’Tis the season to be … apostrophic

[Ilene Strizver] Last month, in “How to avoid a quotastrophe,” I wrote about the use of smart, typographically correct quotation marks as opposed to dumb quotes. So what the heck does the apostrophe have to do with quotation marks? Quite a lot, typographically speaking: In proper typesetting, the glyph used for an apostrophe is one and the same as that used for the closed (or right) single quote. Sounds simple enough, but there is more to it than that!

Twould have been good to avoid the most “popular” apostrophic mishap. Til is a contraction of until, so the apostrophe stands in for the deleted un.

In English, the apostrophe is used in a contraction, which is a shortened word in which a letter or letters have been omitted, such as we’ve, they’re or haven’t. An apostrophe is also used to indicate possession, as in my sister’s grammar book. For both usages, the typographically correct punctuation is a smart apostrophe (same as a smart closed — or right — single quote) … and not a typewriter quote, most often used as a prime, or foot mark.

wichcraft is not only clever but also smart. The name is both a contraction of sandwich craft and a suggestion that the fare is bewitchingly good.

When you type a contraction or a possessive, most software will automatically insert the correct glyph for the apostrophe — that is, the closed single quote. But there are two instances where no software is smart enough to do the right thing.

The first one is when you type a contraction which begins with the apostrophe, such as ’n’ instead of and. (This site’s WordPress preferences are set to change dumb quotes, whether single or double, to smart ones, but this opening apostrophe had to be copied-and-pasted from elsewhere.) Most people are not only unaware that this punctuation should look like an apostrophe rather than an open single quote, but they’re also surprised that even very savvy software is not yet smart enough to insert the correct glyph.

Not a sign of the times! This “punctuation situation” has persisted for decades.

The second instance is when you type a measurement that includes foot marks (or inch marks, for that matter). If your software defaults to smart quotes, which is the most common setting, it will not know when to use primes instead of smart quotes.

Mismeasured: These should have been inch and foot marks.

Both of these typographic misdemeanors require you to go in and insert the proper punctuation manually. This can be done using the appropriate keyboard command, via copy and paste from the glyph palette, character viewer or something similar … or last but not least by using the ol’ copy and paste from another word.

The Apostrophe Protection Society serves a noble purpose. Their page on the Red Molotov website is full of deliberate faux pas-strophes!

TIP: Can’t tell if your apostrophe is smart? Compare it to a comma, as these two characters are usually the same design or very similar.

Type notes: For the lead image, Strizver selected Century Schoolbook.

Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer, writer and educator. She specializes in all aspects of visual communication, from the aesthetic to the technical, conducting her widely acclaimed Gourmet Typography Workshops internationally. Her book, Type Rules! The designer’s guide to professional typography, has received numerous accolades from the type and design community.

Share Post

Comments (1)

  1. Posted by Allan Haley on 01.10.11 at 1:01 pm

    Excellent piece and sound typographic advice! Pity that it takes so many keystrokes to do the right thing.

Leave a Reply

[BLOG] Champions of Craft: Sebastian Cox: We know that materials matter, and the right materials can take a p... https://t.co/NDMG0CUGIn @feltandwire - View on Twitter
[BLOG] Inspiration, education + conversation: A Maker’s Field Guide to Texture and Color: The competition for... https://t.co/WeqCJa92nr @feltandwire - View on Twitter
[BLOG] On The Wire: Designer to Watch, Mimi Kim: Today, guest blogger, Sarah Schwartz, editor of Stationery T... https://t.co/7PX5EFbFOm @feltandwire - View on Twitter
Submit a Topic or Article
We want to hear from you!
Send us your ideas for future articles, past inspirations, and present insights.
Submit a Topic or Article