Last week I had occasion to go by the first street we lived on when we came to Aberdeen over 20 years ago, Wrights’ and Coopers’ Place:
It is a very picturesque little lane. We lived at the far end:
And you can imagine how many times we had to spell out the address. “Wrights’ and Coopers’ Place: W-R-I-G-H-T-S-apostrophe – yes, apostrophe after the s – okay, nevermind the apostrophe, space, C-O-O… ” and by the time we got to the second apostrophe we had given up.
Seeing this interesting and punctuationally-challenging street again happened just after I’d taught some first-year university students about basic punctuation. I had quickly gone over how we use the apostrophe to denote possession: Christine‘s jacket but the students’ books. I also covered its versus it’s (“it’s only ever means two things: ‘it is’ and ‘it has’). Afterwards a student came up and said: “Do you mean that you could have students AND student’s, and both would be correct?” I said, yes, and students’ could also be correct. It was one of those light-bulb moments for him, and he asked me: “Why didn’t anyone ever explain this to me in school? I’ve never understood the difference before now!”
Alas, I have no answer to that question. Why indeed should a student with a thirst for understanding be denied an explanation of the use of the apostrophe? Unless of course his teachers were equally baffled? Perhaps for the next workshop I should march them down to Wrights’ and Coopers’ Place and explain about how there must have been more than one wheelwright, and more than one barrel-maker (cooper), and hence the apostrophes come after the s.
Going there again brought back many happy memories.
The best memory was of going, just after Christmas, to the cattery (where we had been visitors twice a week since August) and bringing our lovely cats home:
It wasn’t a very big flat, but it was about ten times as big as their cage at the quarantine kennels, and they raced about like maniacs. That was a very happy day. And Tinker and Mischka didn’t really care about apostrophes.