LINGUIST List 4.61

Tue 02 Feb 1993

Disc: The Greengrocer's apostrophe

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. RichardHudson50, that's and the greengrocer's apostrophe
  2. Deborah Berkley, Re: greengrocer's apostrophe
  3. John Cowan, Another greengrocer trick
  4. Michael Picone, Greengrocer's apostrophe

Message 1: that's and the greengrocer's apostrophe

Date: Sat, 30 Jan 93 16:54:23 +0that's and the greengrocer's apostrophe
From: RichardHudson50 <>
Subject: that's and the greengrocer's apostrophe

I can't see what the greengrocer's apostrophe has to do with the use of
"that's" as an alternative to "whose". The former is a matter of spelling,
but the latter has nothing to do with spelling - we're not debating whether
we should write "The pencil that's lead is broken" or "... thats ...", but
whether people ever use the pattern in **speech**. No-one has suggested
it's ever used in written English.

My suspicion is that "that's" is in fact an ancient form, which hasn't
yet been supplanted by the foreign WH form, "whose". Any experts on history
out there willing to enlighten us?

Dick Hudson
Dept of Phonetics and Linguistics,
University College London,
Gower Street,
London WC1E 6BT
(071) 387 7050 ext 3152
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: Re: greengrocer's apostrophe

Date: Sun, 31 Jan 93 21:27:03 CSRe: greengrocer's apostrophe
From: Deborah Berkley <>
Subject: Re: greengrocer's apostrophe

> I'm afraid I can't give proper credit for this, but someone once said that
> the function of the apostrophe for some writers is simply to signal
> that an 's' is coming up!
> Ron Smyth

The credit belongs to humorist Dave Barry, who said it in one of his
"Mister Language Person" columns several years ago.

Deborah Milam Berkley
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 3: Another greengrocer trick

Date: Mon, 1 Feb 1993 10:35:43 -Another greengrocer trick
From: John Cowan <>
Subject: Another greengrocer trick

First of all, for the dialectologists among us: "greengrocer's" -> "produce
market" here in New York City, but the proprietors do not have a distinctive
name such as *"produce marketeers".

A second common device, along with the wayward apostrophe, is the use of
quotation marks (inverted commas) as a typographical means of emphasis.
This conflicts rather comically with the standard use for indicating irony:


states the price of bananas, not of some ersatz fruit.

John Cowan ...!uunet!cbmvax!snark!cowan
 e'osai ko sarji la lojban.
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 4: Greengrocer's apostrophe

Date: Mon, 01 Feb 93 14:16:21 CSGreengrocer's apostrophe
From: Michael Picone <MPICONEUA1VM.UA.EDU>
Subject: Greengrocer's apostrophe

It might interest some to know that stray apostrophe's are fairly
prevalent on the other side of the Channel/Atlantic. In fact, in France
they are probably much more prevalent then elsewhere when it comes to the
domain of advertising language.

Although the apostrophe is in widespread use in conjunction with French
elision, the _'s_, usually in word final position, is an import. It began with
borrowings like _gentlemen's agreement_, _no man's land_ and gets frequent
reinforement: _traveller's cheque_, _Reader's Digest_, _Kellogg's Extra_,
_women's lib_, _Jane Fonda's Workout_, etc.

It has subsequently generalized in the language of advertising, presumably to
add an American accent or just to appear chic. _Maxim's_ may be the most
immediately recognizable example, but there are many others, a good number of
which are of the greengrocers's variety. (Of course, even those that represent
the genetive case to English-initiated eyes remain opaque for many French

Heres's a quick sampling of names of establishments and products: Texas Bun's,
Kid's Jean's, Dog's mode, Dog'story, Who's Club, Bar le Clap's, Croissant
Jean's, Mod's Hair, Fleurs' Dupont, Jerry Lewis Fan's, Stock's Bazar.

The biggest success is undoubtably the lexicalization (at the graphemic level)
of _'s_ in the term _pin's_ (pronounced OpinzE). This is the universally used
form for indicating those small metallic, often enamel-faced souvenir-type pins
of badges that are usually affixed to a jacket by virtue of a bayonet-type
clasp. They have become all the rage in France over the course of the past few
years and are universally referred to and sold under the name _pin's_.
As the _pin's_ example shows, the presence of an apostrophe can have a function
going beyond pure chic. It's adoption helps signal at the
graphemic level that the form will get special phonological processing, thereby
differentiating it from native _pins_ (= pines, pronounced with nasalized open
e and no s word final). The same may be true of _jean's_ in some of the
other examples given, even though this was lexicalized at the graphemic level
without the apostrophe, and only appears with it in some advertising.
Note that word final s-less and s-ful forms are in variation for
_jeans_/_jean_ at both the graphemic and phonological levels. Compare
_pantalon_ (= pants), _pyjama_ (=pajamas), _short_/_shorts_ (= shorts,
always s-less regradless of spelling) which demonstrate the French norm
tending toward singularity for these items. _Jean_ is conforming to it in
spelling and pronunciation, except where it is considered fashionable to
keep the final s, as is the case in some advertising, and that is precisely
where the apostrophe appears.

The presence of the apostrophe can likewise be considered an aid to
pronunciation for other unfamiliar borrowings and creations.

Of related interest:
Another borrowing w/ apostrophe, variously seen as _rock'n roll_, _rock'n'roll_
_rock-n'-roll_, etc. (as well as in the long form _rock and roll_) has become
a progenitor to some similar creations in ads. For example, a drinkable yogurt
available in a variety of flavors was introduced by Yoplait in 1983 with the
following expressions in a widespread advertising campaign:
 Yop'n Roll, Yop'n Sun, Yop'n Funk, Yop'n Smash, Yop'n Surf, Yop'n Clip,
Yop'n Cine, Yop'n Fluo, Yop'n F.M.

Michael Picone
The University of Alabama
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue