Introducing the Seasonal Apostrophe

I mentioned my mad summer wasping job last month. I have no particular excuse for doing bonkers things for a living except that sometimes they provide good fodder for books, but I wasn’t expecting this one to introduce me to a whole new concept in punctuation. Maybe being an apostrophile means that you find such joys everywhere but I have to share this one. Here is the story of the seasonal apostrophe.

This is the third summer I have spent killing wasps for a living. And it’s the third year The Boss and I have debated the seasonal apostrophe, proudly invented by The Boss himself. It amuses us but it also creates an annual row about my van’s livery.

The trouble is that the official wasp seasonal apostrophe moving day (WSAMD) changes from year to year depending on the weather, spring temperatures, rainfall, etc. So, we don’t know whether we will be setting up my summer season’s wasping vehicle before or after WSAMD.

At the start of the bug season, from sometime in early April to mid June-ish, any nest inhabited by a wasp is a wasp’s nest. There’s just the one in there, the queen coming out of hibernation and building a few cells for her first batch of larvae. Then, all of a sudden, the larvae hatch! From then until the end of the season it’s a wasps’ nest. If you are a bit of a punctuation fanatic, as the Boss and I both are, then you have to accept that for part or all of the season the advertising will be wrong. It hurts but it can’t be helped.

Himself opts for the no apostrophe solution, reasoning that most people don’t notice and it’s better than having it in the wrong place part of the time. I would prefer the hassle of ordering several extra apostrophes and sticking them on and prising them off as and when required…but by the time I arrive on location for the season, all is ordered and waiting. I am tempted to solve the problem with a sneaky moveable magnetic apostrophe or several but when I suggested this The Boss pointed out that they would fly off at 70mph on motorways. I might try it anyway next year, my apostrophe-less van upsets me daily. In fact, if I bought lots I could pop them on other people’s vehicles too, correcting punctuation howlers in car parks willy-nilly. It might get a bit pricey but the satisfaction would be worth it.

I am tickled to bits by the seasonal apostrophe, you might be able to tell. And I’m telling you about it partly because at this time of year it’s hard to think/write about anything but wasps. (I got one inside my protective veil today, it was hard to think about anything else for ages.) But there is a sort of point to the daft ramblings of a part-time pestie. I love the English language, every aspect of it. I have favourite words of the month, note down phrases which amuse me, correct posters and notices, and rant uncontrollably when the BBC takes to verbing. I am currently obsessed by a sign in Lytham St Anns (they spell it without an apostrophe) which reads ‘Nearly New Baby Sale’. I won’t settle down until I have photographed it. I was a proofreader and copy editor before I began to write and I know many of us came to writing that way. But is it essential? I can’t imagine being someone for whom the story is more important than the grammar but I know that it’s possible because reviews and comments on Amazon and Goodreads tell me so.

I gather that it’s entirely possible to be a great writer and not have a robust opinion on the oxford comma, although it’s a difficult concept to grasp. I’m actually quite pleased that we don’t all obsess over the nuts and bolts of language, otherwise someone else might have invented the seasonal apostrophe. And we are stupidly proud of it.

If you happen to be on the roads of Lancashire next summer and you encounter a flying magnetic apostrophe, you’ll know I’ve decided to unleash the inner obsessive.

Next month, something a little more sensible.

Author: Carolyn Steele

Carolyn writes websites, copy and nonsense about emigrating. She also occasionally ambles off to do something daft in case it’s interesting enough to write about. Her latest book grew from the blog Trucking in English, and you can learn more at her blog and her Amazon author page.

19 thoughts on “Introducing the Seasonal Apostrophe”

  1. I’m puzzled as to how your semicolons turned into commas; it is somewhat annoying.
    “(I got one inside my protective veil today, it was hard to think about anything else for ages.)”
    “I’m actually quite pleased that we don’t all obsess over the nuts and bolts of language, otherwise someone else might have invented the seasonal apostrophe.”

      1. I think its a Kiwi thing too. My critique group get hysterical when I use one as Tessa wants to. I never knew it was one of those things that some countries do and some countries don’t until now though.

  2. The phrase “Baby Sale” has made me giggle for years. Every time I see it in an ad, I want to shout: “They’re selling babies again! That’s illegal!” 😀 But I guess they only sell nearly-new babies in England. Maybe that’s all right, then. 😀

  3. *shaking my head*

    Carolyn, you have way too much time on your hands.

    *whispers so no one other than Carolyn can hear, I’m a firm believer in the Oxford comma and I’m glad to hear they aren’t selling used babies, only new ones, in Lytham St Anns. I think I’d choose the same as your boss on the seasonal apostrophe dispute, mainly because I’m lazy and would hate to have to deal with moving apostrophes mid-season after a long, hot day of hunting them down.*

  4. Every time I see a sign for a baby sale, I ask my son if we should buy one, and without fail he says, “No, mom, they’re selling baby STUFF, not BABIES.” Someday, I like to believe, he’ll appreciate my preservation of the language.

    Also, I firmly believe in the Oxford comma, and you better believe my son’s homework will reflect that, no matter what his teachers might think about it.

  5. Love it, Carolyn, thank you for the laugh! If your vehicle has a vinyl wrap, you could try a black Sharpie for your flexible punctuation needs; your pre-seasonal apostrophe will come right off with a little Purell on a tissue. Don’t ask me how I know this.

  6. I love the idea of the magnetic apostrophe, Carolyn. In my younger days I carried a white-out pen and a magic marker around with me to correct any erroneous signage (mostly apostrophe inaccuracies) I came across.

    1. Quite right too. I used to take a red pen to work in my early days as an ambulance driving grunt. I’d correct all the routine orders up on notice boards, which annoyed people until they twigged I could also write accident reports for them which obfuscated the facts enough to avoid trouble. 🙂

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