Baker and the apostrophe

Baker’s Reflections (1770) includes, among others, rules on the proper usage of the apostrophe (XXV). According to his remarks, this punctuation mark ought to be avoided when the writer intends to indicate a plural and he also encourages the audience to write words at full length.

greengrocer's apostrophe

He was dealing with the so-called grocer’s apostrophe though his concern with such punctuation mark did not surprise me as it was “one of the greatest bêtes noires of popular prescriptivism”, as Joan Beal described it. Rather, I was surprised by the slip I came across:

(…) “The Words ought to be written at full length, the Pronunciation being the Same when the E is inserted as when it is omitted and it’s Place supplied with an Apostrophe” (sic.) (1770: 26)

Thanks to this, I can figure out why the apostrophe became a matter of concern in the 18th century. Even though he attempted to lay down general and hands-on rules, Baker also committed “abuses” since the usage of the apostrophe was still far from being regular. The proof of the pudding is in the eating! Though, we must also consider the possibility of Bakers’ typesetter as the responsible for such typo… who knows.

Baker, R. (1770). Reflections on the English Language, In the Nature of Vaugelas’s Reflections on the French. London.

Beal, Joan C. (2010) “The grocer’s apostrophe: popular prescriptivism in the 21st century.” English Today. 26 (2): 57-64

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