Expressions with apostrophes

Someone recently wrote me to complain that the expression “at arms’ length” is often written without its apostrophe. I began to think of other such expressions containing a possessive apostrophe, and came up with the following:

Apostrophes are often mistakenly omitted in common expressions such as ”at arm’s length” and “at wits’ end.” Note that the position of the apostrophe before or after the S depends on whether the word is a plural form ending in S. You hold someone at the length of your arm (singular), but are at the end of your wits (plural).

Other examples: “the people’s choice,” “for old times’ sake,” and “for heaven’s sake.”

Why is the place name in England “Land’s End” but the American corporation “Lands’ End”? It was just a mistake, and now the company is stuck with its misplaced apostrophe.

You’ll find this, and much more, in my main entry on apostrophes.

People have come up with various ingenious explanations for the misplaced apostrophe in Lands’ End, but the company admits its mistake on its own Web site.

Gary Comer, founder-chairman of the corporation explains:
Incidentally... ..a lot of people ask why the apostrophe in Lands’ End is in the wrong place. There have been some silly explanations along the way, but the truth is, it was a mistake.

It was a typo in our first printed piece, and we couldn’t afford to reprint and correct it. In the years since, the misplaced apostrophe has continued to grace our name and our label. And while it has prompted some raised eyebrows among English teachers, it also sets us apart as a company whose continuing concern for what's best for the customer is unmistakably human.

It was nice of him to admit the error, but why did he have to go on to imply that the mistake makes the company appear endearingly human while English teachers have inhumanly strict standards? Is the nonstandard ellipsis at the beginning of this statement also meant to humanize his prose?



FreeFlow Diving in Dili said...

I know this is probably not the place to ask, but,.. is there a single instance when I cannot use 'transport' instead of the unwieldy and syllable rich 'transportation'?

many thanks.
Wayne Lovell

Beaver said...

In Australia it's quite common in self-published (and sometimes professionally published!) books to see a "FORWARD" where one would expect a "FOREWORD". I wonder if this is known in the USA?

Paul Brians said...

I cover this in my entry on "forward/forwards/foreword" on p. 97 of the book and on my Web site.