Re: forbidden to apostrophize

Subject: Re: forbidden to apostrophize
From: Tim Altom <taltom -at- IQUEST -dot- NET>
Date: Tue, 16 Jul 1996 08:10:00 EST

At 02:23 PM 7/16/96 +0200, you wrote:
>My editor wants me to remove every apostrophe from my manual. This means
>replacing not only all contractions (something I could deal with) but also
>recasting any sentence that uses an apostrophe to form the possessive.

>This involves a lot of work and will most likely make many sentences longer
>and unnecessarily complex.

>I'd like to be able to convince my boss that this change is unnecessary but
>the editor has convinced her that technical writing standards forbid
>apostrophes. Is this true? I learned the exact opposite in the technical
>writing course I took. And I haven't pulled a manual off the shelf today
>that didn't contain both contractions and possessives formed with
>apostrophes. Any advice?

>Michal Lastman
>Technical Communications
>E-mail: michal -at- aks -dot- com

>Aladdin Knowledge Systems Ltd. Ph# +972 3 6362222
>P.O.Box 11141 Tel-Aviv 61110 Israel Fax# +972 3 5375796

>Visit Our WWW Home Page!

My first reaction was to question the sanity and/or Daffy Duck education
your editor has had, but there are esoteric reasons why you'd want to
minimize or eliminate apostrophes. They just aren't terribly persuasive,
IMHO. Also IMNSHO, the EDITOR convincing YOUR BOSS about something YOU
SHOULD DO bespeaks a less than cordial working relationship, and a far less
than ideal faith that you have in your editor. In my view, such a situation
is untenable. Writers need to have faith in their editors, or bad, bad
things happen.

Like you, I consulted several sources, possibly a half-dozen in all before I
gave up. They included the Chicago Manual of Style, the AP Stylebook,
Technical Communication by Rebecca Burnett, Fowler, St. Martin's Handbook, a
government printing office style guide, A Handbook for Scholars, and one of
my favorites, The Technical Writer's Handbook by Matt Young. Most of them
had some mention of apostrophes, but it was always in the accepted use and
construction, not elimination.

Now, I support the use of minimal numbers of apostrophes. All too often
words with apostrophes are seen by foreign readers as different words, just
as we English speakers go bonkers trying to keep straight how words change
form in Spanish and German as the cases change. I'd recast "Move the
keyboard's plug to the left" to "Move the plug on the keyboard to the left,"
but that's just my own non-English suspicions talking. And you could argue
that the word order change that such a shift makes necessary could
disconcert a non-English reader just as badly, or worse, than a simple

My own view to all this is...doesn't the editor have bigger fish to catch?
It sounds like a peeve, not a real concern.

Tim Altom
Vice President, Simply Written, Inc.
317.899.5882 (voice) 317.899.5987 (fax)
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