Friday, May 19, 2006

I just have to get this off my chest, even though I know it’s too late to change this punctuation atrocity


What difference does an apostrophe make? It’s the difference between Land's End and Lands’ End. Everyone knows that the retailer put the apostrophe, or inverted comma as the Brits call it, in the wrong place. They even admit it, and have a cutesy cover story to explain it, one that begins by congratulating the reader on catching the mistake. (Even the estimable Wikipedia bought it, you’ll note. But not this reader -- oh, no.)
Have you ever glanced at our catalog cover and noticed something out of place or different? If you said the apostrophe, you're correct!
It was all a mistake, the story goes on to explain -- a printer’s mistake.
It was a printing error that rendered the company's name "Lands' End" with the apostrophe in the wrong place. Since we couldn't afford to have the piece reprinted, Gary Comer decided to simply change the name of the business to correspond to the printed piece.
Yeah, right. Like all founding myths, this one seems just too good to be true. If you’re going to name your company after a place with well-known nautical connotations, your lawyer has probably already told you that you can’t trademark the proper placename all by itself. Tweak "Land's End" a bit, and that's a different matter. And your art director -- “printer,” if you insist -- has probably also told you that nothing makes a logo look klunkier than an apostrophe breaking up one of the words. No amount of kerning will make it look graceful, up there in the spotlight. You want to be able to tuck it in neatly after the word -- or else, forget it, pick another name. But they liked the name, and the rest is history.

Will Lands’ End ever come clean? I doubt it. But somebody should at least hold their feet to the fire. I simply don’t have the time or the resources, or an army of punctuation mavens at my beck and call. It strikes me that this is a job for the invaluable Blog of Unnecessary Quotation Marks. They’ve done a yeoman’s job of policing the double inverted commas. Perhaps they could broaden their scope to take the lowly single inverted comma under their wing. After all, this isn’t the only atrocity out there. Here’s a BBC resource that might help. After all, who better knows the Queen’s English?

Meanwhile, I'm on my way down to one of the great bargain spots here in Madison -- the wonderful Land's End State Street Not Quite Perfect Store -- to check out the summer shirts. And because the SSNQP Store cuts the labels, I don't even have to worry about the apostrophe being in the wrong place.

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