Apostrophe

by Andy Polaine on November 18, 2008

in editorial

apostrophe.gif

Thanks to everyone who has e-mailed or commented with positive feedback about the launch of The Designers Review of Books. By far the most common question has been, “I don’t mean to be picky, but shouldn’t there be an apostrophe in the title?”.

It is good to see designers so eagle-eyed about apostrophes, but as we wrote in the About section, we think the answer is either, “no” or, “it depends”. Here is the rationale:

There could be an apostrophe in the title, but it depends on your reading of the words. We thought long and hard about this and asked for a lot of opinions. It could be a review of books belonging to a designer (i.e., one of us) and thus The Designer’s Review of Books. Or it could belong to more than one of us and thus be The Designers’ Review of Books. That is, if we felt grand enough to call ourselves The Designer(s). But it is a review of books for designers, just as Publishers Weekly is a weekly for publishers (and they should know). So, no apostrophe.

Of course, if anyone can come up with a concrete explanation of why there should be one in the title, get in touch and maybe we’ll put it in. Personally, I prefer no apostrophe in ambiguous cases rather than badly placed ones.

UPDATE: Thank you all for the comments and debate. My will is broken, the apostrophe is there. Why Designer’s and not Designers’? Although there will be more than just one designer reviewing books and I like to think of this as a growing community of design bibliophiles, if it is a guide of any kind I feel it should also be personal to the reader. So, it’s yours, it’s mine and we’re all in it together.

Chris November 18, 2008 at 1:11 pm

Grammatically speaking, you’re on a patch of shaky ground here, and thus are correct in saying “no or it “depends.”

What you have there with “Designers” is what is sometimes referred to as a possessive construction. However, it might just as properly be said to constitute an attributive noun, rather than a possessive use of a noun. A noun functions attributively if it performs an adjectival role in modifying a following noun: e.g., city government, state highways, school custodian, consumer advocate. There seems little justification for restricting the attributive function to the singular noun, and such forms as “consumers group” and “taxpayers meeting” ought also to be allowed.

(All that almost verbatim from The Chicago Manual of Style, 14th edition, because they say it better than I could.)

Editor November 18, 2008 at 1:18 pm

Well that’s as clear as mud then, as they say. Thanks for finding that out for me though.

I had the same problem when I looked through my style manuals. Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition was no help either.

Jason November 18, 2008 at 1:21 pm

You might be better off if you leave off the “The”, actually. Designers Review of Books doesn’t look nearly as awkward or apostrophobic as The Designers Review of Books does. It’s quite off that way.

Editor November 18, 2008 at 2:28 pm

Good point. Feels less grand though :-)

Simon Fodden November 18, 2008 at 2:58 pm

Think of it this way: if it were “a review of books for” women, would it sound right to call The Women Review of Books? Don’t think so. It’s the ‘s’ in the plural that let’s you have it both ways. Put in the apostrophe.

Editor November 18, 2008 at 3:26 pm

I can see I might have to put this to the vote.

Dave November 18, 2008 at 3:44 pm

One of the only good resources I can find on this topic is this paper from the 1958 journal of the American Dialect Society, which you can probably access through your library. It says that apostrophe usage varies, but that books and magazines tend to favor the usage of the apostrophe, while association names (e.g. National Farmers Union) tend to omit the apostrophe.

Examples which favor an apostrophe:

A People’s History of the United States
The Farmer’s Almanac (or, alternatively, Farmers’ Almanac)
Ladies’ Home Journal

(Note that all of the above feature an article; I think it makes a difference. “Publishers Weekly” would be weirder as “The Publishers Weekly.” Moreover, it used to be called “The Publishers’ Weekly” — it’s unclear to me when it lost the article and apostrophe.)

In your reasoning regarding the possessive, consider that the “Designer” in the title doesn’t need to be a specific person (i.e., one of you or all of you). It can be a collective noun, referring to designers in general.

It’s unclear to me how a review of books for designers can be titled “The Designers Review of Books.” If “Designers” is an indirect object, then where is its preposition? I don’t believe it is an object; it is a possessive collective noun, and that merits an apostrophe, probably of the form “The Designers’ Review Of Books.” Just my 2 cents.

Neil November 18, 2008 at 11:13 pm

It’s a review for designers, by a designer. If the author is a designer, it’s The Designer’s Review — not that you are the Designer; rather, it’s The [Designer's] Review. Then, if we fellow designers like the site, we will identify with it and claim it, making it The [Designers'] Review. If it is for us, why can we not possess it?

Editor November 19, 2008 at 12:59 am

Dave and Neil – I’m edging towards being convinced here. If I do add the apostrophe, I think I’ll make it the plural possessive – it makes sense in this age of online communities.

Penny November 19, 2008 at 2:54 am

Exactly Neil – whether possess it because we created it or we possess it because it is given to us (or is ‘for’ us), we still possess it and therefore in ‘traditional’ punctuation should apostrophise it (or apostrophize it)! That being said – do we get to drop apostrophes altogether with open punctuation? Why not?

Editor November 19, 2008 at 3:06 am

The question for me is still whether it is an attributive noun or possessive construction. That depends on the intention of the writer. I originally intended the former, but I think I might change to the latter. I like the idea of it feeling jointly owned by the community.

Daniel November 19, 2008 at 3:30 am

Trying to be helpful, I had a look at the usually reliable Guardian Style Guide and it doesn’t help.

I reckon you should buck the trend completely and put the apostrophe after the first S: The Des’igners Review of Books.

Editor November 19, 2008 at 3:37 am

Maybe I should go for Teh’ Designers Review on teh interwebs?

Mitch November 19, 2008 at 11:13 pm

Hmm. Many interesting points here in these posts.

There are quite a few possible cases.

1. The For Case. Meaning: The review of books has been written for designers.
If this is what you mean, then I think it needs an apostrophe. As Simon Fodden points out in Post 5, if it were a review of books for women, we wouldn’t call it ‘The Women Review of Books’ we’d call it ‘The Women’s Review of Books’

2. The By Case. Meaning: The review of books was written by designers.
If this is what you mean, then you need an apostrophe. The phrase ‘Editor’s Picks’ has an apostrophe in it because the picking was done by the editor. If the reviewing was done by designers and this is what you mean, then you need an apostrophe.

3. The By and For Case. Meaning: The review of books was written by and for designers.
Because an apostrophe is needed in The For Case and in The By Case, it seems like it would be needed in The By and For Case.

4. The Possessive Case. Meaning: The review of books belongs to designers.
If this is what you mean, then you need an apostrophe somewhere, but I doubt that this is what you mean. Possession should be kept separate from The For Case. Think of The Farmer’s Almanac – it is for the farmer before the farmer purchases it. After the farmer purchases it, it is the farmer’s Farmer’s Almanac (and not the accountant’s Farmer’s Almanac).

5. The Attributive Noun Case. Meaning: I don’t think there is one.
I don’t know what this reading could be. The examples given by Chris in Post 1 seem different. A taxpayers meeting is a meeting consisting of taxpayers. A consumers group is a group consisting of consumers, perhaps with some non-consumers who want to protect consumers. A designers review could be a review of designers, but that’s not what you mean, and I don’t think that meaning is possible once you add ‘of books’ to the end of it, because then it’s obvious that the review is of books and not of designers. It seems like the review of books is by or for (or by and for) designers. It seems like when the plural form of a noun is used attributively that the word that follows it is something that can be composed of the plural noun. I don’t think articles make a difference to correctness, though they may serve to highlight incorrectness. In Dave’s post, Post 7, The National Farmers Union sounds the same to me as National Farmers Union. But a union is something that can be made of farmers, a meeting can be made of taxpayers, and a group can be made of consumers. A review, especially a review of books, cannot be made of designers. I don’t know if that difference makes a difference. But I still don’t see how the designers phrase can be read in a way similar to taxpayers meeting. Hmm. Okay so I just used the word ‘designers’ in the attributive noun way. I meant ‘the phrase that has to do with designers’ (and not ‘the phrase that has to do with taxpayers’). But what would a review of books that has to do with designers be if it were not a review of books by or for designers? What did you have in mind? Okay, I still don’t think there’s much sense to be made of The Attributive Noun Case.

6. The Crazy Case. Meaning: Designers are reviewing some new type of books called ‘of Books’
The Designers Review of Books. That’s that only way that I can make sense of the phrase without an apostrophe. But maybe I’m trying hard enough!

Editor November 20, 2008 at 1:24 am

Mitch, I think you win the prize for being the most thorough and I agree. I have been turning various versions around in my mind for the last few days and decided that, whilst the reviews will be by more than just me, it should be The Designer’s Review of Books as in The Scout’s Guide or The Ninja’s Manual to Throwing Stars, etc. If it was just Designers Review I think I would leave it, but the The and Of Books is important, I feel.

So, apostrophe coming soon.

poohugh November 20, 2008 at 6:14 am

Your headline is correct: you are using Designers as a proper noun like ‘The Bloomsbury Group Guide to Bloomsbury’, or ‘The Producers Stage Musical’. It is not possessive ‘The Designers’ in this sense does not refer to desginers in general, the definite article preceding Designers allows for no apostrophe to be needed.

If a company was called ‘The Designer Guide to Deisgn Books’ you would not expect them to take ownership of the Guide to Design Books; the lack of apostrophe is completely acceptable in this case, as in your case.

Editor November 20, 2008 at 7:48 am

Thanks poohugh, you’ve confirmed that it comes down to my intention as the writer, which is why my original response was “it depends”. It’s not getting any easier…

Jason November 20, 2008 at 7:52 am

As Poohugh might be saying, it could just be the name. As in The Harvard Law Review — that’s just the name. What if it was based out of Rutgers University? Then it would simply be “The Rutgers Law Review” with no apostrophe.

So if the name of the Review is simply “Designers” than you can put “The Designers Review of Books” with no apostrophe and defend it. But you will get a lot of angry emails. ;)

Editor November 20, 2008 at 7:58 am

Whilst I am sure I can grammatically defend – or, rather, defend the grammar of – no apostrophe, it seems to rely on the idea that this web site is by The Designers as an entity.

I feel, though, it’s more in keeping with something like The Bluffer’s Guides, which I was so hoping didn’t have an apostrophe when I Googled it. Sigh.

Or, now that I have started, I keep the idiosyncrasy and infuriate publishers when I contact them.

poohugh November 20, 2008 at 8:12 am

Not wanting to go off-message too much, but The Bluffer’s Guide and The Designers Review are two very different thing.

The Bluffer’s Guide is a how to, for all bluffers. It’s inclusive, it’s possessive: this is your guide to bluffing stuff.
The Designers Review is a review by The Designers, not for them. Is that right?
This is all important to me because i resided in Owens Park in Manchester, which kept me awake late at night, when i should have been getting out more.

Editor November 20, 2008 at 8:18 am

Well, it’s a review by designers for designers. The Designers is grand (and I like that), but again, it depends on whether I want to be possessive or not I suppose.

Wouldn’t Owens Park be after the name Owens though? It’s not Hyde’s Park, for example. Or was it named after someone called Owen?

Antonio November 20, 2008 at 10:24 am

Lots of debate, wow!

I say go with your feeling. But if you ARE going to alter it, I suggest tweaking the S’s at the end of designers and books, as they don’t fit the ending of a word because of the “little tail thingy” (technical term) to the right.

Enough about the name! Great reviews, which isn’t so good for me as my wish list will grow exponentially.

Mitch November 20, 2008 at 12:50 pm

7. The Attributive Proper Noun Case. Meaning: The review of books is affiliated somehow with an entity whose name is Designers.
I agree that this meaning could be acceptably punctuated without an apostrophe, but I wonder what the proper noun Designers is. If a book were titled ‘The Rutgers Review of New Jersey Restaurants’, I agree that an apostrophe after Rutgers or after New Jersey is unnecessary. But how are designers like Rutgers or New Jersey? Why would the word ‘designers’ be capitalized if it were not in the title of a book? What and where is the entity Designers?

Editor November 20, 2008 at 1:54 pm

Yes, I think you’re right. That’s what I interpreted that last point to mean. Who would have thought the apostrophe post would have been the most heavily read so far? I love it!

John Thompson November 20, 2008 at 2:05 pm

As an art director with an English lit degree, I have to say it’s very exciting to see all these designers debating points of punctuation. Of course if you just removed the “of,” you’d be left with a perfectly good–albeit quirky–sentence, and the matter would be settled.

Editor November 20, 2008 at 2:06 pm

Antonio – I’ll leave you to argue with Ale about his serifs on Buffet Script. I like them and I’m sure they won’t be a problem with “Designer’s”.

Editor November 20, 2008 at 2:08 pm

John – Designers Review Books? Makes a statement at least. Or an imperative!

Cat November 20, 2008 at 8:22 pm

It should read, Designers’. It doesn’t matter if the designers are internal (those reviewing) or external (those who will be reading the reviews), it’s a possessive plural and that’s simply the end of the story.

The title is awkward and not memorable. Admit defeat. Try again. “Book review” will always be a better choice than “review of books.” It’s almost like ordering a cone of ice cream instead of an ice cream cone.

  • Cat, the former newspaper editor.
Editor November 21, 2008 at 12:54 am

Cat – got to love the bluntness of editors. (You have read the upset surrounding Giles Coren haven’t you?)

The form of the title stays at least. Awkward or not, it’s there, it never did the New York Review of Books any harm and it’s a deliberate nod to that. Awkward is often more memorable, but we can agree to disagree on that.

As for the apostrophe, it’s only possessive plural if I intended it to be. There’s really no “end of the story” there. It always comes down to what the writer intended to communicate. It’s grammatically correct with either apostrophe placement and with no apostrophe. My original intention when I wrote the title was the no apostrophe version. When it changes to be possessive I’m pretty certain I’ll keep it singular because it’s a review for individual designers and, up until now, by and from one.

Editor November 21, 2008 at 10:30 am

It’s done. See the update (and the masthead).

poohugh November 21, 2008 at 11:09 am

Nooooooooooooooooooooooooo!
I was starting to think of these Designers as a young, exciting band of creative rule breakers, who don’t care for convention or the status quo.
Now they are no more, only a few memories in the comments seciton of a blog i’ve never looked at before.

poohugh’s last blog post..poohugh: Commenting on apostrophe usage, join the fun! http://is.gd/8h31

Editor November 21, 2008 at 12:39 pm

I’ve never liked Status Quo all that much. Grammar is important though.