The Law of Conservation of Apostrophes

Lunch at McDonald’s today, and – stop me if this is obvious and I’m just being a dolt – I was caught by the realisation that there’s something very metaphysical going on with apostrophes. It’s not just that people don’t have a clue any more how to use them – I mean, it’s true that they don’t have a clue, but it’s not just that. There are clearly greater forces at work, galactic accountants whose tireless job it is to make sure that the balance of apostrophes is maintained. The only way to maintain that balance, you see, is by making sure that each apostrophe is paired with the absence of an apostrophe. That’s their job. I imagine it’s a little like the electron/positron pairing whose accounting is managed in the office next door. Perhaps there are “a-neg-trophes”, such as were generated on a massive scale when the Hugh Grant/Sandra Bullock movie “Two Weeks Notice” opened in 2002.

Because – and this is the key point – only misused apostrophes seem to count in the credit column, and only absent apostrophes seem to count in the debit column. Apostrophes that quietly and precisely do their job are somehow inert, chargeless. But when McDonald’s decides to launch a “Fruit ‘n Walnut Salad”, uh-oh, suddenly there’s a massive apostrophe deficit, because all the apostrophes missing from the right-hand-side of each contracted “and” have to go somewhere. Just hafta. But where? Well, as in many situations of purely physical imbalance, things much prefer to right themselves as simply and as closely as possible.

So, you’ve been wondering why suddenly everyone who so much as glances in the direction of McDonald’s is “lovin’ it”? Sure, it might look like a pathetic attempt to buy some hip, but it’s really just nature balancing the books. Squish out an apostrophe here, it’ll find somewhere to squish back there. My concern now is that, since the cup I drank from presented a phone number and exhorted me to call and express my full and frank opinions of today’s meal, under the heading of “How are we doin’?”, this has either caused, or was caused by, a sudden WHOMP into existence elsewhere of a huge number of a-neg-trophies. And I realise that it’s just the law of conservation of apostrophes taking effect, but I watch with trepidation to see where they’ve appeared. Do let me know if you find them, won’t you?

(Oh, and while we’re in McDonald’s, just what the hell does it mean to say that “I’m lovin’ it”, anyhow? Someone needs to look a little closer at how the present progressive tense works. Personally, I’m hating it. I haven’t been hating something so much for a while.)


  • Janice: You did indeed, but the motivations are clearly different. The apostrophe accountants I’m proposing here couldn’t care less about the correctness of apostrophes. They’re there merely to make sure that the numbers add up. So that any time someone drops one, it gets shoved in incorrectly somewhere else, and vice versa. The Apostrophe Protection Society is Blimpishly pedantic, whereas the Apostrophe Accountants are merely very, very good at their jobs.

    Vic: :-P~~~~. (Sorry, I don’t know the HTML for that.)

  • Paul: Well, duh. I understood the oh-so-subtle distinction. Despite the thick as an omelette impression I obviously give off, such things are not lost on me. I was merely suggesting that perhaps you’ve been thinkin about apostrophe’s rather a lot lately.

  • I have just splurged and bought myself Eats Shoots and Leaves. I have only just gotten it home and taken a quick peek at it. I feel smug. I feel my heart racing. I feel sure that soon I will be wallowing with the book it as if it were pornography.

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