Printable Version
Pronunciation: ê-pahs-trê-fee Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. Anything said to a person who is not present or does not exist, or to a personified object. 2. The single quote used to mark (a) contractions (I'll, I'd've, y'all), (b) the possessive suffix -'s (Hernando's hideaway), and (c) the plural of odd symbols such as numbers (three 7's), letters (four A's), and the like.

Notes: Gotcha! I'll bet you thought an apostrophe was nothing more than a single quote used to mark contractions. Today's Good Word is not nearly so dull as that. Whenever we exclaim, "Oh, Fate, why have you dealt me such a cruel blow?" as we are wont to do around tax time or more frequently in raising teen-agers, we have committed an apostrophe. The adjective is apostrophic [-p-strah-fik] and the verb, apostrophize [-pah-str-faiz].

In Play: We sometimes resort to apostrophes of this type: "Oh, Abraham Lincoln, where are you now when we need you most?" The crucial point is that such statements are addressed to someone who is not present or does not exist. Anything you say or write in your poetry to the sun, the wind, flowers is an apostrophe. But should we stop here? Let's say you just explained in detail your plans for the weekend to your spouse only to look up and see that he or she was working a crossword and hadn't heard a word you had said. Haven't you just apostrophized your plans?

Word History: Today's word comes from Greek apostrophos, the noun from the verb apostrephein "to turn away," based on apo "off, away" + strephein "to turn, twist". Strophe, the noun from strephein itself, meant "a turn, a stanza", since stanzas were sung in turn. In English strophe refers to a stanza or similar grouping of lines in a poem or song. It is also visible in catastrophe from Greek kata "down, completely" + strophe "a turn". Apo shares the same origin as German auf, English of and off, and Latin ab "away from", found in many words like abdicate and absent. I could continue but I will stop here in hopes that all I've written to this point has not been apostrophic.

Dr. Goodword,

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