Friday, October 10, 2003


Frogs. Hail. Darkness. Locusts. Apostrophes.

If the plagues are coming, the apostrophes are upon us. You may not have noticed it yet; this warning is probably way ahead of the curve (the curving part of an apostrophe?). But it’s best to be on the lookout.

So far, the apostrophes are at a trickle. There are the vaguely irritating Macy’s ads that advise us that when you wear the Roca brand you’re “workin’ it” and that when you wear Tommy Jeans you’ll be “lovin’ it,” and there’s what may be a dramatically obnoxious trend in the Boston Herald. (And there’s another example, but one I foolishly didn’t write down and cannot cite. I know it’s out there, though, lurking, ready to strike.)

Technically, it’s called apocope, the omission of a letter or letters at the end of word, and for some reason the Herald perpetrated it twice last month. On Sept. 3, it was U.S. Sen. John Kerry’s campaign for president that was “Steamin’ ahead” in giant san serif letters on the front of the Herald. On Sept. 26, the same venue had the city “Goin’ Wild” over the Red Sox gettin’ to compete in the playoffs for some championship or other.

There had been no Herald apocoping in August, certainly. Nor the month before that. In fact, the last I’d been aware of -- although I hadn’t really been paying attention until a month was horrifyingly bookended by them -- was way back at the last presidential election, when an early version of a front was designed telling readers that the results were “Lookin’ Gore.”

Was last month’s horror a fluke? Nearly a third of the way through October, there’s been no sign of apocopery on Herald fronts, and I am relieved but on edge. My reaction to the overt bonhomie of the Herald’s apocopes, and the eager hepness of Macy’s, is the same: I am appalled by the uselessness of the effort. Both have the stink of desperation, of a bad-breathed man in green plaid pants who wants to be your buddy, and both are so numbingly silly that it’s hard to conjure the words to condemn them.

But neither Macy’s ads, fashion campaigns nor Herald fronts are created whimsically or alone. Committees stand around debating content, color, placement and (in this case) punctuation, all with the intention of selling, or sellin’, to the desired market. That means that someone had to say, “I dunno. It’s missing something. What if we employed apocope?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, it’s a turnoff. When we say fans are ‘Going wild,’ it’s like we’re saying, ‘Don’t read this paper!’ Let’s instead say, ‘Read this paper!’ I say, drop the ‘g’! Let’s get the kids reading! Kids love to drop the ‘g’ from the end of words! It’s like MTV for them.”

“Uh ... like this?”

“That’s it! ‘Goin’ wild!’ Now we’re cookin’ with gas!”

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