Around the Web: Duffins and Dead Apostrophes


In our research and general perusal, we’re lucky enough to encounter great original language analysis that we don’t always have the chance to fully explore in our blog. To bring these conversations to our readers, we’re introducing a new weekly series, “Around the Web,” which will collect and distill language news from–you guessed it–around the web. So here’s what was going on this week:

In a ploy to sell more dictionaries, an Australian publisher adds a fake word to their new edition.

Translations are never easy, but sometimes they’re insulting in multiple languages. As a fun antidote, explore these idioms literally translated between English and French.

People are arguing about whether or not we should do away with the apostrophe. Few campaigns to artificially change language have worked, aside from one notable exception.

Is the Internet good for writing? Yes and no.

Here’s our new favorite list of annoying expressions from an unexpected source.

As a retort or homage to the cronut, here’s another hybrid pastry (which may remind you of a penguin).

Did you know Stalin was a newspaper editor?

Wait, is it already time for the Word of the Year?

Predictions about next week’s news:
Someone will coin a neologism about a new urban farming craze; another benign adverb will come under fire; discussing the debt ceiling, a beleaguered politician will coin a new malapropism.

Have you heard any juicy language-related news that we missed? Let us know in the comments below!


  1. Ray -  October 17, 2013 - 4:53 am

    On another of the subtopics listed abover (moreso than near-above)–

    I looked-up the French translation of “figure out…”
    WordReference.com (Online Language Dictionaries) suffices to say–
    (solve, deduce, work out) résoudre⇒ vtr
    informal (come to understand) comprendre⇒ vtr
    In the English description: decipher – suss
    French: deviner – calculer – décrypter – démerder

    Which presented a word I’d not previously heard: “suss;”

    And leaves in some doubt another for authenticity: démerder,
    (inasmuch as the root “merde” is common foreignly ~feces~.)

  2. Saddy McPedantic -  October 16, 2013 - 8:44 pm

    Why does James Harbeck target the apostrophe for elimination? Why not letters in words which don’t alter their meaning? For example, I noticed he spelt pototoes with an ‘e’? But why? Why did he not just spell it as ‘potatos’? We’d still know what he meant.

    And what about the word ‘meant’? Let us just excise the middle letter and go with ‘ment’. It’s the same pronunciation and it’s 20% faster to transcribe. Can we go further?

  3. warjna -  October 16, 2013 - 7:01 pm

    Okay, since you used it in the title of the article and it doesn’t show up in Dictionary.com, what’s a Duffin?

  4. Caleb Taylor -  October 16, 2013 - 3:42 am

    Yes, hopefully written language will be simplified with the slow but eventual removal of the apostrophe or most cases of it beginning with its use in the possessive. Note that I just used the word “its” which in the possessive, yet it is acceptable not to use the apostrophe (in fact it “its” never has the apostrophe in the possessive!) If so, why not other possessives? As for leaving it out in dont, wont etc., I think this will happen also perhaps propelled by a “lazy” generation of those using text messages by phone. However, a solution to hell for he’ll and were for we’ll etc. may prove more difficult.

  5. Mae B. -  October 15, 2013 - 9:16 pm

    “bargain shirt’s” “Cheap cauliflower’s”
    “Such wrong apostrophes in plurals are often called ‘greengrocers’ apostrophes’”
    -from The Queen’s English
    by Bernard C. Lamb
    President of the Queen’s English Society

  6. pee dee -  October 15, 2013 - 6:16 am


    A well- to- do thirty-something professional under the misconception that their outfit and choice of hangouts deems them a HIPSTER.

    Electric cigarette optional.

  7. Phillip Goss -  October 14, 2013 - 7:44 am

    Could you research and make an article about why there are close-talkers or low-talkers?

  8. English Language: Goodnight, Sweet Prince -  October 13, 2013 - 6:12 pm

    Will we be left with at least one prescriptive reference in the English language?

  9. That's Me -  October 13, 2013 - 6:10 pm

    It is quite funny how someone would invent a word to make money… What has this world come to? No apostrophe, Invented words (to make money), *Sigh*

  10. escocesrojo -  October 13, 2013 - 5:18 am

    German does not use the apostrophe to indicate possession: Richards Vater ist Briefträger. (Richard’s father is a letter carrier.) Ich weiss nicht, wo Angelas Heft war. (I don’t know where Angela’s notebook was.)

    An exception to this German rule: whenever a name or noun ends in an s-sound (spelled -s, ss, -ß, -tz, -z, -x, -ce). In such cases, instead of adding an s, the possessive form ends with an apostrophe: Felix’ Auto, Aristoteles’ Werke, Alice’ Haus.

    Although English apostrophe use for possessive singular and plural is taught in elementary schools, some people persist in misusing apostrophe as an indicator of plural: A baseball team has nine player’s. Sofa’s on sale. Dad bought two Buick’s.

  11. Brian Davidson -  October 12, 2013 - 2:03 pm

    It’s bad enough that many people can’t speak proper English, but when a major dictionary starts inventing words to increase sales, the language is under deliberate sabotage. Deliberately damaging a language to increase sales, that’s seriously contemptuous.

  12. Ray -  October 11, 2013 - 6:50 pm

    Just calling it an “apostrophe” is the acme, the apex, of birds dropping bird droppings on passerunders…

    I call it a “semiquote” [semiquotationmark] used to denote periphrases and especially memorable approximations,–when a direct quote won’t do, for reasons unspecified or assumed…

  13. AL -  October 11, 2013 - 10:08 am


  14. Mathsbuddy -  October 11, 2013 - 9:27 am

    Obliterate apostrophes? I think not! Look here and decide for yourself:

    a) The snake shed skin
    a’) The snake she’d skin (phonetically different too) [she would]

    b) Lets play havoc with house value
    b’) Let’s play havoc with house value [let us]

    c) Mines subsiding fast
    c’) Mine’s subsiding fast [mine is]

    d) ‘Im with narrow vision, James Harbeck [In written dialogue, cockney him = 'im]
    d’) I’m with narrow vision, James Harbeck [I am]

    And it was so easy to quickly come up with these ordinary examples that I’m certain that Mr Harbeck is wrong with a blind assuption that apostrophes are not required. He has some interesting valid points, written with beautiful rhetoric, but at the expense of not seeing the plethora of contradicting examples.

    e) The persons unknown
    e’) The person’s unknown [EITHER person is or possessive]

    f) The girl’s legs [singular girl possessive]
    f’) The girls’ legs [plural girls possessive]

    I could continue and write realms more, but I am sure I have less time to waste than the respectable Mr Harbeck.

  15. Diane -  October 11, 2013 - 8:44 am

    Thanks so much for linking to my blog! The translations are crazy, aren’t they?

  16. Brooke -  October 11, 2013 - 8:14 am

    The argument against apostrophes was entertaining. It seemed like the author was almost trying to convince himself as much as he was the audience. He/she glossed over the counterpoints as if they were minor inconveniences. If these are the best reasons to get rid of the apostrophe, then I doubt this troublesome little punctuation will ever go away.


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