I start with the "centerpiece" stories on the front page (A1), move to the publisher's feedback column on A2, then work my way back to the editorial and letters to the editor, and so on. This Sunday I made it all the way to A5 before I found my first uh-oh moment.
It was a headline about a third of the way down the page. I couldn't get to the story itself because I got stuck on the headline: "Virginia is for felons? 1980's petty theft law lingers," by two reporters from the Associated Press.
Did you catch it, the misplaced apostrophe? At least I assumed it was misplaced, because here's what I learned about how apostrophe placement/usage affects the meaning:
1980's = something "belonging to" or attributed to the year 1980
So as I read it, it would mean the law was enacted in 1980.
1980s = the general time period between 1980 and 1989
So the law was enacted in the decade of the 1980s.
1980s' = Well now I'm just confused....
I know, most of you are probably shaking your heads thinking, WHO CARES, LEAH? It's the story that counts! You've probably already read the story while I'm stuck at the headline, trying to decide the exact meaning of the stupid apostrophe! I can't help it though. That's just how I'm wired.
As a kid I excelled in English and grammar, scoring way at the top of the standardized tests. At my first job in the FBI, I was pulled from the typing pool to work on a team writing staff commendation letters because I scored high on my grammar placement test there. (My first professional writing job!)
But what was a blessing back then has turned into a curse in these days of lackadaisical spelling and grammar rules--because errors are everywhere. I see them in television commercials, in the little news tickers running at the bottom of news programs, in the closed captioning on television shows.... Trust me, there is an endless supply of grammar goofs in the world, and each one annoys the you-know-what out of me.
None of us like finding errors, especially copy editors, and we have an especially talented group. One young woman, close to my heart, has a sign on her desk that reads: "I'm silently correcting your grammar." (I want one!)
So I chalked the error up to the fact that it's a wire story. Our editors are so busy proofing/editing the locally produced content, they might not be able to pay much attention to the wire stories. But I must say I felt vindicated when Googled it and found that other news outlets ran the same story but with the correct (in my opinion) headline!
(This is from the Boston Herald online.)
Now I'm trying to figure out how to respond to the critics who have probably already called our feedback line with comments like: "You morons! There's no apostrophe in that headline!! This is why no one trusts the news anymore!!"
Finally, to put it out of my mind, I read the story (which is about how Virginia has a terrifying low dollar threshold for a theft to be classified as a felony rather than misdemeanor) and decided a misplaced apostrophe in a headline is probably pretty low on my worrisome threshold.
For fun, here are a few quotes about grammar. They made me smile. Maybe they'll give you a chuckle as well!
Sometimes with 'The New Yorker,' they have grammar rules that just don't feel right in my mouth.
Author David Sedaris
Anarchy is as detestable in grammar as it is in society."
Author Maurice Druron
"Texting has reduced the number of waste words, but it has also exposed a black hole of ignorance about traditional - what a cranky guy would call correct - grammar."..............................
Author Richard Corliss
Leah writes stories of mystery and romance, good and evil and the power of love. As much as she loves the use of proper grammar, she tries really, really hard to be respectful of others' need to flout the rules! Learn more at leahstjames.com. You'll also find her posting odds and ends about her life on her Facebook page.