Apostrophe Catastrophe

Apostrophes sort of resemble elusive, wriggly creatures, and in a sense, that's what they are. Apostrophes often worm their way into plural nouns where they don't belong, and the English language will always have writers who mix up your and you're and its and it's. But in the past two decades or so, apostrophes have a new trick. They've learned to flip themselves upside-down.

For example, take a look at the apostrophes in this movie poster...

...on this greeting card...

...and on this ironic T-shirt.

These three phrases indeed need apostrophes to signify that letters or numbers are omitted. Yet, the punctuation marks in these examples are not apostrophes. They are opening single quotation marks.

Microsoft Word is at fault for this state of affairs. The program has a feature called “smart quotes” which automatically creates curly quotation marks when it senses the user is writing a quotation. The problem is that the program cannot identify a word beginning with an apostrophe. When the user has smart quotes turned on, Word will instead render a curly single quotation mark, and only attentive, tech-savvy writers know to correct the program's correction.

The problem has become so entrenched that many people aren't sure how an apostrophe is supposed to look. Flipped apostrophes now show up in handwritten signs and on embroidered caps where Word's autocorrect feature holds no dominion. Case in point: in 2005, the Baltimore Orioles came out with a logo marred by a flipped apostrophe.

As a Baltimore Sun writer notes, the Orioles haven't had a winning season since 1997. She interviewed the ESPN blogger who publicized the Orioles' mistake and asked him if he thought there was a connection. He said, "I do think the same management approach that results in lousy baseball can also lead to lousy grammar and lousy typography."