Revolution

05.16.1310:30 AM ET

It's Our Apostrophe, Government, And We'll Do What We Choose With It

The Wall Street Journal recounts the history of the federal government's war on the apostrophe:

The no-apostrophe rule has been reaffirmed five times, yet punctuationists fight on. At a 2009 meeting with place namers from the states, the names committee was flayed for its "isolationist stance" toward "the perpetually punished apostrophe."

"The apostrophe has a function," says Thomas Gasque, an English professor who spent years on South Dakota's Geographic Names Authority. "It can imply things other than possession," he says. "We talk about a winter's day. The day doesn't belong to winter."

As Prof. Gasque sees it, map makers should prize locally used apostrophes as mainstays of history. "Place names are the autobiography of a nation," he says.

Tell that to Theodore Roosevelt. In 1906, he ordered the standardization of geographic names for federal use. For the sake of consistency, there was no going back. Jennifer Runyon, one of the name committee's three staffers, says: "We don't debate the apostrophe."

A truer outrage has never been committed against common sense.

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