The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

O Apostrophe, thou art but a backwards open quote

Unfortunately, as Paul Lukas points out, people have forgotten the difference:

Here's the deal: Virtually any software that includes a typography function (whether for word processing, desktop publishing, graphic design, or whatever) now employs something called "smart quotes." The idea behind smart quotes is that the software recognizes when there's a blank space immediately before or after a quotation mark and adds the appropriate curvature to the mark, creating open-quotes and close-quotes. That way you end up with nicely curved quotation marks instead of straight or "neutered" marks (like the ones you see on most of this page).

This all works fine unless you have a word or term that begins with an apostrophe, like ’til or ’em (as in "Bring ’em on"). Since the keystroke for an apostrophe is the same as the one for a single quote mark, the software improperly interprets the space and the keystroke as the start of a quotation and imparts the wrong curvature to the mark. There's a way to override the smart quotes and impose a proper apostrophe in these situations (on a Mac, you type option-shift-close-bracket), but an increasing number of writers, editors, and designers either aren't bothering to do so, don't feel it's necessary, or don't even realize it's necessary. The result is a cascade of improperly oriented apostrophes on signs, on billboards, in TV commercials, in the names of businesses, and even on mainstream media web sites. Call it the apostrophe catastrophe.

To the extent I have pet peeves, it's a big one of mine. For example, there's a coffee shop at the corner of Webster and Sheffield called Jam 'n Honey—or, rather, Jam ‘n Honey—with a half-meter-high open quote where an apostrophe should be.

Actually, they're a two-fer. They're also missing a second apostrophe, as ’n’ drops off both the a and d from "and." What the typography-challenged proprietors have there is "jam an honey," which is just stupid.

This is how civilization crashes: simple acts of negligence.

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