Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Punctuator.

Reading a quite good detective novel, a British one by Sarah Dunant in a so-far short series with a female detective Hannah Wolfe. It's titled Fatlands. (As an aside, apparently I could have bought a used copy on Amazon for $0.07, instead of paying whatever I paid for it at Powell's. Oh well. Support your independent bookseller.)

In any case, in my reading I stumbled upon the following sentence:
"It wasn't as good an address as her husband's: a purpose-built apartment block off Shepherd's Bush Green, with one of those front gardens that is no one's responsibility except the neighborhood dogs'."
I paused over that plural possessive, with its apostrophe right before the period. And I must say, rarely have I seen a mark of punctuation seem to call attention to itself, to its correctness and its fastidiousness, as this little, even itty bitty, mark. "How smart! how splendidly edited am I!" this bit of prose proclaims, so self-satisfied. Smug, even.

Why? Why end a sentence with an apostrophe? Why not
". . . for which no one takes responsibility but the neighborhood dogs"?
" . . . which seemed to have been tended only by the neighborhood dogs"?
I like the sentence ending with the word "dogs"--it's emphatic and snappy. Well-played, Ms. Dunant! And I suppose as a person who takes more than the normal amount of pleasure in punctuation, I should be happy with this flourish, this crisp yet ostentatious apostrophe. But I say, this level of conspicuous show-offery becomes no one.


  1. I like punctuation and I think there is a certain pleasure in its preciseness, so I like the detail here. Don't get me wrong, I'm not really bothered by missing, simplified, or wrong punctuation but I do like to read a text with careful punctuation.

  2. curious, would you feel the same if it were singular possessive?

  3. BTW, I wanted to thank you for mentioning Ms. Dunant in an earlier post...I picked up the one about the spa from the library and enjoyed it immensely...

    Me, I'm not sure I'd have noticed that apostrophe. Don't get me wrong--I notice the egregious errors, but I ain't so clever as y'all. Are. Clever. (Never know when to stop...)



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