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story.lead_photo.caption Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Apostrophe abuse Illustration - Photo by Nikki Dawes

International Apostrophe Day is Aug. 16 (but take note that some sources say Aug. 15). I don't need to bake a cake to celebrate because every day is an apostrophe day for me and my kind.

That makes me unfit to serve on the Domestic Names Committee of the United States Board on Geographic Names. This federal panel makes rulings on place names.

The panel's prime purpose is to standardize geographical names for the federal government. The board doesn't decide what the names will be; it instead approves or declines names that states, cities, counties and other municipalities have submitted.

My problem is that the board snuffs out apostrophes in nearly all place names. Two examples are Pikes Peak and Harpers Ferry.

The reasoning is that these places are not owned by the people for whom they are named. Pikes Peak gets its name from explorer Zebulon Montgomery Pike, who first saw the mountain in Colorado. But it doesn't belong to him. And Robert Harper had a decent business near the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers in West Virginia, but he doesn't own the area.

In recent years, the board has approved the names of Jimmys Peak in New York, Captain Roys Reef in Florida and Bartletts Narrows in Maine. The apostrophe is omitted so that no one believes that the peak belongs to Jimmy, the reef belongs to Roy or the Narrows belong to Bartlett.

The logic falls off a little when it comes to Crows Nest, Maine. Are board members afraid the crows will band together and take over? What about Not Annies Canyon in Utah? It says right in the name that it's not Annie's. I don't even know what to say about Devils Ass Peak in California.

The committee has allowed only five apostrophes as possessives in more than a century of requests. Local protests put the apostrophe back in Martha's Vineyard, Mass., after 40 years. The others are Ike's Point, N.J.; John E's Pond, R.I. (but where is the period after E?); Carlos Elmer's Joshua View, Ariz.; and Clark's Mountain, Ore.

Oh, and to help you enjoy the day, visit


Concocting a reason to play with my phone at work this week, I did a search for grammar apps and found almost 1,500 results.

Labeling some of those apps as "grammar" ones, however, is generous. Hangman (in 3-D even!), Word Search, Shake-a-Phrase and Moron Test don't qualify.

I downloaded a few free apps that promised to test my grammar knowledge. "Free" turned out to be a misnomer. When I tried to use one after the other, the first question was usually, "which set of questions would you like to buy now?"

One decent one was MyGrammarLab, which had tests and a glossary. If you've found a good grammar app, let me know.

Sources: The Wall Street Journal, United States Board on Geographic Names, Merriam-Webster.

Reach Bernadette at

ActiveStyle on 08/14/2017

Print Headline: Apostrophe abuse is rampant in U.S.


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