The Curly Apostrophe and the Donkey

By Jason Petersen, Creative Director

Architect Ludwig Mies van Der Rohe is usually attributed with the idiom “God is in the details”, which is a bit rich coming from a guy who stripped all detail from his own building designs until nothing was left but a stack of metal and glass boxes, but I digress. Regardless of the medium, whether it’s print, video, or skyscraper, the details convey more than nerdy obsession with craft, they convey knowledge and trust. For example, you may not know what smart quotes are, but you can tell something’s wrong when they’re not there.

A true apostrophe is used in text, like can’t or it’s. And a foot mark is used in defining feet or inches in text, like 7′10″ or 9′ 2″.

An ad using the wrong type of apostrophe, a copy writing faux pas!

Look closely, this ad uses a true apostrophe and, improperly, a footmark.

This all goes back to the infancy of typefaces and fonts and how programmers of operating systems assigned key commands. They probably didn’t take time to differentiate between an apostrophe and a foot mark, and they defaulted the key command to the foot mark. Nowadays, you can go in and tell InDesign and Quark and other programs to automatically use the apostrophe (or curly quote or smart quote), but lazy art directors might not know about that setting. I can turn a blind eye if all apostrophes are misused as foot marks. But when you have an apostrophe AND a foot mark all in the same sentence, well, that’s a whole different level.

A blatant misuse of this punctuation problem is apparent on a fairly recent Sprint Super Bowl commercial titled “Apology”. It was the one with the screaming goat and braying donkey. Side note: that might be the funniest thing I have seen or heard in my life. The editing in audio of a human scream onto the video of an animal. Kind of like the video of Bambi letting out a HUGE human burp. Funny stuff. I was actually at a zoo and heard a donkey giving its “hee-haw” sound for 30 seconds straight. Just thinking of it I have tears in my eyes. If I’m ever feeling sad or down, I think of that little donkey, sitting in his little fenced in area at that little zoo behind the gas station just off of I-94, trying to communicate with me for 30 seconds straight. He was probably trying to tell me that I had a donkey apple stuck on my shoe. And all I did was laugh at him, laughed so hard I cried. He was probably saying “don’t stop crying human, you have my apple on your new Chuck Taylors, who’s laughing now?”.

Anyway, back to the apostrophe. Just make sure that when you use an apostrophe or quote marks (especially in headlines) that the curly ones and not the straight ones are being used. But if the headline is something like this:

6′4″ is a very tall donkey.

you can then disregard these out of tune ravings of a crotchety ole CD. But, like Mies van Der Rohe, keep your eyes on the details.

Next month be on the look out for more “Petersen’s pet peeves”.

Thank you, and good day.

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