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Tuesday, November 27, 2001

Currently battering my head against the 4th draft of the-thing-that-doesn't-seem-to-have-a-lot-to-do-with-the-Ramayana-any-longer, while trying to assemble the Manara Desire story in my head. I think it takes place in Scotland (the Manara story, not the not-the-Ramayana. That still takes place in a long-ago India).

So over in the FAQ submissions a debate continues to rage concerning apostrophes. One particular apostrophe at any rate. For example:

Does FAQs really need an apostrophe as seen on the navigation list? FAQ's? *Really*?Does that mean there's something the FAQ owns about which we should be told? Or is there something missing between Q and s?

and, in the opposite camp,

With the "FAQ's" vs. "FAQs" thing, I believe that apostrophes are quite properly used to separate the pluralizing s from the noun being pluralized when that noun is an abbreviation or a number, or something like that. So it's proper to write "The 60's" or "I have fifty CD's in my collection", or "Neil Gaiman's FAQ's are numerous". Whether this is still a current usage or not, I don't know, and personally I often write "CDs" or "'60s" myself. But it's probably in someone's style manual.

and to find out which style manual....

Hi Neil-

Because I'm nitpicky, and because I used to work in a chain bookstore that constantly made grammatical errors on their signs(they have since gone bankrupt, that should tell you something), I can tell you the answer to why FAQ's is possessive: for an acronym, one has the option of using an apostrophe. (See for the scoop!)We used to mock their "Bargain CD's" sign until we looked it up and found out it was correct. Luckily, they made plenty of other mistakes, so we were never at a loss for entertainment!

And the quote from the grammarbook site says:

Rule 9. Using an apostrophe to show plurals of numbers, letters, and figures is optional.

Examples She consulted with three M.D.�s. OR She consulted with three M.D.s.
She went to three M.D.s� offices. (plural possessive)

although someone else came in and pointed out that

In your journal entry for November 16th, you quote a question about the FAQ link being possessive.
I have always been under the impression that an abbreviation or an acronym made plural requires the use of an apostrophe followed by an 's'.
Unfortunately this is only a part answer because FAQ is already plural. It stands for Frequently Asked Questions. To write FAQ's (or FAQs) would be like writing Frequently Asked Questionses, thus being a good approximation of how Gollum would say it.

(Which last has got to be pushing it a bit, hasn't it? Usage certainly gives us FAQs and an FAQ to indicate the difference between a single frequently asked question and a whole bunch of them.)

So there's certainly a case to be made for FAQ's as a formation of equal validity to FAQs. (I don't like it, and wouldn't use it. But it's certainly valid.)

You'll be happy to hear the good folk of the Apostrophe Protection Society, over at have something of a problem with this. For that matter, a hasty google search shows that there are a lot of people who feel very strongly about the whole CDs versus CD's thing.

And I shrug, and look at the Apostrophe Protection Society site and remember, as an interested young man, attending a meeting of the Queen's English Society, which sounds very important, but which consisted of several people sitting in a chilly church hall somewhere in Sussex saying things to each other in a shocked voice like:

"I mean, he used anticipate to mean expect!"

"Well, that's not as bad as using hopefully to mean one hopes"

and so on, for several hours. Then there was tea and cakes.

I get to believe several contradictory things here. On the one hand, I believe that, ultimately, grammar is descriptive, not prescriptive. Words change meanings with time. So may apostrophes. On the other hand, I get very grumpy when people use momentarily to mean in a moment, or enormity to mean enormousness. They are good words and mean something. Why waste them?

The best book I ever read about Grammar and the English language (better than Bill Bryson's Mother Tongue; better than Fowler) is Hugh Sykes Davies' wonderful Grammar Without Tears. (I found my copy somewhere in the stacks at Powell's in Portland. Only bought it because Hugh Sykes Davies wrote two or three of my favourite Apocalyptic poems -- here's one, and here's another.) (The Apocalyptics were a tiny British art movement, spearheaded by poet (later a novelist) Henry Treece, who took the bits they liked from Surrealism and the bits they liked from bardic and traditional poetry and declared themselves, pompously but honestly, a movement. Some really good writing in there -- particularly from Treece, Hugh Sykes Davies and Nicholas Moore, and I've never quite been able to understand the utter loathing with which the UK poetry establishment viewed them -- there's an astonishingly rude description of them in the Oxford Book of 20th Century Poetry, for example.) (Dylan Thomas was an Apocalyptic for about half an hour.)

Sorry. About to go off into a wandering digression onto 1930s British poets that probably wouldn't be of much interest to anyone much except for me.

Grammar Without Tears is long out of print these days. There are copies for sale at the various online places that point you at used books (like bookfinder and abebooks, and they are pretty cheap (unless you fail to notice that the same book you can order for $14.95 can be bought through Alibris for $25.95). It's a really readable history of English, the language and the grammar, that is entertaining, sensible, and will teach you things.

Henry Treece's Collected Poems is also a fine out-of-print book, if you can find it. And if you want a book with some of this stuff in that won't involve talking to used-book dealers (me, I like talking to used-book dealers) Surrealist Poetry In English, edited by Edward B Germain, is a wonderful place to start.

(Oops. That's out of print too. Bugger.)

& so to bed.

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