the confines of your family home that you don’t need extra apostrophes cluttering things up.
Now, don’t get me wrong. This isn’t as egregious as “10 items or fewer,” which none of the markets in my area seems to choose, favoring instead the “10 items or less” that is ruining our society. No, no. Your extra apostrophe is only problematic because, as I mentioned before, so many look up to you as an example. They, to be more like you, are adding apostrophes to their names, too. It’s similar to the phenomenon where someone, somewhere, saw CDs and DVDs and thought they looked too bare without punctuation. So every company and catalog starts listing CD’s and DVD’s, neither of which is really what they mean. Unless they are speaking of the CD’s songs and the DVD’s menus. Then, sure, bring on the apostrophe. But a spindle of CDs and a collection of DVDs? Plain, please, without the apostrophe a la mode.
Please forgive my trespass on this one. But if you don’t mind, please, let your friends the Traxes know about that whole superfluous and really rather appallingly incorrect apostrophe thing, too. Because Annie Trax thinks that when her family gets together they are The Trax’s. And I just know I can’t send her this letter. She’s not as evolved as you. She couldn’t bear to know that The Traxes’ winter mailings are taxing our circle’s good nature. For that matter, she couldn’t bear to know that her family’s good qualities, fine china, and dreadful children, should be labeled Traxes’. I’m sure you can convey it, with your usual wit and charm. Maybe something in your massive December 1 mailing?
Have a great week, dearie. I’ll let you go, for I’m sure you have to pick out your Thanksgiving decor AND start making the New Year’s favors this month. All my best!