Saturday, January 14, 2012

Back-to-back gripes

My father-in-law, a copy curmudgeon of a higher order than I, and a sports fan of a higher or-- ... wait, I need only say "a sports fan" because I'm not a sports fan of any order -- requested that I address an apparently common phrase among sportswriters: "back-to-back-to-back" (as in "back-to-back-to-back games" or "back-to-back-to-back victories").

I correctly guessed that this means "three consecutive," but you don't need to be a word nerd to realize that the phrase does not make sense, if you really think about it. If the first two things are back to back, there's no back for the third thing to back up to. As my father-in-law says, "There's no figure in that figure of speech."

Another remark -- this one from a sportscaster my husband heard on the radio -- that smacks of too many knocks to the head on the gridiron: "one-game winning streak." I'm without words.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Party at the Conklins'!

No, we're not really having a party. Not anytime soon, anyway. But I got your attention, right?

I promised a post on using both the plural and the possessive with surnames. And you've waited with bated breath. So here it is. Now, why does the title of this post have s' at the end?

First of all, it's plural. Hence the "s." There are three of us Conklins (four if you include the dog). One Conklin; four Conklins. (Please see my previous post for more on this.)

Second, it's possessive. Hence the apostrophe. "How is it possessive?" you might ask. "There's nothing after Conklins' to show what they possess." True. But what is implied is that the party is at the Conklins' house, which they in fact possess (or possess in part, anyway -- the bank that owns the majority of it rarely holds parties there. Having too much fun crunching numbers, I guess. Or counting their (our) money.).

So, are we clear? The only time you need an apostrophe with your surname is to show possession, as above. Although, come to think of it, you could also use an apostrophe to make a surname a contraction: That Conklin's a genius. In which case the apostrophe comes before the "s" because you're talking about only one of the Conklins (the dog, of course). Let's just not use that one too often, OK?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy holidays from the Jones'? Jone's? Joneses?

I realize I'm a little late in having this be a timely post, but I was reminded several times during the season that the plural form of family names is still a sticking point for most people (even if they don't know it).

Much like the grocer's apostrophe (seen in signs like "Apple's on sale!"), the plural-surname apostrophe often makes an appearance when it should not. Since we're simply talking plural here (not possessive or contraction), there's no need for an apostrophe.

If you have a name like Conklin, it's easy: you simply add an "s" to make it plural, just as you would with apple, chair or dog. Happy holidays from the Conklins. No apostrophe needed.

But what if your name is Morris or Jones? These already end in "s." Well, what would you do with the word glass to make it plural? Add "es," right? Same here. Happy holidays* from the Morrises and Joneses. Look funny? You'll get used to it.

Of course, you could avoid this issue altogether by printing "... from the Jones family." There's always a way out.

Up next: What to do if you want to make it plural and possessive.

* I have intentionally left "holidays" lowercase. Unless the second word is a proper noun (as in "Merry Christmas"), I don't see a reason for capping it. Same with "Happy birthday." Just my two cents.