Monday, 19 March 2012
Potato's, tomato's and tornado's - a job for @SadApostrophe?
It's common to blame falling education standards for all the apostrophes that either go AWOL or turn up uninvited. It's easy to find examples of poor apostrophe hygiene throughout history, though, so this is just another bit of education-bashing. The eviction of the Waterstone's apostrophe (or should than now be 'of Waterstones' apostrophe?) has led to the poor thing setting up a twitter account as @SadApostrophe to aid his/her/its search for another job. Well, I've a suggestion.
The much-maligned greengrocer's apostrophe actually has a valid claim to existence in some cases. Researching Renaissance maps for a historical novel, I came across some that marked dangers to look out for - of the 'hereby monsters' variety, but more plausible. Around the Caribbean, the sailor was to look out for Tornado's. There were no other misplaced apostrophes. Do greengrocers sell Tornado's? I think not.
But suddenly, all becomes clear.... the English spelling is 'tornadoes', of course. But 'tornado' - which is first found in the 1550s, just 20 years before the period I was researching - is probably a mangled form of the Spanish 'tronada'. Navigators who recognised the foreignness of 'tornado' were perhaps using the apostrophe to indicate the 'e' missing from a normally-formed English plural of a word ending in 'o', as in 'toes'. (One theory suggests that the possessive apostrophe always represents a missing 'e', that of the Old English genitive ending '-es'. I don't agree with that theory, but it's there if you like it.)
So that would mean Potatoes can legitimately be rendered Potato's and Tomatoes can be rendered Tomato's. But there is no excuse for Sprout's, Apple's or Pear's.
Could someone call @SadApostrophe and ask him to send in a CV, please?