Marden’s knows how to use an apostrophe, big time.

I’m pretty sure there is nothing more confounding in the English language than the apostrophe.

In addition to being the name of Frank Zappa’s 18th album and the act of a performer speaking to an imaginary person (“Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”), there is the apostrophe’s more common use to replace missing letters in words and to indicate ownership. And other stuff.

Let us (as in “let’s”) start with contractions. We all know the pesky apostrophe replaces a missing letter in many words, even in controversial ones like ain’t, which is a contraction of . . . well, of . . . er . . . uh . . .

Anyway, the words “isn’t,” “wasn’t,” “rock ‘n’ roll,” and” y’alls” are also good examples. Speaking of y’alls, it’s worth noting that the apostrophe not only can replace more than one letter, but even more than one number. While writing about decades, people often mistakenly refer to the roaring 20’s and the turbulent 60’s, but actually, they are the ’20s and the ’60s, with the apostrophe replacing “19” in those examples.

Now, regarding those peeving apostrophes used for possessives: Don’t get me started. My grammar school English teacher used to remind us that there are more exceptions to the rules in our language than there are rules, and the apostrophe is a prime example. She admonished us to remember, for example, that “it’s” is the contraction for “it is,” while “its” is the possessive form. Tip of the iceberg my friends. Know this for the next time you’re not sure if you’re using an apostrophe correctly as a possessive: You’re not alone. Decades later I’m still trying to remember all the exceptions to all the rules.

Finally, there is the use of the apostrophe for indicating the plurals of letters, numbers and symbols. For instance, the word “aardvark” starts with two A’s. And my wife’s IQ of 199 has two 9’s. (Yes, I AM trying to get out of the doghouse for something. I have no shame.)

And if that isn’t enough, the apostrophe is occasionally used for whatever! Take mm. Yes, it’s the abbreviation for millimeter, but stick an apostrophe between the letters and we’re reminded that Campbell’s soups are m’m m’m good.

If you think it’s hard for us to remember all the rules and the exceptions that overrule them, imagine what it must be like for my German friend, Claus. All I did was text him and remind him to bring a boys’ soccer ball to practice.

“Which boy’s ball?” he asked.

“The boys’ ball — for the whole team,” I wrote back.

“OK, I think its in the equipment room.”

“You mean it’s in the equipment room.”

“Bitte (please) stop, your making my head hurt.”

“You mean you’re making my head hurt.”

For some reason, he never showed up to practice.

Recently the Maine Legislature stripped the “troublesome apostrophe” out of Veteran’s Day, saying that Veterans Day doesn’t belong to one veteran or multiple veterans, but is a day to honor all of them. The U.S. Defense Department agrees. Now that’s something worth fighting for.

Finally, here’s a little local possessive apostrophe trivia: The apostrophe in the sign on the front of the Lewiston Marden’s store is three feet tall, according to the sign painter. D’oh!

Jim Witherell of Lewiston is a writer and lover of words whose work includes “L.L. Bean: The Man and His Company” and “Ed Muskie: Made in Maine.”


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