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How 'bout those O's

Yesterday was Opening Day in baseball, an occasion whose grim approach I sense as soon as the spring pollen begins to assault my mucosae.* Another kind of allergic reaction was registered yesterday when designer Charles Apple posted a commentary on the Orioles’ logo.

In brief, the logo displays, instead of an apostrophe, an open single quotation mark: O's. (That's a mark that's shaped like a 6 rather than a 9, something the typeface in this blog software prefers will not show you.) And it's trademarked.

This solecism was first identified, Mr. Apple tells us by Paul Lukas of ESPN, who denounced it a couple of months back, to no effect. (Mr. Apple also invited me to comment some time back, but what with the runny nose and teary eyes, I left his note in the queue of e-mail that I mean to answer someday, really.)

Here’s a suggestion to help you stay sane. It’s just a logo. Logos are made by graphic artists, who tend to be more concerned with visual impact than the niceties of all that word stuff. If you can tolerate that idiotic backward R in the Toys “R” Us** sign, then an incorrect version of the apostrophe shouldn’t keep you up nights.



it’s just a baseball team. It’s just baseball. Who cares about the apostrophes on the players’ caps?

The humble apostrophe is one of our most-misused punctuation marks, cropping up in false plurals — the Smith’s — sometimes combined with those odd grocers’ quotation marks — “CUKE’S” — and forever being automatically supplanted by the open single quote in Microsoft Word. It’s a troubled punctuation mark.

I’ve got my hands full trying to clean up the prose — we published a reference this morning to mantle clocks, for Fowler’s sake. I don’t have the time, the inclination or the writ to attempt to clean up logos, even assuming that I could get someone to listen to me.

Mr. Apple and Mr. Lukas, good luck in your crusade. But my advice: Get a grip.


* Filthy tree sex.

** Now that my children are grown, I can avoid Toys “R” Us as assiduously as medieval pilgrims shunned a plague city.



Posted by John McIntyre at 8:50 AM | | Comments (13)


Theoretically speaking, can't an apostrophe also be used to truncate a longer word?

Over as O'er? As in the Star-Spangled Banner, "O'er the land of the free"?

So why not Orioles as O's?

Just thinking out loud.

JEM: That's exactly how the apostrophe is used, and there's nothing wrong with it. The problem is that the logo doesn't use an apostrophe but a different punctuation mark. Since the typeface in this blog does not differentiate between an apostrophe and an opening single quotation mark, I've inserted an explanatory sentence.

I thought an apostrophe was appropriate for a shortened version of a word or a contraction (foc'sle, can't). My Webster's has "a mark used to indicate the omission of a letter or letters from a word or phrase" as the second definition. The apostrophe in "O's" replaces "riole." At least that's how I've rationalized it...

JEM: See note on previous comment.

Now that my children are grown, I can avoid Toys “R” Us...

Don't hold your breath on this. The good news about not strangling one's children during their adolescence is they produce grandchildren. The bad news is that one winds up back at Toys *R* US.

Mr. Apple's animadversions on this post may be found at the site linked above, in an update near the bottom.

The error he helpfully pointed out has been corrected.

Did you not intend to encaption this post "How 'bout them O's?"

I liked the assonance.

... and I guess never mind that it should be Toys *R* WE ...?

Hear, hear. Graphic designers allow themselves, and why not, great leeway in the use of letterforms, punctuation, musical notation, Kanji characters, mathematical symbols, and anything else that suits their design.

>it should be Toys *R* WE ...?

Actually, prolly not. "It's me" has been attested since Shakespeare; the notion that "to be" requires "I" or "we" because it's a copula is a logical nicety, but does not derive from vernacular usage. Good explanation here:

I frequent Mr. Lucas' site - I enjoy the opinionated banter that is exchanged on the blog. I love the fact that blogs exist so that opinions on varied subjects are allowed to be exchanged. So while your (and others) opinion on your blog site may be "who cares about the apostrophe on players' caps" and that Mr Lucas should "get a grip," we choose to relentlessly discuss the incorrect use of an open single quotation mark; it's fun to us:-)

Hmmm. A Mantle clock? Good idea -- could be a great name for a clock that wakes you up after a night of heavy drinking.

How about "We Be Toys"?

And would that "Mantle clock" be in the shape of a pinstriped baseball player?

Graphic designers don't care about punctuation? Hardly, our lives are spent fixing spikes and replacing dashes with em dashes for negligent writers. No, the marketing geniuses that hired the designer and then told them that an apostrophe belonged there are the ones to blame. Same with "Toys R Us" a designer didn't come up with the name. I'm sorry, but no one in the Baltimore Orioles organization has ever thought enough about English grammar to legitimately claim that "O's" is a contraction. That's just putting a good spin on a common error.

Obviously, it's more about contracting a proper noun than a common noun: Orioles (O's) vs. orioles (o's). Context has a lot to do with it, as well. The problem is when the common noun is a phrase, such as "community college," but you want to abbreviate that as "CC," & later use "CC" in a plural sense.

The apostrophe is crucial: CC's is singular possessive; CCs is proper plural form.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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